It is a national disgrace that two years after the Children Act 2012 was passed by Parliament, our nation’s most vulnerable citizens remain without adequate protection of the law. The children at St Michael’s School for Boys are just a handful of the victims of the authorities’ failure to provide the legislative teeth to ensure the protection of our little ones.
Let us remember that it is approaching 15 years since the Children’s Authority, the facilitating agency, was approved by Parliament under the Children’s Authority Act 2000. It took another nine years for this legislation to get to the point of being partially proclaimed to allow the appointment of a board. For the next two years, the new agency existed as little more than a shell, having received cabinet approval to hire a small core staff of 13 persons. This was a mere five per cent of the 242 staff component needed for full operations and less than 15 per cent of the 97 required for start-up. Until now, the staffing situation has remained unresolved while our children, in private and public homes, exist without the protection of a law which successive political administrations have had the temerity to keep boasting about.
The recent damning report about the state of affairs at St Michael’s describes the horror into which our children have descended amid the lack of political will and administrative muscle to get the Children’s Authority properly off the ground. For 14 years, governments have pussyfooted around this institution, delivering plenty talk and little action in treating with our children’s well-being as a national priority. Without a fully-functional Children’s Authority, the Children Act 2012 will remain hollow.
If governments had been doing what they were being paid to do, there would have been no need for such emergency initiatives as last December’s Child Protection Task Force, following a rash of violence against children. Seven and a half months later, the Task Force’s six-month deadline has come and gone with the Children’s Authority still not fully operational. The task force says it has assisted in sorting out some of the staffing issues but, even so, does not expect the authority to be fully functional until September. Given the many missed deadlines, no one is holding their breath.
As in every other sphere, the public has no way of knowing who or what should be held accountable for this dismal performance by those with the responsibility for bringing the Children’s Authority to life. Right now, however, the responsibility lies with Clifton De Coteau, the line minister responsible for Gender, Youth and Child Development and the Prime Minister.
Given the long and distressing record in this matter, the authorities should be warned that the public has had enough of the crocodile tears for our children. The only way to demonstrate caring now is by effective action to rescue our children from the risk of another St Michael’s nightmare.