Complex case

Gender and Child Affairs Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy - ANGELO MARCELLE
Gender and Child Affairs Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy - ANGELO MARCELLE

WHILE we can take comfort in the swiftness of the response of Minister of Gender and Child Affairs Ayanna Webster-Roy to reports involving a 12-year-old boy subject to complaints at the Couva Children’s Home and Crisis Nursery, the case nonetheless shows glaring deficiencies in the child protection system.

For that system to work, it must demonstrate an ability to handle not only short-term needs but also long-term factors such as the identification and treatment of the complex medical issues that might arise in each case.

On both scores, the State and the police continue to disappoint. It should not have taken a report finally reaching the minister’s desk on May 13 for action to have been taken in a matter with a six-year history.

The granular details of the case, which must remain confidential given that children are involved, are undoubtedly nuanced. However, there is nothing subtle about a situation in which the same child has featured in dozens of complaints, matters which began at around age six.

“This child may have been acting out,” noted former Children’s Authority head Hanif Benjamin, who has experience dealing with cases of trauma, this week. “One has to be careful that we don’t create a scenario where this child is now labelled and victimised based on his aetiology.”

Clinical psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh has also noted the impact of child abuse on children, as well as very specific disorders which can play a role in disturbing behaviour. Aggressors can be victims.

Simply moving children around is of little use unless underlying issues are addressed.

In fact, abruptly uprooting minors can add to a stressful situation and can facilitate the losing sight of patterns, patterns that might continue in new settings.

The question of expertise arises, both in terms of personnel who oversee homes as well as the police. Handing over a child from the care of people with experience in dealing with minors to officers, even ones attached to specialist units, may also carry pitfalls.

In this regard, reports suggesting a special task force, dealing with historic cases of abuse contained in the 2021 Judith Jones Report and the 1997 Robert Sabga Report, was quietly disbanded tell us all we need to know about law enforcement capabilities to date.

It is claimed abuse victims back-pedalled and stopped coming forward, but such difficulties should have been anticipated.

“We have identified certain gaps,” Ms Webster-Roy said vaguely this week, as she revealed police have only now agreed to conduct regular visits to community residences.

But will such officers have the skills needed to diagnose issues, such as those that might have featured in this 12-year-old’s case?

And what signal is sent by such police visits to the children in these homes?


"Complex case"

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