Secret trips to Mayaro with unapproved adults, transactions of marijuana for sex, gang rape initiations and former residents living at the homes of staff members are some of the horrific revelations made into the culture of sexual abuse at children’s homes in this country.
In a report titled “Safeguarding Children in Community Residences and Child Support Centres in Trinidad and Tobago” several children’s homes were exposed for their practices and complicity with respect to sexual abuse at the facilities.
None more damning that the findings at The Margaret Kistow Children’s Home in Arima.
The report has recommended that the Children’s Authority immediately suspend its operations.
The report states that “The manager indicated that he invites boys who age out to live with him. Three boys currently reside with the manager. According to the manager, “nothing wrong with this, I doing this for years because they have nowhere else to go.”
Upon enquiry, neighbours confirmed to the Investigation Team that they saw boys frequenting the home of the manager.”
The report went on to say, “statements from the manager indicated that residents often leave the home to purchase marijuana and return to smoke it on the compound. This increases the probability of child abuse in the form of transactional sex.”
The report said that the Margaret Kistow Children’s Home allowed its residents to go on trips with adults which were logged in a clandestine manner.
“The home allows children to spend weekends in Mayaro with individuals who are not the children’s legal guardians/parents and the information is logged in a special book. This practice contravenes the Authority’s policy.”
The report also noted a lapse in conducting the necessary background checks resulting in the employment of a person who has prior allegations of sexual abuse.
In addition to recommending that the home’s operations be suspended pending an investigation by the Children’s Authority, the report said that the practice of sending out children should be immediately stopped and that the Authority must be notified when a resident is transitioning from the Home to a staff’s private home.
Guardian Media called the Margaret Kistow Children’s Home for a comment but an automated voicemail message said their hours of operation on Sunday ends at 2 pm. We called at 1.30 pm.
The report said the home is unlicensed and as of July 2021 had 40 residents (17 boys, 21 girls, 2 young men) in a facility with a population capacity of 35.
The St Jude’s Home for Girls was also exposed in the report, where gang rape and sexual grooming by security guards were said to be some of the problems found.
According to the report, “Frequent sexual activity occurs among residents including situations that residents described as “gang rape.”
The allegation of gang rape was found to be part of the “hazing process.” Sexual interaction and grooming were found to have occurred between residents and staff and security personnel.
The report went on to say that security guards have been found complicit in supplying psychotropic substances and other unregulated drugs to residents.
“The situation increases the children’s vulnerability regarding sexual abuse. Additionally, the practice contravenes the Dangerous Drugs Act, Section 7.”
The investigation also found that in one case a security guard allowed a girl to escape the premises in order to have possible sexual relations with an adult.
The report named a family whose sexual involvement with residents was described as “habitual.”
The report found that there is a “pattern of gross negligence on the part of Management in the use of Security Guards for the supervision of girls.” The investigative committee recommended that Management be held accountable for failing to safeguard the girls.
On April 8, three girls ran away from this facility.
St Jude’s Home for Girls is also not licensed according to the report with a population of 56 girls as of July 2021.
The Dominic’s Children’s Home was reported as a facility that fails to indemnify and protect residents from grooming and thus sexual abuse.
At the St Mary’s Children’s Home it was found that incident reports are not fully capturing the extent of sexual abuse and at the Casa de Corazon Children’s Home it was revealed that management identified a female staff member who was found to be having inappropriate interactions with a resident at “odd hours.”
The report scolds the Children’s Authority for not doing its job in monitoring what goes on at these facilities. The investigative committee noted that the children who come into the State’s care usually are survivors of trauma and abuse at home.
“The fact that this type of abuse also occurs in the State system is inexcusable in the face of responsibility of the State to provide a safe and secure environment.”
The 139-page report was released by the Office of the Prime Minister after being laid in Parliament on Friday by Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Ayanna Webster-Roy.
This was the result of a Cabinet-appointed independent investigative team tasked with probing reports of child abuse at children’s homes.
Minister Webster-Roy announced that $126 million will be allocated to a task force with a six-week deadline to come up with an action plan for the recommendations coming out of the report.