The Children’s Authority received 253 reports of child abuse in Tobago for period May 18, 2015 to May 17, 2017. Most of the reports that are being investigated by the Authority are of sexual abuse, followed by cases of physical abuse.
This information was provided by Rhonda Gregoire-Roopchan, Manager of Registry and Investigation at the Authority who, in an interview last Thursday at Coco Reef Resort in Crown Point, also said that reports of child abuse show a spike during the vacation periods.
She also pointed to an issue of under-reporting of child abuse incidents on the island.
“The statistics that we have collated so far suggest that most of the reports coming to us in Tobago are reports of sexual abuse followed by physical abuse. These are not children who we are certain have been abused but this is based on the fact that someone in the public has called into the Authority saying that this child may be in the need of care and protection.
“The Authority then has the responsibility to go out and investigate each report,” Gregoire-Roopchan said.
“Whilst persons are reporting, what we’ve noticed is also an under-reporting as it relates to the number of abuses taking place. We have been saying that child protection is everyone’s business, so we are calling on parents, guardians and the community to not turn a blind eye to child abuse especially during this vacation period where children are often left unsupervised.
“Our data has been and continues to record a high spike in child abuse cases during the vacation periods. So, we are calling on parents, guardians to be vigilant. To the general community we are asking that we all make child abuse our business by reporting it to our hotlines at 996 or 800-2014 or to the Police,” she said.
Gregoire- Roopchan noted plans by the Authority to establish a permanent base in Tobago, as from September, announcing that two locations have been identified for an Assessment Centre and a Child Support Centre.
“The Assessment Centre is a one stop shop where a child who is need of care and protection can be seen by a multi-disciplinary team of child care professionals, in one location. It treats with the psychological needs of the child.
“The other location is our Child Support Centre, this will be at an undisclosed location given its purpose for children who are in imminent danger. The Child Support Centre should be operational by September 7 and the Assessment Centre should be operational by October 5,” she said.
Gregoire-Roopchan said the Authority has taken all necessary steps to ensure all processes and partnerships have been established for the setting up of operations in Tobago.
“We would have held meetings with all key stakeholders to establish the necessary protocols to ensure effective service delivery to meet the needs of children and their families who would require the Authority’s intervention,” she said.
She also said the Authority was working closely with the Child Protection Unit of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), given the nature of investigations into reports received.
“When a child is traumatised, you want to minimise trauma as much as possible. Tobago is quite unique… The beauty of that is that a child will no longer have to repeat his/her story over and over for re-traumatisation, once you come to the Assessment Centre, the police will be there, there would be a two-way mirror where the statement can be taken, and the statement is what moves through the system not the child.
“ I think that in itself is one of the greatest accomplishments in having the Assessment Centre. The Authority does the psychosocial investigation; that is treating with the needs of the child and that is why there is need to work with the Child Protection Unit because their arm does the criminal investigation with respect to bringing charges to the perpetrators.
The Authority doesn’t charge people, the Authority takes care of the children’s needs,” she said.
Also speaking at the interview, Chairman Hanif Benjamin, said the Authority would be having an increased presence in Tobago, especially for this July/August period.
“We would be sensitising persons on the role, functions and services offered by the Authority. We’ve facilitated requests to visits camps in Tobago so that we can educate children how they can protect themselves from abuse. So, we are encouraging the various groups, schools and even communities to contact us fi they would like us to facilitate an awareness session with them on the role of the Authority and the changes with new child protection legislation.
Over the next six months we would also be rolling out our public education campaign specifically for Tobago to facilitate a working partnership with all stakeholders in the child protection system - lawyers, magistrates, THA representatives and Administrators, medical and social workers, doctors, nurses, principals and teachers, and most importantly, the community,” he said.