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Verna wants to sue State over abuses
Former gender, youth and child development minister Verna St Rose-Greaves says she is seeking advice on whether legal action can be taken against the State for failing to adequately protect children sent to community residences. Accusing successive governments of failing miserably to ensure child protection rights, St Rose-Greaves, a social activist and social worker, said many institutions had managed to evade closure because of familiarity and misplaced loyalties. As she responded to questions about the situation at the St Michael’s School for Boys, Diego Martin, St Rose-Greaves revealed she was also considering making representation to the United Nations, “since we keep signing on to all these conventions but fail to do what is required.”
Speaking about allegations of sexual and physical abuses, neglect and general mismanagement at the school, which were highlighted after the death of Brandon Hargreaves, 14, St Rose-Greaves said she was happy an investigation was done. But she raised questions about a number of issues which she believed needed to be addressed. They include the autopsy findings and, if it revealed any sexual and physical abuse, why a police investigation was not done before and whether an inquest will be held; the terms of reference for the investigating committee and the independence of the process. “I am asking all of this, not to point fingers or apportion blame but perhaps in the hope that our processes have not undermined the search for justice,” she said.
Hargreaves, of Cascade, was first said to have died on April 8 after hitting his head on the concrete floor of his dormitory while trying to dropkick another child. He had been sent to the school by the court. During the inquiry into his death by a three-member team, set up by the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development, issues of sexual impropriety, physical abuse, neglect, theft and gross misconduct were highlighted. There were also allegations he was beaten to death. Endorsing the Attorney General’s call for criminal charges to be laid following investigations, St Rose-Greaves said: “I believe that criminal charges should also be brought against the State and some of its agents, the denominational boards and others for example, when children from the home are taken to a medical institution and injuries consistent with abuse are not recorded and or reported. I am seeking legal advice regarding possibilities for action against the State.”
Referring to the 1997 Robert Sabga report, which was never tabled in Parliament, St Rose-Greaves claimed the findings were “cloaked in what can only be described as a conspiracy of silence. The findings were damning and to ignore it was a criminal act.”
The way forward
She has suggested a Children’s Ombudsperson be appointed so anyone in difficulty would have someone they could trust and talk to about their situation. Asked on the way forward now, St Rose-Greaves said: “It may be useful to revisit all those reports and see where we are and what else can be done. “There was a good foster care programme established which should be further developed... perhaps smaller homes, different models and best-practice examples from other jurisdictions, the family court, more family support and more prevention work. “The legislation speaks to what is required. Staff selection, training, staff protection and care. “We have replicated the prison compound in many of our children’s homes and that needs special attention.”