OPPOSITION Senator Jearlean John on Tuesday demanded answers on behalf of the family of a 15 year old girl in a south Trinidad children's residence who became pregnant despite having never left that facility, speaking in the Senate debate on the Mid Year Review.
Some $3.85 billion was added to 22 heads of expenditure, in the Finance (Supplementation and Variation of Appropriation) (Financial Year 2023) Act, 2023.
John said while extra funds for child care including an internal security department to oversee care residents might sound good on paper, the Children's Authority and its associated agencies have suffered chronic staff shortages, largely due to an inability to be attractive to potential employees.
"You have instances where security guards are doubling up as care-giver and what has happened in the past and what appears to continue to happen to this day is that these children are interfered with.
"So, notwithstanding the Sabga Report (and) the Justice Jones Report and the attendant public outrage these vulnerable children remain at the mercy of predators who are being paid state salaries. Maybe they are there and people don't even suspect these people are predators."
John was glad for extra funding on security for the residents but lamented that young girls were still running away from these homes and then returning pregnant.
"Efforts should be made...There should be no stone unturned, to find out who are these people who are impregnating these girls who are under-age.
"Right now in another home in deep south, there's a 15 year old girl who is pregnant, and she never left the home! How could that happen? How did that happen?
"This is going on right now. A member of the family called me, so this is not hearsay.
"These things are wrong and need to be reported to the TTPS immediately and I so advise."
John asked if any part of the supplemental funding would be used to prepare youngsters to transition out of children's residences when required to leave at age 18.
"A lot of them don't have any extended family, nowhere to go, but the law says at the age of 18 they must leave state care. What happens then? And there's no provision." She said different homes have different arrangements for 18 year olds, with many people trying to help, simply out of the goodness of their hearts.
"But this is too serious. It cannot just be out of the goodness of your heart.
"These young people are taken advantage of when they find themselves outside of the regimentation, regulation and oversight of state care.
"As a matter of fact there's a statistic that 50 per cent of these young females are pregnant within two years of leaving state care. These are very, very dismal statistics. We should do better." John said senators should have got more details on the $6.2 million in funding for child welfare and how it would fix current problems.
She chided the Cabinet for allegedly not visiting crime victims. She lamented that the body of murdered mother of five Gabrielle Raphael, 24, was found at Queen's Park Savannah near the Whitehall building housing the Office of the Prime Minister but was upset at non-functioning CCTV cameras nearby to help detect her killer(s).
Government Senator Laurel Lezama later said that by September some 241 more staff will be hired by the Children's Authority to supplement its existing 224 employees.
Last Sunday, Princes Town MP Barry Padarath told a briefing at the Opposition Leader's office in Port of Spain that pregnant girls live in some children's homes, and vowed to investigate the fate of them and their babies and findout who had impregnated them. On Mnday, in reply, the Children's Authority in a statement said two teenage girls who got pregnant while living at children's homes had not been impregnated by any staff member, according to police investigations.
The statement said, "The authority wishes to advise the public that there are two children’s homes specifically designated for pregnant teens. It must be noted that the children were already pregnant when they were brought to the attention of the authority for placement and the relevant police reports were made at that time.
"Over the past eight years since the operationalisation of the authority, there have been two instances of girls who became pregnant while they were residents of children’s homes. During the authority’s investigation, it was determined that no staff member of the homes was responsible for the girls becoming pregnant."