Friday, December 15, 2017

Fatal Failure of Social Services Delivery

The country’s entire victim support apparatus needs to press the pause button and review their operational effectiveness in light of the suicide of Sherry Ann Seecharan.

Here was a woman in full descent into the valley of despair whom the combined resources of Trinidad and Tobago’s social services were unable to save. We must not allow ourselves to accept this death as inevitable or unpreventable.

From the moment that Mrs Seecharan and her 16-year-old daughter were arrested following the daughter’s shooting of her stepfather during a domestic fight, the first red flag should have gone up. Without being told, the Barrackpore Police should have known that, with a 16-year-old on their hands, the Children’s Authority should have been notified in order to trigger the mechanisms in place for supporting the teenager who, by legal definition, is a child. When the police failed to do so, the Authority itself should have initiated a response. Given the wide publicity that followed the killing, there is no excuse for failing to act.

The second red flag should have gone up the minute the mother and daughter were released. It should have been clear to both the Police Victim and Witness Support Unit as well as the Family Services Division of the Ministry of Social Development that, with the killing having been deemed justifiable in the circumstances, both were now to be considered victims who had endured a traumatic ordeal.

Instead, mother and child were left to fend for themselves, unattended by all the agencies established to look after victims of crime. If there is one entity to be singled out for condemnation it is surely the Barrackpore Police to whom Mrs Seecharan’s mother repeatedly turned for help as she witnessed her daughter’s suicidal despair. It is now incumbent on acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams to demand a report and explanation from the officer in charge of that station on this matter. If warranted, an investigation should be launched into the operations at the station with a view to ensuring that action is taken if negligence is established.

With both father and mother having died in truly tragic circumstances, one can only imagine the impact on the bereft teenager. Every effort now needs to be made to provide professional and other support for her and her siblings.

Minister of the People and Social Development Christine Newallo-Hosein has blamed miscommunication between the Police Service’s Victim and Witness Support Unit and her ministry for leaving the Seecharan family without counselling services. In responding to the situation, the head of the Victim and Witness Support Unit, Margaret Sampson-Browne also emphasised the problem of understaffing. Together, the lack of a co-ordinated response and the inadequacy of resources proved to be fatal when the urgently-needed intervention failed to materialise. That they were paraded before the media by an attorney only adds insult to injury.

If there is anything to be retrieved from this tragic situation it would be to use the lesson of this failure to urgently address the deficiencies that it has revealed.