Betty Ann Blaine | An age-old story of abuse and neglect
The news headlines this past week were striking and sordid, but the story is old and reprehensible. For years, children in the care and protection of the State have been victims of one type of abuse or another, some leading to their deaths.
The revelations surrounding the Child Care & Family Services (CPFSA), the American charity Embracing Orphans, and the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) have now been added to the catalogue of damning cases on record, including publicised fatalities:
• April 2005: Glenhope Place of Safety – two-year-old Nathan Burton died after reportedly suffocating in his own vomit.
• December 2005: Thirteen-year-old Kenna Forrest said to have committed suicide at the Homestead Place of Safety.
• May 2006: Glenhope Place of Safety – two-year-old Joel Wong died at hospital after taking prescription pills out of a medication cart at the facility.
• October 2006: Bethlehem Children’s Home – 11-year-old Greg Madorie allegedly died of a seizure, but there are still questions surrounding his death.
• December 2006: S.O.S. Children’s Village, Stony Hill – two children, Abigail Lee, four years old, and Antoinette Cranston, five years old, died of smoke inhalation when fire gutted their dorm.
• May 2009: Armadale Juvenile Facility – seven girls perished in a fire, padlocked behind a grill.
• June 2009: S.O.S. Children’s Village, Stony Hill – 10-year-old Brandon Saddler died after being stabbed in the chest by an 11-year-old boy residing at the facility.
• January 2018: Walker’s Place of Safety – two girls, 12 and 16 years old, perished in a fire at the facility.
The Armadale tragedy drew special attention and tremendous outrage due to the number of victims and the stunning degree of gross negligence surrounding the incident.
On the night of May 22, 2009, seven female wards of the State died tragically in a fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Facility that engulfed the 2x2 room they occupied. The building space, designed to house five persons at the time, was home to 23 teenagers. With only one means of entry or exit, there was no way for the girls who were locked up as punishment to escape. The teenagers burned to death.
It was 20 years ago, in 2003, that the four-member team, headed by Sadie Keating, a retired civil servant, conducted a formal probe into the condition of children’s homes in Jamaica.
The investigation resulted in the delivery of the Keating Report, which laid out 46 specific policy recommendations for governance and management of children’s homes in Jamaica, including the training of staff and regular monitoring of the homes. The Armadale tragedy happened six years after that.
Responding to a question posed by a media outlet regarding the state of the children’s homes after the work she had put in, Sadie Keating, in 2012, is quoted as saying: “Today, the situation appears to have worsened. Government must again summon the courage to take a comprehensive look at the problems which our children face. There is much altruism out there, but government must take the lead.”
In March 2021, Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), in a document entitled “Fix the Village: Governance and Accountability for Children in State Care in Jamaica”, provided an in-depth analysis, including a detailed chart of abuse by staff in the homes between the years 2006 and 2010, along with specific recommendations. The study obviously fell on deaf ears.
The current Carl Robanske, Embracing Orphans case is troubling on many fronts, particularly the concern it raises for the welfare and well-being of the minors affected and the history of neglect and abuse of wards of the State.
Clearly, the OCA had good reason to investigate the case based on the details now available to us. There are, however, unanswered questions: “When exactly did the OCA begin its investigation? If it was in March 2021, as we’re told, why did it take almost over a year for the report to have been tabled in Parliament? How was Mr Robanske able to travel to Jamaica repeatedly and allowed to interact with wards of the Sate after his problems in the United States were known and during the time of the OCA’s investigation?
Was Mr Robanske’s case referred to our country’s law-enforcement agencies, and were there any efforts to collaborate with US authorities in monitoring his movements?
As the matter is further fleshed out, the Government of Jamaica, the CPFSA, and the OCA must know that the country is watching. Already there seem to be excuses being offered about gaps in structure and management of the main agency responsible for children.
The historic governmental ineptitude is particularly puzzling as it is estimated that there are no more than five thousand children in state care across the island. Are we to understand that those in charge are unable to properly care for such a relatively small number of children?
We await the answer to that and other questions.
Betty Ann Blaine is a child advocate and founder of Hear The Children’s Cry and Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.