NGO wants action now on children’s homes

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FILE PHOTO: The St Jude’s Home For Girls, Belmont Circular Road, Belmont.

The NGO CAISO: Sex and Gender Justice is demanding immediate action by government on child sexual abuse in residential care facilities.

In a release, the organisation said it was horrified at the reported instances of sexual abuse at state-funded and private residential care facilities for children.

CAISO director Angelique Nixon said the report was beyond disturbing and should have everyone in civil society especially demanding immediate action, accountability and urgent response.

“All I can think about is the continued harm, trauma, and violations that children and young people have had to endure because of the failure of the State, the failure of government leaders, and the failure of the Children’s Authority to intervene.”

The release said rather than an anomalous instance, these acts of violence against the nation’s most vulnerable seemed pervasive and entrenched.

“The report by the independent investigation team appointed by Cabinet to investigate reports of child abuse at children’s homes shows there is a systematic and ongoing failure to safeguard children in residential care institutions.

“We note in the report several incidents of children being targeted and abused because of their perceived gender identity and sexual orientation. From our work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex plus (LGBTQI+) communities, we can confirm that there are many instances of youth being kicked out of their homes because of homophobia and transphobia. We recognise that LGBTQI youth (identified or perceived) in the residential care system may experience double or triple marginalisation based on their gender and sexuality.”

CAISO said it was disappointed with how slowly the matter was being dealt with. It said the report was submitted to Minister with Responsibility for Gender and Child Affairs Ayanna Webster-Roy in December, but was only laid in Parliament four months later, with no explanation for the government’s delayed response or action.

“The minister’s announcement Monday of the appointment of an inter-agency task force ‘to devise a work plan for the implementation of the recommendations’ is concerning, given the slow pace of implementation with little accountability, of the numerous investigations preceding the December 2021 report. As we await the deliberations of yet another task force, CAISO calls upon the Government to heed the independent investigation team’s demands for the ‘re-evaluation and re-organisation of the childcare system as a matter of urgency.’”

CAISO said it supported the recommendations on page eight of the report, which focus on addressing the systematic failure of the Children’s Authority and prioritising the needs and well-being of children and young people.

CAISO said it insisted that everyone identified in the report as involved in the abuse of children, whether actively or passively, should be held suitably and sufficiently accountable. It said the State has an obligation to ensure the protection and welfare of children, but has defaulted by the continued refusal to enforce the mandatory provisions for licensing of children’s homes. The organisation urgently recommended that therapeutic and psycho-social support should be immediately offered to the children and young people who have been harmed, as well as state support offered to those aged out of the homes.

CAISO director Catherine Shepherd said the government can ill afford to repeat the sins of omission and errors of inaction of preceding administrations, or continue putting children at risk.

“A delayed response to the report’s findings and recommendations will be detrimental to the health and well-being of children still living in unfit and unregulated homes, and hundreds of young people who have aged out of this abusive and broken system, without the tools or care to support them during adulthood.”

CAISO strongly recommended the introduction of a trauma-informed, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex-education curriculum for the staff and residents of residential care institutions, to equip them with the knowledge and language to communicate on such issues in the future.

“We believe that an informed society is an empowered society. Teaching children and young people about their bodies and sexuality with a clear understanding of consent is essential to reducing the frequency of child sexual abuse and gender-based violence.”

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