Children’s Authority in High Hopes Despite Challenges
The Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago will this week mark two years since becoming operational.
Armed with a mandate to provide care and protection to the nation’s children, the Authority’s staff has been working tirelessly to address the needs of children who come to its attention.
Since May 18, 2015 to now, the organisation has received more than 40 thousand calls from the public. However, of those calls, 10 thousand have been identified as potential cases of child abuse. It must be noted that in some instances the Authority’s hotline may have received multiple reports of abuse regarding one child. Therefore, the investigation aspect of the Authority’s work was critical to identifying whether a child was at risk or a victim of abuse or neglect.
To date, almost 8 thousand cases are receiving attention from the Authority. So far over 3 thousand investigations have been completed and more than 700 families have been counselled.
Additionally, the Authority has licensed nine children’s homes and over 300 visits have been conducted at more than 40 Community Residences throughout Trinidad and Tobago, to ensure compliance with legislative standards.
As the organisation marks its second Anniversary, it is greatly aware that there is a distressing level of unmet needs. This has been exacerbated by the inadequacy of infrastructure, manpower, finances, accommodation for children in conflict with the law, transition homes, facilities for children with special needs, as well as a high case load and limited placement options for children in imminent danger.
Despite these drawbacks, the Authority is thankful for the support given by the Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Child Affairs) to help it deliver services to children and their families. The collaboration with various agencies within the child protection sector has also been critical to the Authority in delivering on its mandate.
The Authority has also increased public education on how to identify signs of child abuse and the role of parents and guardians in preventing child abuse. It is hoped that this outreach and continued partnership will bring about a positive change in the way children are cared for and protected.
Anyone who suspects child abuse can call the Police at 999 or the Authority’s hotlines at 996 or 800-2014.
Child Abuse Can Be Prevented
Preventing child abuse requires collaboration. As a result the Children's Authority of Trinidad and Tobago is appealing to communities and families to work together, to provide safe, stable, and nurturing environments that are free from abuse and neglect.
Data collected by the Authority from May 2015 to December 2016, reveals that physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect continue to be the highest reported types of child abuse. During that period the Authority received almost 9,000 reports of abuse.
As part of its continued public education campaign, the Authority is joining in the national recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month. The Authority plans to bring awareness of the role communities and families play in preventing child abuse and neglect, by highlighting how families and communities can keep children safe from abuse.
With the upcoming Easter holidays, parents and caregivers are reminded to observe the following tips to prevent child abuse:
- Minimise Opportunity - Eliminate or reduce "one on one" situations, to lower the risk of abuse.Seek help when under stress to help you parent effectively because it's so easy to cross the line.
- Talk about it – Often times, children may feel ashamed to report incidents of abuse. It is important that parents and caregivers maintain open communication with children to allow them to feel comfortable to report any incidents or concerns they may have.
- Stay Alert - Be wary of physical changes in your children (e.g. marks or redness on body; discharges when bathing or changing young children, pain or discomfort in any body part especially genitals).
- Know the non-physical signs of child abuse. Depression, fear or avoidance of a certain adult or place, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, bedwetting, nightmares, inappropriate sexual behaviour, poor hygiene, secrecy, and hostility.
- Talk to children about what is an "ok touch" - one that makes them feel happy and safe, and a touch that is "not ok" - one that hurts or makes them feel uncomfortable.
The Authority reminds the public that child protection is everyone's business, therefore, we all have a role to protect our children from perpetrators of abuse and nurture children in an environment that encourages their development.
All reports of abuse should be made to the Police at 999, the Authority's hotlines at 996 or 800-2014 or www.ttchildren.org
Children's Authority Responds to Misinformed Newspaper Article
The Children’s Authority notes with concern the misinformed and incorrect statements which appear in today’s newspaper regarding the placement of a 15 year-old child.
The Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago advises that contrary to the media report, the child was not residing at the St. Michael’s School for Boys when he was relocated. In 2015, the Authority conducted individual assessments of the children at St Michael’s, with the aim of identifying ideal placement, and the rehabilitative interventions that would best meet the needs of each child, including psychological, medical, social, and educational needs.
In this instance, the assessment of the child recommended Foster Care as the optimal placement since the child had no relatives who could take care of him, and continued placement at St. Michael’s was found to be inappropriate. As a result, the Court granted a change in the initial Order which committed the child to St. Michael’s, and ordered that the child instead be placed in Foster Care. After placement with two successive Foster Carers broke down the Authority sought other placements which also broke down.
It was after the various placements had been exhausted that the child asked to see the Director, who had mentored him prior to assuming the position of Director. Placement with the Director was then considered. It must be noted that there is no restriction in the legislation as to who may apply to become a Fit Person for any child who has no parent, guardian or other person fit or willing to care for the child.
An independent investigator was engaged and the recommendation was that the child would be well placed in the care of the Director. The child’s mother was also contacted and agreed to the proposed arrangement, while working toward reunification.
It is unfortunate that the article gives the impression of wrongdoing on the part of the Director, as the best interest of the child and the views which he expressed, were taken into account and the process was followed.
The Authority advises the public that from the beginning of this process, the intention was, and continues to be, that the child’s placement would be approved by the Court, and monitored independently and not by the Authority, in order to eliminate any conflict of interest, perceived or real.
The Authority will continue to diligently seek the best possible outcomes for children who come to our attention.
Children's Authority Appeals to Report Abuse to its Hotline
Recent reports have suggested that the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago failed to respond to a report of a child being used as a sex slave.
The Authority confirms that initial reports were made to its Hotline about the child, but these did not identify any concerns of child sexual abuse.
However, once that concern was identified following receipt of a media report yesterday, the Authority’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) was dispatched to investigate the new allegations made to the media.
The Authority has found child protection concerns and is taking steps to immediately address those concerns and ensure the child’s safety.
The Authority is appealing to the public to report all suspicions or incidents of abuse to our Hotline at 996 and 800-2014, as our intervention can only be initiated once a report is made.
Under the Children Act, 2012, the Authority is mandated to investigate all reports of abuse. Once a report of child abuse or mistreatment is brought to the Authority’s attention, the investigation process is initiated to substantiate or not substantiate the allegations with a view to determining whether the child is in need of care and protection and what interventions would be appropriate in the child’s best interest.
Make Your Child’s Safety a Priority
The Children's Authority of Trinidad and Tobago is concerned about the increasing number of reports of children missing.
The Authority notes that children who run away from home are at the risk of being exposed to physical and sexual abuse from perpetrators, who will have increased access and opportunity. As a result, the Authority is appealing to parents and guardians to know their children's whereabouts and ensure that they are supervised at all times by a trusted adult.
Parents and guardians are reminded that maintaining open communication with children allows them to feel comfortable to report any incidents or concerns they may have.
Meanwhile, the Authority is calling on parents and guardians to ensure adequate measures are put in place for children's safety over the Carnival period.
The Authority has identified some tips to observe:
- Set boundaries about places children may go and enforce them
- Encourage children to check in with you frequently when they are not at home
- Monitor closely social media and cellular phone activity
- Observe changes in your child's behaviour which may reveal signs of abuse
- Know your children's friends and observe any new influences which may affect their behaviour
- Older children should not be given the responsibility to supervise younger ones
- When attending Carnival activities, provide young children with identification cards bearing their name, name of parent/guardian, address and telephone number (this should be placed on their person, e.g. pocket, pinned under shirt or around the wrist)
- Do not serve alcoholic beverages to childrenIf children are attending camps, be aware of the adults supervising them, their contact information and request the itinerary of events
- Monitor children at all times when at the beach or by the river. Never allow a child to go into the water alone
- Regardless of age, parents and guardians should talk to children about safety rules
For more information about the Children's Authority,visit www.ttchildren.org