By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOUR female staff members at the Children’s Emergency Hostel have been “relieved of their duties” after shocking surveillance footage showed numerous children at the care home being severely beaten.
In addition to the suspensions officials have turned the matter over to police for a full-blown investigation.
Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell said initial investigations conducted by the Child Protection Council (CPC) revealed there was sufficient information to involve the Royal Bahamas Police Force, which will determine if more action is needed.
This comes less than a week after surveillance footage circulated on social media showing caretakers whipping a group of children with what appeared to be sticks.
Responding to the video last week, Mr Campbell told reporters that no stone will be left unturned in a full, impartial investigation held by the CPC.
Giving an update during a press conference yesterday, he said preliminary findings showed that more investigation was needed by the RBPF.
“The matter has been referred to the Royal Bahamas Police Force for an investigation,” Mr Campbell said. “I can advise that persons who were directly involved have been relieved of their duties pending the investigation.
“I can advise that I’ve been in communications with the chairman of the board of directors of the Children’s Emergency Hostel and they are fully apprised of what has transpired and where we are at this point.
“I give you the assurance myself as the minister, the ministry and the assurance of the board that we in no way form or fashion approval of any form of abuse of the children in our homes throughout The Bahamas.”
He said some 24 children are expected to receive counselling as a result of the incident, which is believed to have transpired sometime late last year.
He also suggested that more staff members could be terminated pending the outcome of the RBPF’s investigations.
“We know that there are four persons relieved of duty. At this point, we won’t venture to say that there won’t be more, but at this point four persons have been relieved of duty pending further investigation,” he noted.
“The children at the home, there are about 24 children at the home. “The independent counselling as we speak up may commence as early as tomorrow (Monday). We have the undertaking of the Ministry of Education.
“We’re seeking to use their counselling department. It is within the remit of the government, but it is independent of the Ministry of Social Services. I would also say that we have been offered some funding for private counselling, but we haven’t worked out the details of that so I’m unable to say if that is something that we would accept because the terms and conditions have not been discussed as yet.”
The minister could not say whether officials have uncovered similar incidents that took place in the past at children’s homes, only telling reporters that police will conclude the matter.
However, he admitted that the situation has forced the agency to review protocols to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
“We are very much displeased of where we are with this investigation, but we believe that this is an opportunity for us to continue the work that we’ve been doing – putting together a management agreement for all of our homes which has a component of discipline in it,” he added.
“But this is an opportunity for us to review our protocols and to ensure that there are no additional loopholes that would in the future allow for anything like this to happen. I’m satisfied that based on what we would’ve received from the National Child Protection Council that there is commission and omission, and we will await the report coming from the Royal Bahamas Police Force.”
Asked if anyone could face prosecution, he said that is up to the police to decide.
The Children’s Emergency Hostel is a quasi-government short term residential childcare facility that houses minors between the ages of 12 months and 12 years old. According to the minister, it is one of three homes that is government-owned.
Yesterday, Mr Campbell explained that only the administrator “has the authority to issue corporal punishment” at the home as a last resort.
However last week, child’s rights attorney Tavarrie Smith highlighted Section 27 of the Residential Care Establishments Act, which outlines how people in residential care are to be treated.
The section reads: “(1) No person shall inflict corporal punishment on a resident in a residential care establishment.” It also states that “no person shall physically restrain another person for the purposes of inflicting punishment on that person in a residential care establishment.”
The definition of “residential care establishment” provided for in the definition of the act is “any charitable or non-charitable establishment for the provision of residential care services for children and young persons.”
Discussions on corporal punishment on children have been reignited since the alarming videos surfaced online, with many calling for an end to the archaic practice in schools.
Asked about the ministry’s thoughts on the issue, Mr Campbell refrained from giving his position but only said a committee is reviewing disciplinary practices in children’s homes.
“I won’t give a definitive position at this point, but I would’ve indicated earlier that there is an ongoing committee that is discussing the entire question of a management agreement for all of our homes and there is a component in that agreement which will cover discipline and a position will be taken and I’m satisfied.”
Last week, Education Minister Jeff Lloyd told this newspaper that officials are having a “vigorous conversation” about whether corporal punishment should still be allowed in schools, but noted that there are some who are opposed to phasing out the practice.