Friday, January 19, 2018

Run St Michael’s like a home, not a jail

 I have been following with great concern the increasingly disturbing reports about the operations of the St Michael’s Home for Boys. The use of the word “Home,” in the name of the institution in and of itself is inappropriate. The placement of at-risk boys in an institution run like a prison; that appears to lack policies, procedures, operating systems and standards of care, is negatively compounded by the fact that the “keepers” have little or no educational background, training and philosophy in care and service.

Although outraged, I am however, not surprised by the information that is slowly seeping out about the nature of the operations. I am not surprised because we as a people have placed little emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable among us. This includes children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. I am outraged because these children taken in by the State to be provided with protection, assistance with individual needs, opportunities to learn, grow and change, have in fact become the objects of physical and sexual abuse, maltreatment and neglect.

My outrage is further fuelled by the rhetoric of those in various positions of power, which talks of an awareness of the issues, and promises of things to come, which like many other things in Trinidad and Tobago, are not afforded the urgency or priority required. Budgets of billions of dollars, and there is very little benefit to our most vulnerable citizens!

Task forces, commissions, investigations, reports, recommendations are words with which we are all too familiar. What do they mean? Not much! 

Superficiality, lip-service, verbal commitments, and a knee-jerk reaction in the moment is what we have come to expect, and which we accept while complaining of the “same old, same old.” Time passes, issues fade until the next time, while those who can make a difference point at others, shift responsibility, and lay blame.

We need legislation, regulations, policies, procedures, resources and enforcement. Perhaps most of all we need a shift in our philosophy of care and support, which moves from system-focused to person-focused, a philosophy where the individual is at the centre of the service, and resources are allocated to meet individual needs. A service and support system where individuals are not placed into a system and must conform, but where the service is built around the person.

David H Ragobar

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