The government announced on Thursday that Cabinet has approved $7.5 million in funding for the Gender and Child Affairs Division of the Office of the Prime Minister.
This allocation was earmarked for action on the recommendations of Justice Judith Jones’ report on children in community residences and child support centres.
Action on the report is overdue. Justice Jones delivered the report of her 11-member team in December 31, 2021, making it almost a full year since the members of Cabinet were made aware of the challenges that children face today in both private residential care and in the protection of the state.
After the report was laid in Parliament in April, RC Archbishop Jason Gordon appointed a four-person team in June to review the management of homes under the purview of the church.
TT has been a signatory to the UN’s Rights of the Child declaration since 1991, but has taken only small steps to putting that commitment into active practice.
When the government has been faced with hard decisions about refugee children, for instance, it has often chosen to take the easiest path, notably refusing migrant minors opportunities for education and deporting more than 50 Venezuelan refugee children, along with their parents and caretakers, in 2020 alone. When 16 children and 12 adults were deported to Venezuela in November 2020, the Minister of National Security suggested the children might have been trafficked.
There was no explanation of this dramatic assertion, and certainly no effort at investigation before the hapless Venezuelans were bundled onto a boat back home.
In all the political drama that has accompanied the refoulement – forcible return – of migrants, the government seemed to completely miss the point that it is noblest to help those in need when the situation is difficult.
For a government to turn its back in this way is nothing new. The plight of helpless children has been a point of inaction for decades.
The 1997 report into care homes by Dr Robert Sabga revealed startling incidents, but the report was buried and only token action taken.
There has been no shortage of politicians expressing revulsion at incidents of child abuse, but when confronted by these reports, there is little appetite to confront what these reports reveal.
And what needs to be done is no secret.
Homes that provide residential care to minors should be licensed without exception and subject to random, unscheduled but stringent inspections. Clear guidelines for child care, including the scope of disciplinary action and caregiver-to-child ratios should be established and widely circulated
A Children’s Ombudsman, with a specific and robust scope for hearing, in confidence, from minors about adverse experiences in residential care and in other circumstances should be established.
A society is measured by the care it offers to its most vulnerable members.