Verna: Abused kids can sue

This was revealed to Newsday yesterday by Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Verna St Rose-Greaves, who last Friday had read from the report to pilot the Children’s Bill 2012 in the Lower House.

St Rose-Greaves told Newsday that the Barnes Report had urged the establishment of a Children’s Ombudsman. This State official, she said, would be able to initiate legal proceedings on behalf of aggrieved children, under proposals in the Barnes Report. Reading from the Barnes Report to Newsday, she said it also urged a unified social service, plus more accountability, education and training for social workers. The report also calls for greater efficiency in the execution of social work, including a social work information management system that could be accessed by any social worker across TT, and which is presumably computer-based. The social services need more staff, she said of the Barnes Report, and social workers must be given better transport to access clients in challenging locations. She said the Barnes Report also sought special care for juvenile mothers and their babies. The Children’s Authority must be established, said another report proposal.

St Rose-Greaves said the report blamed Amy’s death on a failure of the police and medical social workers. It recommended that when a child is admitted to the accident and emergency department of a hospital, his or her injuries must not be dismissed as accidental.

St Rose-Greaves expounded on the report’s call for more help for social workers. She opined that the current situation of social workers is woeful, critical and bad. Social workers face tough conditions of work — including visiting rough areas at unsocial hours — and often being poorly paid. From her own personal experience, she could attest to the burnout that many social workers face due to their demanding roles. “We need to give care to our care-givers,” urged St Rose-Greaves.

St Rose-Greaves said she would consult on whether or not to lay the Barnes Report in Parliament.

The report’s main recommendation, she said, was the establishment of a Children’s Authority, which is already being done.

She said the Children’s Authority’s role is the overseeing, monitoring and evaluation of the agencies charged with child protection.

This body has previous existed but only under partially-proclaimed legislation.

The Authority would now be fully operationalised by the bill. The Children’s Authority and its support systems, she said, must be set up post-haste, so as to give life to the bill. “They have heads of departments and staff, and are working on standards and structures. There’s lots to be done. We are not waiting, but have a multi-pronged approach”

Asked about the need for enforcement of laws — in addition to passing tough legislation — she said communities must “buy in” to the idea of their role in supporting children, more than just reporting child-abuse. “We need a shift of culture, in terms of awareness,” said St Rose-Greaves.

St Rose-Greaves warmly welcomed the collaboration between the Government and Opposition in support of the Children’s Bill 2012. She said the Bill — on which she and eight elected MPs spoke so far last Friday — would return to the House in three weeks. “The Opposition said it will support the bill, with changes. We want to get it so both sides are comfortable.” She hoped the bill would also get the nod of the Independent bench in the Senate.


"Verna: Abused kids can sue"

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