Designed to fail

THE Jamaica Association of Social Workers (JASW) is blaming weaknesses in the systems of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) for the cock-up which allowed an American educator, with questionable antecedents, to have access to children in State care in Jamaica.

Carl Robankse was allowed to have contact with children in the local transitional facility, The Father’s House, which his organisation, Embracing Orphans, financed for five years after the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington found that he had initiated inappropriate contact with a child in middle school (under 15-year-old) and had, “little awareness of the inappropriateness of his behaviour”.

On Wednesday, JASW President Jacqueline D Bryan told the Jamaica Observer that she was disappointed but not surprised after reading the report of the Office of the Children’s Advocate into the relationship between the CPFSA and Robankse.

Bryan noted that social workers are mandated to conduct background checks on people coming into contact with the children in State care but, based on the number employed in the system, there are just not enough hours in the day for them to properly do their jobs.

“We are being given baskets to carry water,” an obviously frustrated Bryan said as she argued that the social workers struggle to carry out their duty to the children in the care of the State.

According to Bryan, the children’s homes are, “Underfunded, they are understaffed and sometimes you are not able to do the checks and balances that you are expected to do based on the fact that we do not have enough social workers employed at CPFSA”.

Bryan said in some instances one social worker is assigned 50, 100, and up to 200 wards of the State, leaving them without time to conduct the needed background checks of people who have access to these children.

She noted that a number of local universities graduate social workers each year but several of them are unable to get jobs.

“I have in my inbox [names of] many people who are asking me for jobs. They have been out of work for two years, three years, after they have graduated with their bachelor’s, their master’s degrees and a lot of them are being recruited for overseas,” added Bryan as she told the Observer that this issue has been raised with the leadership of the CPFSA and officials of the Ministry of Education and Youth in the past.

Bryan underscored that the CPFSA operates with the budget that it is allocated to pay for staff so in most instances it is unable to employ the necessary number of social workers.

“So when someone comes from overseas and says he wants to help the wards of the State, we try to investigate but sometimes the paperwork takes too long to come to us,” said Bryan.

She argued that the breaches identified in the OCA report are egregious and require swift action in fulfilment of the Government’s commitment to the rights of children.

Additionally, Brian said that there needs to be a strengthening of the CPFSA’s internal policies, procedures and practices in safeguarding the children and making amendments to the Child Care and Protection Act to allow for the Children’s Registry to be used as a source for background checks to complement the use of the Sex Offenders Registry.

“So the internal structures need to be strengthened to provide you [social workers] with the kind of assistance for smooth transition so that you can properly investigate every person who walks through the door — people who offer to help with the wards.

“There needs to be a unit in the CPFSA that deals with only investigations of persons who are coming in to offer their services and a properly staffed unit at with people who know what to look for,” added Bryan.

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