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Basic rights of children abused

By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, July 20 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Behaviour change consultant Salorne Mc Donald....
Behaviour change consultant Salorne Mc Donald....

Sexual predatory and mental and physical abuse are alleged to be taking place in the nation’s children’s homes.

There is too, the allegation that some of the perpetrators of these acts are persons entrusted with the responsibility to care and rehabilitate the youngsters.

The findings of the report into the death of Brandon Hargreaves at the St Michael’s Home for Boys in Diego Martin in April, have again brought into sharp focus the need to effectively regulate and police such institutions with respect to personnel and practices.

The damning report is now the subject of a criminal investigation — a move prompted by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, to whom a copy of the report was given last week.

Hargreaves, 14, is alleged to have fallen from a roof at the institution on April 8. The St Michael’s Home for Boys is managed jointly by the Anglican Board and Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development.

Contained in the Hargreaves report are allegations that a female worker took a young man from the institution to her home. She is believed to have been impregnated by the teenager and has since given birth.

Issues relating to the theft of the boys’ personal defects and negligence in the supervision of the boys were also raised in the report. Responding to the report, Minister of Gender,Youth and Child Development Clifton De Coteau announced that a standardisation policy to regulate and monitor children’s homes is being drafted by the Government.

But social activists and professionals in the field of child development and juvenile rehabilitation are taking little consolation in De Coteau’s announcement, arguing that it may again simply be a superficial reaction to serious issues that are alleged to have long plagued children’s homes in the country.

Behaviour change consultant Salorne Mc Donald scoffs at the minister’s announcement, suggesting that the reported physical and sexual abuse taking place at facilities such as the St Michael’s Home for Boys stemmainly from an absence of proper standards with respect to the recruitment of staff.

“Until there is a proper standard of hiring individuals to do this type of work, you are going to have problems. That is the root of everything,” he told Sunday Newsday.

Claiming that the criteria for work in these institutions was at least three O’Level passes, Mc Donald said there also was no screening process in place to gauge the mental and emotional well — being of staff members.

“It is done for the executives but there is no psycho-graphic profile, generally, for workers,” he said. Mc Donald said the “mixed nature” of juvenile facilities often lends itself to the problems experienced.

He said, “You have a situation where some of the children may be orphaned, where some would have come from abused homes and where some would be there because of crimes they have committed.

“You have a mixed population and there is no way of knowing who has done what when they go in because they do not separate the populations, and things happen.”

Regarding in-house programmes, Mc Donald said there was no system in place to cater to the developmental needs of the children outside of volunteer care.

“There is no programme geared toward growth and development of youngsters and sexual health issues. It is simply not in place,” he said. “When that happens you are laying the foundation for all sorts of things to happen and the children come out abused, not well-educated about their sexuality and there are no coping mechanisms, so they are just left up to their own devices.”

Mc Donald works with street children, gang members, escorts and brothel workers.

Several of them, he said, have claimed that they were victims of alleged sexual abuse and other unsavory acts during their stay at children’s homes. He said one of them, a young woman, claimed she is now an escort — the result of sexual abuse she endured at the hands of a male staff member during her years at the institution. “The matter was investigated and the man was suspended but then he returned,” he said. Mc Donald added, “The ethos that drives these facilities is not one that has the children’s well-being as their primary goal.

The entire system runs along the line of abuse, violence and keeping things quiet. You are basically telling paedophiles to come and partake.”Claiming that background checks on persons who visit the children are hardly done, Mc Donald recalled an incident some years ago in which a small group of children from a home were taken to work for a prominent business in Port-of-Spain.

“The worked for a day in the basement of the businessplace but the incident was kept quiet,” he said. Mc Donald called for increased accountability at children’s homes as well as the formulation of a body of protocols to ensure that the basic rights of children were addressed by the authorities.

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