Public defender urges greater care in selecting children's homes staff

Observer staff reporter

Thursday, July 05, 2018

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PUBLIC Defender Arlene Harrison Henry says that greater care needs to be taken in selecting individuals to work in State-run children's homes.

Harrison Henry made the recommendation against the background of the alarming incidents of sexual abuse of children in State care revealed last week by Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) and the United Nations Children's Fund.

She also lamented that this was not the first report of abuse of children brought to the attention of the country.

“This is not the first report that we have had where children have been abused, where children's rights have been violated... and, therefore, it seems to me that there has to be greater oversight, greater investigation into what happens in children's homes, greater care in selecting persons who have the responsibility of the charge of our children,” Harrison Henry told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday after a forum on 'Safety and Justice for Jamaican Children' at Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston.

The public defender also suggested that a mechanism be put in place to enable children in State care to better express their experiences.

“...Where our children are taught early how to speak out, how to speak up and in a way that they are not punished or discriminated against further, because they are already vulnerable by virtue of age, by virtue of being in State care. The State has a very high duty of care to these children not only for their physical safety and their mental psychological growth and physical growth. The State has a high duty in respect of their education, their health and their overall development,” Harrison Henry argued.

Last week, JFJ Executive Director Rodje Malcolm revealed that a study undertaken by the rights group looked at 16,000 critical incidents, including physical abuse, suicidal activities such as self-harm, accidental injuries, and health emergencies, that have been recorded in residential childcare facilities across the island.

He also noted that 558 of these incidents occurred over the last five years.

On Tuesday Harrison Henry argued that in cases in which individuals who have responsibility to protect children fail in their duties, they should be held accountable.

“Where there are failings, and this can be proved by virtue of evidence, steps need to be taken to hold these people accountable. It is not everybody who has the make-up and the characteristics to look after children. We need to be careful in screening people who we employ to look after children,” the public defender said.

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