The number of reports of child abuse to the Children's Authority (CA) has continued to increase exponentially since it first began operating in June 2015, with the body having now received more than 6,000 complaints. In August 2015 by contrast, just three months after they opened their doors, the CA had received just over 1,300 reports of child abuse, less than a quarter of the number of cases now.
The CA's deputy director of Care, Legal and Regulatory Services, Christalle Gemon, last week confirmed that although the number of reports continued to increase daily, they were committed to delivering the highest level of quality care and justice for all the victims and their families.
She spoke at a panel discussion hosted by the Single Fathers Association of T&T at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex.
Her counterpart at CA, Legal Services manager Urmilla Seenath, spoke of the importance of a child knowing both parents. She explained that in the event that a child had to be removed from the family home while an investigation is being done, they would naturally seek the secondary parent in order to place the child with family.
If the secondary parent could not be located, the child would often-times be placed in a foster facility.
The fathers' group expressed concern about what they said were false accusations of abuse directed towards fathers.
After hearing from a father who is currently involved in a custody battle with his ex-wife over their young son–and who had been accused of sexually abusing his son–Gemon said this was a not a new or unknown development.
"We experienced a flood of this when we opened," she admitted, adding that mothers would normally accuse fathers in order to "score" points before the judge when they appeared in the custody hearing.
Clinical child psychologist Dr Karen Moore was equally critical of this behaviour as she said, "There is absolutely no excuse for that," regarding the false accusations and lies which she claimed were "inexcusable and highly destructive to the child in the situation."
On the issue of "wounded men" who may need counselling in the face of such false and destructive accusations, both Moore and Dr Robert Moultrie, who specialises in the field of internal medicine, agreed that those men also needed to access treatment in order to move forward.
Make the laws equal
Paternity and access also surfaced as key concerns of the fathers' group. A social worker and single father, underscoring the fact that mothers hold the advantage legally, said, "Mother's baby, father's maybe."
President of the Single Fathers Association of T&T (SFATT) Rhondall Feeles said they don't have much judicial or legislative protection.
Wiping tears from his eyes, one father told the panel of his early struggles and the financial costs he willingly undertook in order to see his daughter who had been taken to the US when she was born.
Referring to the custody arrangement as "time sharing," the father also called for a balance in society as he said it was unfair that they were being asked to pay maintenance and not allowed to see the child except for a few hours on the weekend.