Former Children’s Authority chairman Hanif Benjamin.

Former chairman of the Children’s Authority Hanif Benjamin says those with responsibility for child care must be held accountable for their actions.

He was responding to claims of abuse from children under the care of the Authority.

On March 20, five of the children escaped from a Children’s Authority facility and two ended up dead. One of the survivors later said they escaped because they faced physical abuse at the institution.

But speaking with CNC3’s Morning Brew host Jessie-May Ventour on Wednesday, Benjamin said T&T is failing its children.

He explained that delinquent children are not getting the assistance they need to rectify root causes of trauma but are instead being pushed further into an abyss.

“What we have been doing as a society is to treat child trauma from a punitive perspective and that makes children even more angry. We are treating trauma as if it is bad and their fault. So when a child runs away, when a child attempts to run away or when a child breaks the rules or commits an infraction, we need to consider those criminogenic factors from a psychological perspective. We are treating the symptoms and we are never getting at the root cause and that is why the cycle of violence continues,” Benjamin said.

He noted that rather than getting help for their trauma, children end up in the Children’s Court, or at the Youth Training Centre, gangs, Golden Grove and Maximum Security prisons.

“If we are not cognizant of that fact, we will spiral children into an abyss of further trauma, further pain and hurt,” Benjamin added.

He also lamented that a proper system was not in place in schools to assist children.

“We do not as a country have a structured programme to treat with issues faced by a child in Standard 3, 4 or Form 1. They misbehave not because they bad, but because they are dealing with their trauma. We don’t have a system where we treat this. All we have is for them to go for counselling as if counselling is the beginning and end-all,” Benjamin said.

He added, “We need to have a system where we have structured behavioural programmes in place where children can attend fun after-school programmes, engage in positive activities, bring out their art so they can deal with their trauma. All of these things are necessary, but we don’t take our children seriously in this country.”

He noted that even though safe spaces existed for children, the managers and staff at those facilities needed more training to help children.

He said a keen understanding of trauma was needed and even though he called for more training several times before, nothing has been done.

“We don’t want to invest in training. We don’t want to invest in the thing that will bring rescue and relief with our children,” he lamented.

He noted that many people wanted to work with children but they did not know how to reach the hearts of traumatized adolescent children.

“Not everybody could be a social worker. We need to operationalise our safe spaces…. train our managers, train our staff. We have social workers with great skill, we need to utilize them. We don’t need further lockdown (of children),” he added.

On Tuesday, Natalie Braithwaite, the mother of Simeon Daniel, an escaped child who was killed, said her son had been traumatized after losing his father at age seven. However, she said it was only when he started attending Siparia West Secondary School, that his behavioural problems developed and she went to the court for help.

She blamed the Authority for negligence, saying they should have done better to keep her son safe.

—Radhica De Silva