WE ARE heartened by the safe return of the six teenagers who ran away last month from a children’s home in central Trinidad.
While we are relieved at this outcome, for which the authorities must be congratulated, there remain many questions surrounding the circumstances of their escape as well as the capacity of oversight bodies such as the Children’s Authority to take effective action in maintaining standards in care homes throughout the country.
On May 27, the five girls and one boy were discovered missing after a nightly headcount. According to the Children’s Authority, the six apparently went through the trouble of creating a diversion to clear the way for their departure. Why such steps were taken and how such a plan could have succeeded remain unclear.
What is clear is the tragic history relating not only to care homes generally, but also to incidents in which children run away from them.
In March 2021, two teens were murdered after they and three others escaped from a home in North Trinidad.
Antonio Francois and Semion Daniel, both 15, were gunned down on March 28, 2021. Their bodies were found on the roof of an abandoned house in Mc Shine Lands, Laventille.
The two were among five teenagers who ran away from the home sometime between March 19 and 20 after they squeezed through burglarproofing.
It is hoped lessons have been learned from that incident as well as the most recent escape.
It is also hoped last month’s $62.5 million budgetary increase for the Children’s Authority, as well as its planned recruitment of 241 additional staff members, will substantially reduce the likelihood of such incidents recurring.
Yet, as a series of recent reports and findings have made clear, the challenges facing homes are so substantial it will take more than just the addition of resources to fix them.
Since becoming operational in May 2015, the authority has received 37,000 reports of children in need of care and protection. Annually, it receives between 4,000 and 5,000 reports of abuse, including neglect and sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
In this regard, the authority’s move this week to promulgate a National Interagency Protocol for Child Abuse Prevention and Management is a step in the right direction.
The authority does not directly manage the homes that operate in the country. But it is responsible for regulation through both scheduled and unannounced visits and has a role to play in collaborating with bodies like the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Port of Spain.
Such collaboration, however, cannot and should not replace the development of robust operational controls, effective law enforcement and strong independent oversight.