Increased security at children’s home after five boys ran away


Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy. – Jeff Mayers

Security both inside and outside a children’s home has been increased following the escape of five boys in March – with two of them being murdered while on the run.

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy said since the March 20 escape, the children’s home has increased security manpower, with increased internal and perimeter monitoring and increased the internal security infrastructure.

Webster-Roy, in response to e-mailed questions, said to further prevent such instances, the Children’s Authority under whose care the home falls, met with an inter-agency task force to discuss “alternative ways to exercise supervision and behaviour management of children in need of supervision (CHiNS).”

On March 28, two of the escapees Antonio Francois and Semion Daniel, both 15, were shot dead. Their bodies were found on the roof of an abandoned house in Mc Shine Lands, Laventille, after neighbours reported hearing gunshots.

The two were among five boys who escaped from the facility by squeezing through the burglar-proofing. Deputy Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob said recently that the three other boys were safe at an undisclosed location.

“Additional training of staff will be provided on vigilance and trauma management. The authority is also conducting a full audit of the operations, procedures, practices and systems at its child support centres. Alternative highly-secured facilities are being sourced for high risk CHiNS,” the minister said.

Sunday Newsday was told that training of staff was an issue raised in late 2019. Leaked documents showed former director of the Children’s Authority Dr Hanif Benjamin repeatedly calling for the inclusion of social work to be added to the qualifications needed for the supervisory position of team lead for child support centres, like the one the children escaped from.

Contacted on the issue, Benjamin, said he could not comment on the issue before politely ending the call. He later messaged to say he will not speak on the deliberations of the board and its committees. He said it would not be ethical and advised that the ministry be contacted.

Former chairman of the Children’s Authority Hanif Benjamin. – SUREASH CHOLAI

During a virtual media briefing on March 29, one day after two of the boys were murdered, director of the Children’s Authority Nichola Harvey-Mitchell said a security lapse at the children’s home led to the escape.

“We were aware of it (a plan to escape) prior to the Saturday. We stopped one attempt which was on the Wednesday and the second one happened on the Saturday. The Thursday and the Friday of that same week we brought the boys down where we gave them counselling,” she said adding that they gave them the assurance that the authority will do all to protect them.

Asked if the ministry was satisfied that all was done to prevent the escape, Webster-Roy said all children’s homes were advised to heighten their vigilance in the supervision of children, in particular internet supervision.

“The incident has brought to light the need for greater attention to be paid to the apparent linkages between the CHiNS population and gang association. It also highlights the usual ability of children to be crafty, in their distractions, as they bid to evade proper supervision, whether at their own home, in a children’s home or a child support centre. As such, all children’s homes have been advised to heighten their vigilance in the supervision of children, as well as their online activity. It also calls for stronger behaviour management programmes which may see quicker and more longer lasting results.”

Part of the plan to treat with male CHiNS will be the re-establishment of the St Michael’s Home for Boys. Webster-Roy said the home will be managed by the Military-Led Academic Training Programme (Milat) under the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service. The residential restorative programme will target boys between 12 to 18 in need of care and supervision.

“This facility will be designed and re-purposed to deliver a residential restorative development programme. Work is expected to be completed in August 2021. It is envisioned that residents will be fully engaged by a healthy mix of therapeutic, academic/skills training conducted and supervised by professionally trained staff. “

The school, which was a partnership with the Anglican Church, closed in 2018 after 129 years. The residency dwindled to about four boys at the time of closure while still maintaining high monthly bills. Permanent staff have been at home since then awaiting transfer to similar institutions.

Sunday Newsday was told that the staff were made to sign a log book daily at the Office of the Prime Minister’s St Clair office and return home. Asked if the new facility will re-hire the staff, Webster-Roy said staffing for the Restorative Programme for Boys in Need of Care and Supervision will not be managed by her ministry and could not say with certainty what will happen. She added that the facility will be guided by the National Standards for the Care of Children, “which stipulates the need for qualified personnel at all levels.”

The new facility will include a variety of interactive programmes and activities focusing on their individual care plans, she said.

“There will be special focus on: health and psycho-social development; education (academic, trade, technology, skills, sports and entertainment); behaviour management; and life and family reintegration skills. This will allow the resident to reintegrate into society as a productive, law-abiding citizen, with the tools and skills to achieve and actualise their potential.”

Prior to their escape, the boys alleged that they were being abused by staff, which was part of their motivation to run away. Webster-Roy said the Licensing and Monitoring Department investigated the claims and the results will be forwarded to her. She added that the monthly monitoring report did not reflect the allegations the boys made. Her ministry also received a report two days after the boys disappeared and a health, safety, security and the environment report three days following the boys’ killing.

Since the escape, Webster-Roy said: “The authority has been working with its stakeholders in the child protection sector to provide on-going support to the families of the children who died. The authority continues to provide psycho-social support and therapeutic intervention to the children who reside at its child support centres.”

She said the centres are not a “lockdown” type facility or a detention centre; however, the 39 children’s homes under the care of the Children’s Authority are required to have security arrangements, to protect the residents.

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