Struck by allegations that the operator of a daycare facility is before the courts on sexual grooming charges — while facing another 40 sex-related counts — an official of the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) is again pleading with parents to ensure that they entrust their children only to ECC-sanctioned entities.
"…When we have early childhood institutions that continue to operate without being registered… then the possibility exists that something like this [sex offences] can happen," cautioned board chair of the Early Childhood Commission Trisha Williams-Singh.
"If we don't know about you [early childhood institution] then clearly you would not have done a police record which speaks to 'fit and proper'," chair of the outlined in an interview with the Observer.
The individual now before the court was arrested and charged following a 2020 incident in which he reportedly plied a 13-year-old with liquor and touched her private parts before taking her to his house where he offered her money in exchange for intercourse.
The man, who was allegedly found with 20,000 performance enhancement capsules, was last week remanded in custody when he appeared before the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court after prosecutors detailed the magnitude of the allegations against him.
"It is mandatory that anyone working in the early childhood sector must produce a police record and in the event that you have a police record, and you are not fit and proper you cannot operate in the sector," Williams-Singh pointed out.
She noted that with the return of many parents to their desks, given the lifting of work-from-home protocols which existed during the heights of the novel coronavirus pandemic, parents have to be even more vigilant about where their children are during work hours.
"The police records are very critical, that is why we always ask our public, please when you send your child to an institution always ask if they have a permit to operate. It is critical. We have seen improvements but personally I am still not pleased.
"There are still institutions that are operating that we are unaware of because they have not applied for a permit to operate. We ask our parents to help us because you are the one leaving your child there. We also ask that they display their permit," Williams-Singh stressed.
"There is no holding back where the Early Childhood Commission is concerned. Once there is a breach this is our recommendation, and we are steadfast on it, you have to close, you cannot operate,' she stated.
In the meantime, she said that while the commission continues to be hampered by a lack of resources to do the necessary monitoring on its own, other issues outside its control were creating further impediments.
"Here it is, in other countries before you even think of holding children to take care of, you have to apply to the State but we continue in our beautiful country to do this and then come to the State.
"It has to be that from you think about the fact that you are going to be caring for more children around you than your own, that you say let me go apply to the State. It's not saying let me set up an operation then I go to the Early Childhood Commission, no, you need to come first," she urged.
"You can't have children and adults sharing a restroom, if you choose to turn where you live into a daycare. It can't be that the occupants of your house share a bathroom with the children. You have to create their own space. The truth is we still require more resource in terms of inspectors, we do need more," Williams-Singh told the Observer.
Currently, there are just under 2,800 early childhood institutions (ECIs) in operation in Jamaica. Under the Early Childhood Act (2005), an ECI is defined as any place that cares for four or more children, under the age of six years, for up to six hours per day. This includes nurseries, day care centres, basic schools, kindergartens, infant schools and infant departments.
The Early Childhood Act (2005) and the Early Childhood Regulations (2005), describe the requirements that an ECI must meet in order to be registered by the ECC as a legally operating institution.