JSC: Child-carers refused to submit police certificates

 St Jude's Home for Girls in Belmont. -
St Jude's Home for Girls in Belmont. -

CERTAIN carers at abuse-troubled children's homes refused to submit police certificates of good character and/or medical certificates, raising the ire of members of Parliament's Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Human Rights, said the JSC's report laid in the Senate on June 13.

The report was compiled after several hearings and visits to children's homes to assess the state of implementation of the recommendations of the Judith Jones report on abuse in homes.

However on June 30, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Ayanna Webster-Roy said all of TT's 33 homes were licensed – and all staff properly registered – at a briefing to say two sections of the Children’s Community Residences, Foster Care and Nurseries Act would be proclaimed to ban any unlicensed homes from operating.

Also present were OPM permanent secretary Vijay Gangapersad, Children’s Authority acting director Rhonda Gregoire-Roopchan and deputy director Elizabeth Lewis.

The JSC report highlighted challenges with some staff hired by the Statutory Authorities Service Commission (SASC).

The report's executive summary lamented, "The unwillingness of SASC-recruited staff of children’s homes to comply with the licensing requirements of providing certificates of character and taking medical exams is not in line with the trustworthiness expected of persons entrusted with such important and sensitive responsibilities.

"Given the context in which these staff work – that of providing care to vulnerable children – reticence to prove that one does not have a police record is, at the very least, unsettling."

The JSC said its concerns were supported by UN resolution 74/133 on the rights of the child, that "children without parental care are more likely than their peers to experience human rights violations, such as exclusion, violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation."

The report added, "Ensuring that staff interacting with the residents of children’s homes are indeed fit to assume this important responsibility is therefore a fundamental concern."

The report largely blamed physical and sexual abuse by staff for youngsters running away from homes.

"Absconding from children’s homes is, overall, closely linked to problems of physical and/or sexual abuse faced by children at the homes.

"Escaping the home comes to be seen as the only means of no longer falling victim to abuse.

"This is especially worrying given that, as noted by the Investigation Team, 'the purpose of child safeguarding is to prevent exposure of children to the risk of harm and abuse.'"

As to abusers, the report said, "Regarding the reports of improper relationship/s between the staff and the residents, the manager of the home stated that the staff members in question had been dismissed from the home."

In its findings, the report said TT's childcare system was "poorly structured, inadequately monitored, inconsistently regulated.

"Additionally, the lack of accountability promotes an environment for abuse and absconding.

"There is no effective mechanism for children to complain of abuse within the current care system."

The report blamed non-compliance by SASC staff as partly responsible for some homes being unlicensed or only partially licensed.

It cited the Children's Authority as saying that for homes to be fully licensed, all staff must be compliant in providing personal documentation.

It said, "Management of homes struggled to get staff to take medical exams and provide certificates of character.

"This was especially the case with staff employed through the SASC. This difficulty was noted at the St Jude's and St Dominic's Homes."

Further, the report said St Jude's had attributed staff compliance issues to the home’s inability to mandate such compliance by SASC-recruited staff, due to a collective bargaining agreement.

For St Dominic's, however, the report said since 2020, the home was no longer classified as a statutory authority.

"As such, the home shifted from being staffed by SASC-recruited personnel. At the time of the committee’s visit in January 2023, efforts were in progress to transfer non-compliant SASC-recruited staff elsewhere within the public service."

At the St Mary's Children's Home, by contrast, there were no plans to move away from SASC-recruited staff, as a 90 per cent compliance rate had already been achieved by the time of the committee’s January 2023 site visit.

"Full compliance was expected by the end of the first quarter of 2023," the report said.

"The manager of St Mary’s stated that to ensure compliance of staff, the management of the home offered to pay the cost of obtaining the medicals and certificates of character for the staff."

While St Mary’s was unlicensed, children were assigned there by the courts to be under the care of the Children's Authority.

"The resistance by the SASC staff to the requirements of the act at St Mary’s stemmed largely from the dissatisfaction and uncertainty from St Dominic’s Children’s Home’s stance to transition SASC staff to contract staff. There were, however, no plans for St Mary’s to shift away from SASC staff."

The committee recommended that the Children's Authority should provide an update on the full transition away from SASC staff at St Dominic's, and briefly report on the possibility of the same at St Jude's.

The report mentioned other staffing issues.

At least two caregivers were assigned to each dormitory, but more staff were needed at St Jude's, owing to "high absenteeism and little motivation by staff."

It added, "There had been challenges with staff feeling demotivated following reported incidents of staff being assaulted by residents."

The report said St Jude's should be relocated because of poor infrastructure at the current premises.

On May 31, Newsday reported that St Jude's residents were to be moved to the premises of the former St Michael's Home for Boys in Diego Martin.

The current environment of St Jude's was not conducive to the children's psychosocial recovery owing to "the high security concerns due to criminal elements around the community." It was also concerned about the inclusion of children in need of supervision and children in need of care and protection.

The report urged that family reintegration of residents should become a priority and institutionalisation be a last resort.

Girls must be helped with life skills towards transitioning from the home, the report urged.

"The manager of the home advised that, based on his assessment, 60 per cent of the girls who leave the facility at 18 years old become pregnant within two years and 50 per cent of the girls at the facility have a family history of being residents at the home."

On the Islamic Children's Home (Gasparillo) and Sri Jayalakshmi Children's Home (Longdenville), the report noted an increase in the numbers of children arriving at each home "traumatised and with mental health issues."

The former had four psychologists and the latter none at the home, but the authority was able to provide these upon request.

Newsday had asked the briefing on June 30 if it was satisfactory for the report to simply say staff who committed abuses had left the job or died.

Webster-Roy said the Jones Report had been sent to the police to investigate.

An authority official said even if staff had left their institutions, their offences were "still matters under investigation."

Newsday was told staff had been persuaded to comply in providing police certificates of character and medical certificates by way of the authority pleading the case of the children and the assistance of the Ministry of National Security in helping staff get their documentation.


"JSC: Child-carers refused to submit police certificates"

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