Nearly six months after the death of 12-year-old Shemar Weekes of Fryers Well, Checker Hall, St Lucy, and four months since six-year-old Jahan King perished under mysterious circumstances, the island’s child care agency has said that the primary lesson it has learnt from the tragedies is that it has not told its story.
Speaking in defence of the Child Care Board (CCB), Chairman Ken Knight described the deaths as “freakish”, saying that in nearly three decades of service no one had died under its watch before.
Weekes was found hanging on May 14 at the home he shared with his mother while King died in on June 29 from what the police later said was chest trauma. Knight also made reference to a third death which Barbados TODAY could not immediately verify.
“The board has been in operation for close to 30 years and it has never had a death before. But here you, we were involved directly or indirectly of three of them within the space of two months . . . kind of freakish turn of events in terms of timing. That is one of the major things that came through to me as chairman as I go around speaking with people; people were not really fully aware of what the Child Care Board does,” the CCB boss told Barbados TODAY in an interview this morning.
There were allegations that both boys had been abused and King’s grandmother Margaret Gill blamed the board for his death, claiming that despite several reports the child protection agency failed to act decisively to remove the boy from danger, presumably at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY on July 8 Knight also denied that King had been abused, stating that a medical examiner had found no signs of abuse and that bruises around King’s eyes were the result of allergies.
Asked today what lessons the board had learned from the tragedies and the surrounding controversies, Knight focused on a lack of public relations.
“I would say that the major lesson learnt is that the Child Care Board has not told its story,” Knight said.
He contended that there was not a “coherent understanding” by the public of the board’s role, adding that by sharing this information he believed people would become more sensitive to state agencies functions.
“They never realized we ran 15 day nurseries; they never realized we ran care homes . . . looking after kids that are parentless. In addition to that, our officers have to attend court hearings practically every day in giving witness to cases where access to kids are involved . . . then there is the child protection aspect of if where people come in from off the streets and make reports of suspected cases of child abuse and we have to act accordingly,” he added.
Knight said the board’s officers also have investigate cases where children appear at the QEH or at schools with injuries.