Stung by Opposition criticism of Government spending, deficits and the Moody’s credit rating downgrade, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Communications Minister Vasant Bharath last night p
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PM gets first task force report Children’s homes must be licensed
Children are abusing children in community homes with staff looking the other way, head of the Child Protection Task Force Diana Mahabir-Wyatt said yesterday, shortly after Cabinet agreed to implement a recommendation for stricter monitoring of these institutions. She said: “We need to take a look at what’s going on in children’s homes. They are not being properly monitored. “Very often children abuse children and staff can look the other way...We all know what’s going on,” Mahabir-Wyatt said, promising more reports will be coming from her task force. She spoke to the media after yesterday’s post-Cabinet conference where Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced that the Government has decided to implement recommendations for three areas deemed priorities by the task force. One of the recommendations was the licensing of children’s homes. “I think we are in a crisis,” Mahabir-Wyatt said, summing up the attacks on children. “It’s absolutely an emergency, what’s happening to our children. It’s why we are working as hard as we are and will not stop until it’s done.” Persad-Bissessar was officially presented with the first report of the task force at the post-Cabinet media conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in St Clair by Mahabir-Wyatt and members. The Government was informally given the report last Christmas Eve, just weeks after the task force was set up, following the murder of six-year old Keyana Cumberbatch. Mahabir-Wyatt, in an earlier interview, had said children homes had no consistent standards. Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Clifton de Coteau, a member of the task force, said yesterday there are about 54 children’s homes in T&T and very few are “licensed” and received government subventions.
• St Mary’s Community Residence
• St Jude’s School for Girls
• St Dominic’s Children’s Home
Asked if they are, therefore, licensed, de Coteau said: “They have contracts. The contracts are like licences.” As for the rest, the minister said “they just exist.” These are homes often set up through the goodwill of operators and where the police sometimes just send abused children, he said. They operate on handouts from corporate sponsors and individuals. Persad-Bissessar, in announcing Cabinet’s decision to implement the priority recommendations, said: “The first has to do with the establishment of assessment centres, the second with the staffing of the Children’s Authority and the third the licensing of community residences.” She said Mahabir-Wyatt asked that the legislative aspects of child protection be put on the back-burner for now until these three areas were addressed. On the licensing of children’s homes, the PM said she was told the authority developed draft standards in collaboration with key stakeholders to provide the primary tool for licensing and monitoring of community residences.
The drafting of the standards was followed by the conduct of a gap analysis exercise which aimed to identify the gaps between what presently existed in the residences and what was required to bring them up to standards, she said. Foster care regulations will also be based on these standards, she added. On the question of staffing for the Children’s Authority, she said the ministry, in July 2012, submitted a compensation package to the Chief Personnel Officer which was approved yesterday by Cabinet. Only 19 of the 97 positions in the authority were filled because of the issue of compensation, she said. A ministerial committee with the responsibility for remuneration arrangements met on Wednesday and approved compensation for staff at the Children’s Authority. The PM said the committee was guided by terms existing for comparable positions in the public sector which require similar qualifications and experience. “I would ask you to go forth and recruit,” she said to the task force members present.
On assessment centres, where abused children will be assessed before they are sent to institutions, Persad-Bissessar said the first will be opened at the Children’s Hospital at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex. A memorandum of understanding was signed with the North Central Regional Health Authority early in the new year and a contract awarded for the commencement of work this month. The centre is expected to be fully functional by June. The ministry will construct two other centres, in South and Central. Several other places will be refurbished throughout T&T to accommodate, among other things, male safe homes and female safe homes. Persad-Bissessar said she has “tasked the minister to expedite as fast as he could.” She also asked the task force to look at the offences in the Children’s Act to see if they could be proclaimed.