Children are being abused at an alarming rate and the homes entrusted to look after them are bursting at the seams.
So said head of the Victim and Witness Support Unit, Margaret Sampson-Browne, who made an urgent appeal for more homes to be built, adding that corporate sponsors must also get on board with this venture.
The Children's Autho�rity has reported that there were over 5,000 cases of alleged abuse committed against children in vari�ous forms in the last 12 months.
The authority added a major challenge was finding appropriate homes for such children.
Sampson-Browne, a former assistant commissioner of police (ACP) in charge of Community Affairs, said very little had changed over the years regarding this.
"This has been a problem from time immemorial.
"Sometimes we have a child, six, seven years and we cannot find a home.
"Worse when they reach 14 or 16 or a child with HIV...it is more challenging.
"There is really an urgent need to provide sufficient homes because the children are suffering. And these homes must be well rounded to properly develop the child," Sampson-Browne added.
She said while the Child Protection Unit was responsible for the placement of children, sometimes the help of the police was sought.
"We have had challenges with identifying the appropriate home for the child.
"Many times this has been the case," Sampson-Browne said.
She said another issue was "lumping" the children together rather than catering to specific needs of the child.
"It has reached crisis proportion. Some of the homes are not adequately staffed.
"I know the Children's Authority has been doing some training and evaluation but the rate it is done is not the rate by which the services are required.
"We don't want to place children in a home where after a number of months or years they just fade into the distance so we need to bring all that up to speed," Sampson-Browne said.
A check showed there were 33 registered children's homes in T&T, but she said this figure was still not certain as there were many people who have offered their services to care for abused children but such homes were not necessarily registered.
Sampson-Browne said in the past the police, upon removing a child from an abusive home, would take that child to a "person who cares for children" in the community.
But now that is the responsibility of the Children's Authority.
"We know the standard homes are St Michael's, St Jude's and St Mary's.
"Other than that other non-governmental organisations have been providing a service and whether or not that service is in keeping with what the Children's Authority requires is another issue because they have their own way of addressing situations," Sampson-Browne added.
On whether she was satisfied that police officers were doing their best to investigate cases of child abuse she said while the officers were working there "could never be a perfect situation."
A manager of a children's home in east Trinidad said some 15 years ago the home began with five children and it now cares for close to 30 plus children.
She agreed that sourcing the proper staff and adequate financial support could be daunting.
The home, she said, was primarily run on donations including food, clothing, books and toys from generous citizens.