Safiya Noel, director of the TT Children’s Authority, has called on the extended family to step up and provide shelter for children who have to be removed from abusive homes.
Noel was speaking at the launch of the authority’s new Tobago office on Pascal Village Street Extension, along the Claude Noel Highway.
She said, "Far too often our investigator and emergency response team have to seek placement options for children who must be removed from their birth families. That is unacceptable and must be an exception rather than the norm. Therefore we are appealing to extended families to step in and provide support, so that the child remains with the relatives where possible.”
She said preliminary data for May 2015-April 2019 shows there were 18,700 reported cases of children in need of care and protection.
“Neglect, sexual abuse and physical abuse continue to be the highest reported types to abuse meted out to our children. And based on our reports to our hotline, mothers and fathers continue to be the persons identified as the perpetrators or facilitators of abuse.”
She pleaded with relatives to teach children how to protect themselves from different types of abuse.
The new Children's Authority facility includes a play area and an interview room with a one-way mirror, to allow the multi-disciplinary team to observe interviews and assist the interviewer while the interview is recorded.
“This is particularly important as children from Tobago no longer have to travel to our assessment centre in Trinidad to be interviewed. The process to elicit this vital information is now done right in the child’s environment and eliminates some of the trauma associated with recounting their story.”
Chairman of the board Hanif Benjamin said planning and establishment of a Tobago Children’s Authority office required not only vision, but foresight and determination.
“As we bring our services closer to those in need of care and protection, we were able to add the Mt Hope Assessment Centre, the Sangre Grande Assessment Centre, the South Regional Office and Assessment Centre and today the Tobago office, and soon we will be opening another centre in Chaguanas.”
He added, “While our reports show greater number of reports in certain areas, I wish to remind you that every community in TT is at risk."
"The operationalisation of these assessment centres will see greater efficiency in our operations. Clients will have to travel less, more so from Tobago to Trinidad to receive services, and we should be able to handle a decentralised workload, as all the clients won’t have to descend on the two locations only.”
He said the first action of the board in Tobago is to do a full human resource audit to ensure the authority can handle the high demand for its services while improving its operations.
The authority was also excited by the revision of the strategic plan developed from 2018-2020.
“We are halfway into the plan and the director and her executive team are working with staff to ensure that we achieve the targets identified. We may have to make a few revisions but, by and large, all our goals are achievable as we seek to develop a national child protection system that represents a comprehensive, holistic, inclusive and co-ordinated approach to the protection of our children.”
The authority continues to place emphasis on foster care and adoption specifically for older children and those living with mental illness, disabilities and other special needs.
“We recognise what we are asking demands a mental shift through our public education campaign. We are seeking to change the behaviour about the way we view family, parents, the way we respect the rights of our children and the way we protect them from abuse and maltreatment.”