Strong background checks needed for all people working with children in state care, says Jamaicans for Justice

There has long been a public perception that Jamaica’s most vulnerable children are not being given the care and protection they need. In particular, we seem to be tolerating – or pretending we don’t know – about the predatory habits of older men towards our young girls. It is depressing, and it has been going on for decades. These men prey on young girls, sometimes bearing gifts and benefits (as in this latest sensational case) and sometimes under the guise of religion. There are lurid details from the Office of the Children’s Advocate’s report (which has been sent to the police) on the latest, deeply disturbing revelations – about“Uncle Carl,” an American whose educational license was suspended in his own country in 2016, and who ended up here. The allegations are shocking, and so is the reported inaction by the Child Protection and Family Service Agency (CPFSA).

It seems to me that we have never faced up to this huge problem, which is truly an indictment on our society. Why do we apparently seem to care so little (although we throw up our hands in horror at the latest scandal)? It is not just foreigners who come over here. There have been numerous cases of sexual abuse of minors by local people – “pastors,” stepfathers, fathers, next door neighbours, and so on. To be honest, the enormity of the problem only really hit me after I began working with Eve for Life. Please read my post from five years ago.

Now, the head of our child protection agency has been asked to “step aside.” Education Minister Fayval Williams’ voice was shaking when she made a statement in Parliament. Here is what Jamaicans for Justice has to say on the matter, which is still unfolding and making headlines daily.

For immediate release

JFJ calls for CPFSA head to be suspended pending further investigations

Wednesday, January 11, 2022 – Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) is calling on the Public Services Commission (PSC) to act with alacrity in suspending the chief executive officer of the Child Protection and Family Service Agency (CPFSA), Rosalee Gage-Grey, from her official duties pending the outcome of a comprehensive investigation. While natural justice and due process underpin the need for a full investigation before more permanent measures are taken, including possible termination, Ms. Gage-Grey cannot remain in the position as is. JFJ contends that the circumstances are untenable given the erosion of public trust amidst allegations of failure to protect wards of the state, alleged interference with investigations and purported misrepresentation of facts. 

The call follows the tabling of the Office of the Children’s Advocate’s (OCA) report, which JFJ asserts, still has far too many questions. The organisation, therefore calls for a further investigation by relevant authorities to ascertain if there are any clear breaches of the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) that may warrant termination, criminal charges or other appropriate sanctions of CPFSA officers, beyond just the CEO. Having read the Children’s Advocate report into the questionable relationship between the agency and Embracing Orphans/Carl Robanske, JFJ believes that the situation is reflective of an institutional failure, on the face of it, that basically gave carte blanche access of children to an alleged sexual predator. Indeed, the report notes that “apart from his liberal access and association with residents from the Father’s House, the OCA’s investigations confirmed three other such facilities”.

The OCA report indicated that the CPFSA head “failed in her administrative and moral duty to these former wards of the state” whether by deliberate inaction and “wilful blindness” given that the matter became known to the agency in 2018 but ties to the Embracing Orphans was only severed three years after. Notwithstanding the OCA’s call for the Minister to apply appropriate disciplinary action of the CEO, JFJ posits that no real accountability is being offered and a further investigation is warranted to answer if any other child and former ward of the state, in addition to the three outlined in the report, were reportedly sexually engaged or possibly groomed by Robanske. A preliminary question to also consider is whether Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) was engaged any at all. JFJ also questions whether the persons purported to have intimidated and interfered with the investigation faced any disciplinary actions.

Importantly, this investigation should firmly outline whether or not the failure of CPFSA officers to act, amounts to a breach of their duty of care as “prescribed persons” within the Childcare and Protection Act; what criminal charges and/or sanctions, proportional to the offences and levels of culpability, can be pursued against the relevant officers or prescribed persons who may arise out of such investigation. For example, the Childcare and Protection Act outlines that failure to report possible child abuse may result in a fine of J$500,000 or six months’ imprisonment.

JFJ demands real reforms and raises questions around ministerial oversight

JFJ raises questions around the level of oversight provided by the Ministry of Education and Youth and whether actions then were sufficient in ensuring the raised issues were appropriately addressed to protect the wards of the state. It is noted that on March 3, 2021, the Minister of Education and Youth, Fayval Williams, issued a press release that outlined her instructions to CPFSA to investigate any possible interactions with any state care child with Robanske to see if there are any adverse issues to be dealt with, among other instructions. 

Notwithstanding the OCA report which notes that the Minister and state minister were misled into making public utterances, there are questions around what reasonable actions and oversight were taken by the Ministry and its technical leads, such as the then Permanent Secretary, to ensure that the CPFSA actually implemented the proposals instructed, and whether the minister acted proactively in ensuring statements and updates given by the CPFSA were substantiated. 

To prevent a recurrence of this nature, JFJ is calling on the government to implement strong background check procedures for all persons (foreign and local) interacting with children in state care. JFJ also renews its calls for legislative and policy reform of the Childcare and Protection including the Childcare and Protection Act and the Sexual Offences Act that could ensure greater protection of our most vulnerable children. Some of these recommendations include adding sex offenders from foreign jurisdictions to the local registry, directly addressing non-supervision of children in the Act as that is a catalyst for abuse; and importantly, empowering the Court to make orders restricting the contact of sex offenders with vulnerable persons, which does not currently exist. 

Photo: UNICEF Jamaica

 


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