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Friday 23 March 2018

Listen when a child cries abuse

Due to the volume of reports of crimes against children, including offences of a sexual nature, people need to be better educated on what is appropriate and inappropriate in touching children, advises Children’s Authority chairman, Stephanie Daly.

“If a child tries to tell you something, you have to listen instead of just assuming that they are trying to cause problems, or talking rubbish,” she told Sunday Newsday.

“The signs are usually there, and if you turn away from the signs that something is wrong, the situation will get worse. The problem is, when it is in the household, it is sometimes people who are trusted.” Over 3,000 reports of offences committed against children, within the five month period of the May 18, 2015 start up, were made to the Children’s Authority.

Not all required police intervention, Daly said.

The number of reports were more than the 1,358 reports made to the Child Protection Unit (CPU) of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service for the period May 18, 2015 to December 31, 2015.

Over 100 children, Daly noted were moved to limited places of safety available to the authority from authority’s start up date to the end of 2015.

“We had some arriving and left with us over the Christmas period.

We have had them placed on an interim basis. It is an every day event. Everyday we get a phone call and staff has to be rushing off. Lots of placements we made were to children’s homes,” she said. A foster care programme was not yet up and running, she said noting that meetings with people have begun.

Asked why the number of complaints of offences against children differs from that of the CPU, Daly said some of the responses do not involve police intervention and have no substance.

“We have to prioritise through triage and grade according to the degree of risk,” she said.

A major obstacle facing the authority, she said, was that the number of reports received was much more than was anticipated.

“As far as we understand the police had been receiving about 1,000 complaints a year” she said, “We have received over 3,000 reports during the first five months of operation. The number kept growing and growing as the year continued.” Though not all the reports required police intervention or response, she said, the authority has an obligation to investigate them once they get a call.

The staff have been overstretched to handle the volume of complaints, she said, but they work because they were conscientious and believed in what they were doing.

“It is very hard to deal with some of these situations on a continuous basis. They walk into situations that are deeply disturbing sometimes,” she said.

The authority has not yet its full complement of staff, and due to current economic conditions, she said, “we are not sure what the picture will be for the coming fiscal year.” “Our set up was predicated on the number of reports the police would have been getting. We expected more, but we did not realise how much more it would have been,” she said.

In the past, she said people were reluctant to report to the police before the police instituted a trained division to deal with these matters. The volume of reports, she said, demonstrates people have the confidence in the authority to make a report.

Some complaints were made anonymously by the 24-hour hotline, and from schools and professional people who would have had suspicions. “From every means of communication possible,” she said, though some sources were unreliable.

On general abuse, not particularly sexual abuse, Daly said, it was usually mothers and fathers who were the abusers. Single parents may get frustrated and use harsh methods of punishment like burning a child’s hand, she noted.

On the fact that there has been no convictions for crimes committed against children since the authority was set up, Daly said, “Our main interest is to protect children. We work with the police.” Specific information on the functioning of the authority, she said was submitted in its annual report to the line minister in keeping with statutory requirements.


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