Ramkissoon wants all workers in children’s homes vetted

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, December 07, 2012

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HEAD of the Mustard Seed Communities, Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon says that the law must take retroactive effect on workers in children’s homes who are there without the required credentials.

"The law is now that they should have police records and all. We (at Mustard Seed) have been doing that for a while but that law just came in and people are already there (in the state system). To me they should be brought to book to fulfil the present law to have some semblance of order, even if they are already there," Monsignor Ramkissoon told the Jamaica Observer.

The Catholic priest was speaking against the background of the physical, sexual, verbal abuse and misunderstanding of children in State care by some individuals employed as caregivers. He said part of the problem was caused by the less than adequate background checks done by State facilities.

"To be very honest, I don’t think there is any severe screening," he said. ...If [they] went to one of those practical nursing schools, they go out there, next thing you know they have a job in a children’s home," Ramkissoon said.

"So there is no psycho-therapeutical screening. Definitely there is no caregiving screening. Especially with the male workers, ‘come, you could be our security’, ‘come, you could be our driver’. Even if they want training, there is no in-house training and that’s a problem," he noted.

On Monday, consultant psychiatrist Dr Wendel Abel said such gaps in the present system put wards in an even more precarious situation.

"Probably 70 to 80 per cent of the girls who find themselves in these situations are repeatedly sexually abused and individuals who have been repeatedly sexually abused need comprehensive therapeutic intervention, they can’t be just thrown into a facility where they are not provided with the necessary care because all we do is retruamatise them and destroy them for the rest of their lives," said Dr Abel, who heads the University of the West Indies’ Department of Community Health and Psychiatry.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in a 1999 report, made it clear that staff who work in children’s homes and places of safety must be screened prior to employment to ensure they possess the skills and experience necessary to perform their job satisfactorily and, more importantly, have their backgrounds checked.

"Certain individuals appear to work out their personal pathology through the brutal subjugation and terror of powerless and defenceless children. Sometimes they use sexual abuse, sometimes physical and sometimes emotional abuse, sometimes all three. In spite of all endeavours to prevent it, such people occasionally manage to become appointed to childcare posts," UNICEF said then.

The report further noted that residential care institutions in Jamaica will also attract a particular type who will perpetuate these same unacceptable acts on children, if appointed and when opportunities present themselves.

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