Code of silence

A cocktail of silence, subterfuge and possible lies greeted investigators of the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) as they probed the relationship between the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) and disgraced United States-based educator Carl Robanske.

The OCA opened a probe into the relationship after it was reported locally that Robanske — the executive director of US-registered charity Embracing Orphans — had his education certificate suspended in that country when it was established he had sexually inappropriate exchanges with a minor.

In its report, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament today, the OCA said from the initial stages of its investigation, which was launched in March 2021 following a report on Nationwide News Network, it experienced problems with securing the cooperation of various relevant parties.

“Some expressed fear that they could lose their jobs, whether they were assigned directly to a CPFSA office or to a residential childcare facility; some reported that they felt intimidated/pressured not to cooperate; others felt confused because as far as they were concerned Robanske was a ‘good man’; and still others were heavily resistant to the efforts and investigations by the OCA’s representatives,” the report, seen by the Jamaica Observer, said.

“Cumulatively, this made it particularly difficult to procure critical information within a time frame that the OCA would have preferred.

“So significant was the lack of willingness to cooperate that the Children’s Advocate [Diahann Gordon Harrison] thought it fit to pen a warning letter for the attention of key stakeholders, advising that if persons did not desist from wilfully interfering with the investigations, steps would be taken, pursuant to Paragraph 23 of Part II of the First Schedule to the CCPA [Child Care and Protection Act] which makes it a criminal offence to obstruct or refuse to cooperate with investigations being conducted by the children’s advocate,” the report added.

According to the report, CPFSA officials also steadily maintained that State facility, The Father’s House — a transitional facility opened in 2014 after it was ‘gifted’ to the agency by the Robanske-led charity — was not used to house children.

“This report therefore finds that the CPFSA was fully seized of the fact that while the facility did cater to wards transitioning out of State care, some of those whom it [the CPFSA] had selected to transition were children who it well knew were being accommodated at The Father’s House.

“In the face of this evidence, the belated attempts of the CPFSA and its agents to obfuscate this fact are both futile and embarrassing. Of further significance to this deliberate attempt to put distance between The Father’s House and its accommodating of minors were responses given by the CEO [Rosalee Gage-Grey] at a December 2022 hearing before the children’s advocate,” the report added.

The report further said that when the children’s advocate put her finding that children were in fact being accommodated at The Father’s House and gave the CEO of the CPFSA an opportunity to respond to this finding, the CEO’s comment was that no children were accommodated at the facility.

“When pressed on this, the CEO went on to proffer that if there were ’emergency placements’ for ‘overnight stays’ you may have under 18(s) but that The Father’s House did not accommodate them beyond those circumstances.

“In the face of the evidence cited in this section of this report (in particular the logs that showed the years for which these residents who were minors lived at The Father’s House), this explanation from the CEO is incredible and as such has not been found by me to have any merit, save for revealing the rehearsed posture that it seems the CPFSA’s agents agreed to maintain, having become aware of the OCA’s investigations and the scrutiny that was now being shone upon its conduct,” the report added.

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