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The Blackett plan

Minister reveals proposal for more effective child protection agency

Prompted by the recent deaths of two children whose alleged abuse cases were being handled by the Child Care Board (CCB) and strong public criticism of the board’s response, the minister responsible for the agency this afternoon announced a plan of action to handle future reports more efficiently and effectively.

Flanked by CCB chairman Ken Knight, Director Joan Crawford and other members of the board, Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett told a press conference at his Warrens Office Complex that one measure already introduced was a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the state agency and the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) to ensure efficient and effective responses to reports of child abuse. “Some of the provisions of this draft MOU are that child care officers are to be trained in investigative interviewing by the police department and police officers are to be trained in the techniques of interviewing children by the professionals at CCB,” Blackett disclosed.  He said this training would be conducted periodically with the aim of enhancing the interviewing skills of both groups.

Blackett said the plan also calls for police officers from the Sex Crimes and Trafficking Unit “or other assigned police officers” to accompany child care officers when they conduct interviews about child abuse.

He added that the MOU requires all suspected sexual and physical child abuse cases to be reported to the police by the child protection agency before the close of the workday on which the referral was made to the board.

“And the CCB has undertaken a comprehensive review of the information management system of the agency and is expediting a substantial upgrade of that system,” added Blackett.

The minister said following the suicide of 12-year-old Shamar Weekes of Checker Hall, St Lucy who neighbours claimed had been abused, the board appointed “a specially constituted committee” to review internal protection procedures, including the case management information system. He said that part of its mandate is to recommend updated protocols which are better suited to the operations of the agency in the prevailing social conditions of Barbados. The Ministry, he added, has also held discussions with representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with a view to obtaining assistance for the board. “My ministry subsequently accepted a proposal from UNICEF for that organization to provide short-term institutional strengthening assistance to the Child Care Board.” He said he was also reviewing proposals from an emerging non-governmental organization (NGO) headed by former juvenile court magistrate Faith Marshall-Harris aimed at providing a safety network for Barbadian children.

“That organization will bring together doctors, legal experts, criminologists, social workers and advocates, counsellors, psychologists and religious leaders for direct community level intervention, and to lend expertise to officials in key areas,” stated Blackett.  He also proposed the development of a comprehensive Child Protection Policy for Barbados, working with the best minds in and outside of Cabinet to develop a new policy, structure and legislative framework. “It should also realize a refocusing and rebalancing of the Child Care Board’s programming towards more strategic emphasis on prevention, as opposed to the overwhelming focus on responding to actual maltreatment of children.”  Blackett said the Child Protection Policy would make a significant difference to children, helping identify those most at risk of abuse and neglect so authorities could act early. He expressed concern that the needs of the community were no longer being adequately met by existing legislation and therefore, as a matter of urgency, his Ministry would undertake a review of all legislation related to child protection with a view to drafting a comprehensive Children’s Act. He acknowledged that the current practice of removing children from homes only when there were clear cases of abuse was no longer working. Blackett stressed that while counselling with the cooperation of parents and guardians and keeping children in family care had been effective in the past, this general approach had outlived its usefulness. “It is very clear as underscored by these recent cases that societal conditions in Barbados have changed radically and dramatically over the last ten years and there is need for the agency to adopt new protocols in handling investigation of cases of alleged child abuse and neglect.”  He said that there was no comprehensive or consolidated Children’s Act in Barbadian law at the moment and no legal requirement to report incidences of child abuse to authorities.

“The Government of Barbados and my ministry will do everything we can to allow the full review of the child protection process and will do nothing to jeopardize those aims, and wherever institutions and individuals have failed to protect children from harm, we will expose those failures and take the appropriate corrective action.”

The Child Care Board has said it lacked the resources to handle the number of cases that come before it.

In an interview with Barbados TODAY on July 9 Knight said the agency employed seven child care officers, half the number needed in order to be effective.

“What we are currently looking at, we do require as a matter of urgency – and we have addressed this with the Minister [of Social Care] and we are working on it – that there is a need to actually double up the staff at the Child Care Board as it relates to handling reports of child abuse,” he said at the time.

Blackett addressed the matter at today’s news conference, but said Government did not have the money to hire new staff.

One Response to The Blackett plan

  1. Charles Worrell September 21, 2015 at 12:22 am

    Mr. Minister, you are to be congratulated for moving as expedicously as you have in putting some teeth in this area, which no doubt concern all Barbadians. As this process is gone about, would you allow a few views which this concerned bajan believes to be necessary if we are to return to a place where not only will our young people be safe and secure in their persons but the adults as well.
    Please review the law currently on the books. Look to see where parents have been relegated to some level of impotency as they seek to ‘raise’ their children. Remember that children are to be guided and as a Christian society, it should not be too great a leap to refer to the book of proverbs which spells out the parental role.
    Would you also Sir, ensure that there is ample assistance available to parents as they encounter certain stresses in the rearing of their children? It would be useful to utilize all media to fully inform and encourage our mothers to seek help as needed and once that help is sought, please make sure it is provided properly and not priced out of the reaches of those needing it.

    Mr. Minister, there is no other institution that can truly replace
    parents and because we are now in a time where our community is fastly disappearing and sensitivities towards each other are now minimal, let us work to lift the confidence level of those saddled with children many times not being able to afford them. Lets make some provision for them and their children and lets give it some level of respectability so that it would not be a place
    where parents feel or are made to feel sub-human.

    Lastly Sir, there is much hue and cry and at times necessary but lets go forward cautiously as we find a balance which represents the rights and responsibilities of parents and the entitlements of children. Lets us reject the need to grand stand while ignoring the needs of both parties especially the parents. There is nothing wrong with drawing from a cross section of skills/expertise, but please make sure that what is produce provides parents in Barbados with every opportunity to do an effective job with their children thereby ensuring that those very children, will be well
    cared for and brought up to be worthwhile citizens of Barbados.


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