The Roman Catholic Archdiocese has started investigations into alleged abuse at a shelter in South Trinidad which was supposed to be a refuge for pregnant teenagers and young mothers.
At the centre of the investigation is a senior matron accused of verbally and physically abusing babies and their teenage mothers.
In an exclusive interview with Guardian Media, the 17-year-old mother said she was forced to feed her baby lime bud tea for two consecutive days because the matron refused to provide her with baby milk.
Last week, after a period of isolation meted against her as punishment, the teen mother walked away from the alleged abuse and the home and went to stay with a distant relative.
She admitted to being frustrated now that she is being told she may be sent back to the same institution by the Children’s Authority. Previously, the authority had deemed that the family home she was staying in with her mother and sisters was not fit for the child.
“The last thing an officer from Children’s Authority told me was not to worry, that they will protect me but now I am hearing they want to send me back to the home,” the distraught mother said.
The teenage mother said she was also disappointed that the Child Protection Unit of the T&T Police Service never arrested and charged the man who impregnated her and then abandoned her.
Giving a preview of her life, the girl said she grew up in South Trinidad with her mentally unstable mother and sister, as well as another sister who was adopted by an aunt. She attended a prestigious school and when she was in Form Four, her aunt made preparations to adopt her.
“I betrayed my aunt and it was a mistake on my part,” the girl said.
She explained that before the adoption went through, she had sexual relations with a former schoolmate who was in his 20s and she became pregnant.
“My aunt refused to proceed with the adoption papers. I don’t blame her because I went behind her back. But she continued to help us financially,” the teen said.
As her pregnancy progressed, the hospital officials contacted the police and she was interviewed by an officer from the Child Protection Unit.
Having inspected the house which she shared with her mentally challenged mother, the teenager said she was told by the officers that the house was unfit for the baby. That left her with two choices – placing the baby into foster care or keeping the baby and living in a home.
“I could not give up my child so I chose to go to the home. At first, it was happy. But then the senior matron returned from a trip abroad and that was when the torment started,” the girl alleged.
She claimed the matron picked on her constantly and ridiculed her for getting pregnant.
“I was raised very conservatively and I have a high tolerance for people, even if they say mean and unkind things to me I would not say anything. But this matron was very cruel. She would ridicule me and make me feel worthless,” she alleged.
She said there were seven girls in the home each with a child, the oldest child being three.
The young mother alleged she witnessed the matron beating a toddler with a cloth belt while his mother was away at school. The child had urinated on himself and the matron was incensed she had to clean up the urine, the teenager claimed. After the teenager reported the incident to the child’s mother, she told Guardian Media the abuse against her became worse and the matron started withholding pampers and milk for her baby.
“My aunt used to drop milk and pampers for my baby but because of COVID, she could not come. This matron hated me. I knew there was a lot of SMA milk which people dropped off and donated to the home but when I asked her for the milk, she said there was none.
“She knows how to isolate people and cause strife. For two days I had to go outside and pick lime buds which I used to make tea for my baby,” she said.
The girl said she called Children’s Authority and reported what was going on and the matron began further isolating her.
“She cut down the hours we were allowed to use our phones. She said we cannot go outside with our phones. She would make everything into a big scene and if we did anything that would make her angry, our children would suffer,” she claimed.
The girl claimed because of the horrid treatment at the home, some of its occupants ran away.
“I am begging the authorities not to turn a blind eye to this. When someone runs away from a home, find out why. Things may look good from the outside but you don’t know what is happening on the inside,” she said.
She explained that the manager of the home has never taken the complaints seriously, so the senior matron has been allowed to do whatever she wants, even if it meant starving innocent babies.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Roman Catholic Vicar for Communications and Parish Priest Fr Robert Christo said they will investigate the allegations.
“We consider all of this very seriously. We have launched an investigation,” Fr Christo said.
An email was sent to the Children’s Authority enquiring whether it had received any reports of the allegations and whether it will now reconsider resending the teenager and her baby back to the home. An official at the authority said they will review the case and respond to the email later.