The children’s agency facility, from which five boys escaped in March and were killed two days later, was the same center where a teenage boy hanged himself four years ago.
The Valsayn Child Support Center is one of four childcare facilities set up, operated and controlled by the Children’s Authority.
The other three centers are in East and South Trinidad and Tobago.
On March 19, five boys ran away from the facility.
Eight days later, Antonio Francois and Simeon Daniel, both 15 years old, were killed on the roof of an abandoned house in McShine Lands, Laventille. Francois was from Laventille; Daniel was from Siparia.
Two of the other boys were returned to the Children’s Authority. The fifth boy was not found, police said yesterday.
No one was arrested for the murders of Francois and Daniel.
It was not the first time that children had died in the care of the agency’s childcare center.
In 2017, 17-year-old Joshua Jaylon Boneo walked into the bathroom of the same center and hanged himself with his belt.
He had signaled his suicidal thoughts in a number of ways, which led to questions about the level of supervision and supervision by the agency’s childcare workers.
“I am very concerned that there is a fundamental problem at this facility that no one seems to be getting to grips with,” said Melanie Cruickshank, mother of Joshua Boneo, in an interview with the Sunday Express last week.
“There has to be a basic problem for the kids to run away and there has to be a basic problem for Joshua to want to kill himself. Joshua, who killed himself, has to do with the facility and also with his father leaving him.
“Now five children are running away and they say they have problems in the facility. I am very concerned that no one is dealing with the problems that are going on in the facility.
“They (Children’s Authority) have a new board of directors, new management, whatever, but they still have underlying issues that no one is looking at. Maybe these children need to speak to someone on the outside, maybe the facility needs to move away from its location because the environment is a big part of the children’s lives, ”she said.
Cruickshank had expected the agency to move the facility after her son’s suicide four years ago.
“I’m very, very disappointed that they would have kids in the same place where tragedy took place,” she told the Sunday Express.
Joshua pulled a coffin
Their son Joshua kept a diary in which he drew a coffin.
Many entries spoke of death.
He also drew up a timeline of his educational endeavors; He had expressed a strong desire to enroll in the Military-Led Academic Training (MiLAT) program. At the time, most of the more than a dozen children in the center were out of school.
Formerly known as A Place of Safety, the Valsayn Childcare Center was a transitional facility, but Joshua was never withdrawn from service.
At the time of his suicide, he had been there for six months, in violation of Section 14 of the Child Authority Act, which states, “A child admitted by the authority cannot stay in a reception center for more than 12 weeks. ”
Other children at the center, the Sunday Express wrote in 2017, knew Joshua was thinking of suicide when he said goodbye to them.
He said something to one that this was the last time they talked.
In his diary, Joshua poured his desperation over the prison-like conditions at the center.
In 2015, two years before his suicide, concerns were raised about possible dangers at the center.
The Sunday Express had then seen correspondence advising the authorities against locking children in a house with insufficient stimulation around the clock.
They were advised not to mix adolescents with young children, to increase the supervisory staff from two to two, and to reduce the length of their shifts.
Observers also noted that there were too many structures in the home for children to commit suicide; and in the event of a fire, the gates and padlocks would heat up quickly and would no longer be safe to touch.
After Joshua’s death in 2017, the Sunday Express had emailed several inquiries to the agency’s communications manager, Cheryl Moses.
These questions were never answered.
Cruickshank filed a lawsuit against the agency and the state in the High Court six months ago for negligence. He alleged that the authorities did not take sufficient measures to prevent Joshua’s untimely death.
The authority has requested an extension of the deadline and is expected to submit its response by the end of this month.
Cruickshank, represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, scored her first legal victory when the court asked the agency to release documents related to Joshua and his care, including her son’s diary, previously filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA ) had not released. .
“In all cases we have problems getting children’s documents and we are forced to file FOI applications which is costly for the families and even then we sometimes have to take them to court to get the documents and information,” said Ramlogan last week.
“These are delaying tactics. Why not just drag the file, scan the documents, and email them? Why do you make people rent a car to pick it up somewhere in the hot sun? I mean come on. “
Getting information, he said, shouldn’t be like pulling someone’s teeth out of someone’s mouth with pliers.
“There are problems with full and open disclosure. I think there needs to be greater willingness to have meaningful dialogue with children’s families based on full and open disclosure. Obtaining information cannot be like pulling someone’s teeth out of their mouth with pliers. It should be recognized that it is the legal right of families to access the information requested. The Children’s Board is an authority based on public trust and therefore has a duty to facilitate the disclosure of the information with the minimum of fuss, ”he said.
Following Joshua’s suicide, Stuart Young, the then minister in the attorney general’s department, said both the police and the children’s agency had opened separate investigations.
Line Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister for Gender and Children in the Prime Minister’s Office, confirmed to the Sunday Express on April 12 that an investigation and report had been completed by the agency.
She asked for the Sunday Express email questions for her.
A list of questions was sent to Webster-Roy and the Children’s Authority.
On April 19, Webster-Roy said the agency was working to compile answers to the questions. The Sunday Express is still waiting for these answers.
However, the agency’s former chairman Hanif Benjamin said he had not received a report of Joshua’s death at the Valsayn Child Support Center.
“No, I haven’t,” he said when asked if he had received a report.
Benjamin was the chairman from 2017 to 2020.
When asked about improvements to the center during his tenure, Benjamin recalled that the agency had trained security personnel to keep the boys housed at the center safe.
He said the agency had trained its own security personnel to handle matters sensitively and not in a punitive manner.
He said he knew people were being interviewed and hired.
The Valsayn Child Support Center currently hosts 15 to 20 of the 957 children cared for by the Children’s Authority.
The agency is responsible for licensing and monitoring all children’s homes operated by NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other organizations.
Official sources told the Sunday Express that the Valsayn Child Support Center is unlikely to meet the agency’s own licensing criteria.
On a normal day, the Sunday Express learned, the center is manned by a manager who has been in this position for some time, and supervisors.
These carers enter the agency’s system with the basic qualification of three CXC passports and take on the roles of mom and dad to meet the boys’ basic needs. You have no training in counseling and / or social work.
A childcare worker (CSA) is assigned to each childcare center of the authority.
While the CSA’s job description listed 16 key and detailed responsibilities of a caseworker, the Sunday Express was advised that the CSAs are primarily occupied with moving children to and from court and other appointments – responsibilities that should be assigned to the caregivers . This leaves the CSAs little time to manage the children’s individual cases, monitor their schoolwork, and family and other interactions.
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