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Sunday 26 January 2020
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Caregivers ask for govt help as staff attacked at St Jude’s

CAREGIVERS at St Jude’s Home for Girls want Government’s intervention after they were physically assaulted on two occasions in past two weeks.

Newsday spoke with two caregivers on Tuesday about the attack. The duo said the first attack was on December 31, 2019 when a member of staff was beaten on the head with a fan and had a bottle of cream poured on her head. The woman was also hit in the face with a bottle of petroleum jelly.

That victim was given four days home and returned to work complaining of headaches. The caregivers said the girls became irate after they were denied leave to view fireworks on New Year's Eve.

The second victim was beaten on the head with a toilet tank cover on January 8. The woman was praying, they said, when someone snuck up behind her and hit her, twice in the head. While she was being attended to by two girls, four others managed to take her keys and escape the home by jumping over a perimeter wall. Two were recaptured that day while two others remain on the run. One of the girls on the run was brought to St Jude’s earlier that very day.

Both attacks happened at night. Both victims worked alone caring for some 15-20 girls with varying reasons for being at the home and varying criminal cases pending.

Staff Tired

The staff, which according to the count of the workers who spoke with Newsday, was 24, while the institution is in need of 40 to be at optimum.

When contacted, St Jude’s acting deputy manager Deoraj Sookdeo said a report on the assault was sent to the Ministry of Gender and Child Affairs under the Office of the Prime Minister. He added the short staffing issue would be sorted out in the near future as potential staff were interviewed last month.

In October 2018, six girls escaped after girls rioted at the institution and damaged several items. The caregivers said they were accustomed to being verbally assaulted and having their belongings vandalised but this was the first time staff were physically assaulted.

“They playing with these children. There is a crew who are in on it, about eight of them. It’s the same issues with different children, they have been misbehaving for years but now they are attacking us but there is no consequences for them” one caregiver said.

Another added: “Everybody fearful, some cried some don't want to come to work and uncomfortable working alone but they have too. People are just uneasy and management tries to make you feel guilty for feeling uneasy working with these children. There are staff who love their job and dedicated, but now feeling disheartened. We know we are working with trouble children but at the same time we haven't heard anything about consequences of the assaults.”

Minister’s Response

When contacted, Gender and Children Affairs Minister Ayana Webster-Roy said the Children’s Authority and the new management committee are addressing the situation.

“We try to create the best atmosphere for both staff and residents at our various facilities, however, at times serious untoward incidents do occur. I do empathise with the injured staff as I have seen and experienced first-hand how violent some of the girls can get, despite the best possible care, given the circumstances.”

She added that the Children's Authority will remove the offending girls and transfer them to the Youth Training and Rehabilitation Centre. The victims are being given the care they need while management works on addressing other issues at the institution.

Hanif Benjamin, Chairman of the Children’s Authority said on Tuesday that he was unaware of the situation and, therefore, could not comment other than to advise the victims to make a police report. He added that a request to meet with staff, as expressed by the caregivers, should be put in writing and he and his team will happily facilitate such a meeting.

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