Education minister promises assessment of summer work programme

MONTEGO BAY, St James — With a senior firefighter charged for sexually assaulting a teenage girl on her third day of a summer employment programme at the Montego Bay Fire Station, Education Minister Fayval Williams said the programme will be assessed to determine if changes are needed to ensure participants’ safety.

“We understand the gravity of the situation and it will be investigated thoroughly by our entities. But, at the same time, we will look at the programme to see if there is anything we need to change about it to ensure that this never happens again,” she told the Jamaica Observer on Thursday.

Williams said even though the programme was piloted by the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, her ministry will have a role to play going forward.

“Wherever a child is, whenever anything happens to that child, we have an obligation — especially because the Child Protection and Family Services Agency is in our portfolio,” she said.

“So anywhere there is a case of abuse, immediately through one of their regional officers, they are there to begin the investigation to assess the immediate situation as well,” she added.

The minister is optimistic that the summer work programme — which provides students with valuable experience in the workplace — will not be discontinued and she gave a commitment to swift action whenever children are in need of protection.

“If we need to call CISOCA, if we need to call the police whenever we get these reports, even if it is in social media we are going to pursue and find out what’s going on,” said Williams.

The high-ranking member of the Jamaica Fire Brigade was arrested on Tuesday and then charged a day later with attempted rape and sexual touching of a minor. The incident is said to have happened to the 14-year-old girl in July as she volunteered at the fire station. As part of stipulations outlined in the St James Parish Court on Thursday when he was granted bail in the sum of $400,000, the fireman has been asked to surrender his travel documents.

He is scheduled to return to court on September 22.