The board at the Governmental Industrial School (GIS) has been changed, amidst investigations into a 14-year-old girl at the institution being photographed naked.
This afternoon, during a press conference, Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams announced that in order to effect sweeping changes at the GIS, the new board appointed includes Rev Dr Lucille Baird (chairman), Dr Carl Ward (deputy chairman), members Stephanie Chase, Rev Lennox Boyce, Cheryl Moore, Kwame Bradshaw, a sitting magistrate and the Superintendent of Prisons or his nominee.
In addition, children’s advocate and UNICEF representative Faith Marshall-Harris, and Dr Adrian Cummins, have been retained to help effect changes at GIS.
“We are going to strip the institution and rebuild that institution properly,” he said.
“I would like to turn a new page and start a new chapter in the oversight and management of the Government Industrial School in Barbados. As I said before, we will be calling on Mrs Faith Marshall-Harris, UNICEF and Attorney Dr Adrian Cummins in leading the process in transformation in the structure and management of the facility under the new Board of Management of the Government Industrial School,” Abrahams added.
He added that with the new thinking that will be reflected in both the Child Protection legislation as well as the Child Justice Bill, the new board has been charged to develop policies and programmes that reflect the philosophy that children have rights and deserve to be nurtured.
“To this end, I will be meeting with the new Board of GIS next week to impress upon them the need to work with UNICEF in reformatting and relooking the emphasis and priorities of that institution. I have personally not ruled out a name change or even a deemphasizing of the institutional care. These are among the recommendations I would like to see emanating from the new Board under the chairmanship of Rev Dr Baird and in consultation with UNICEF and Faith Marshall-Harris.
“There is a lot that plagues the institution and for us to move forward we have to clear all of that. We have to regain the trust of the public of Barbados, which has been shaken by this incident. All outstanding complaints that have not been investigated are to be investigated,” he said.
The Minister explained that the reason the new Child Justice Bill has not been debated in Parliament is due to delays as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic along with reservations from Cabinet that there is a need to closely develop the Child Protection Legislation.
Abrahams also said that the Ministry of Education has pledged its support to working with the Board and its advisors to tailor the curriculum to make it relevant to the current generation of children to give them the best chance possible on completing the residential programme.
“Being in any state facility is a difficult experience but we must do our best not to make it more challenging than it needs to be, less we damage the lives and crush the spirits of those we are intending to help”.
The Minister said he has apologized to the mother and grandmother of the 14-year-old child who was photographed in the cell. He added that he has confidence in the staff at the GIS who have acted on the guidance and practices outlined at a policy level.
“In the past 48 hours, I have spoken to persons associated with this unfortunate saga, and we have all agreed that we should move to put this incident behind us and move forward with a common sense of progressive purpose in the furtherance of the welfare and well-being of our children . . .
“I am satisfied that we have been making tremendous progress in relation to overcoming the difficulties that we face at GIS. The situation is not ideal but we have to work with what we have and we will do better by our children and the wards under our care,” Abrahams said.
When asked if the girls at the institution would be relocated pending the completion of the investigations, Abrahams said this would be a knee jerk reaction that does not have to be taken at this time.
He made it clear that it would be reckless for him to say the wards would be transferred when he was aware of the particular circumstances in relation to the students.
“I am not prepared to make a blanket decision in relation to anyone or even the running of the facility at this point in time. We need to consider each situation on its merit,” he said.
Minister Abrahams also pointed out that he has been in contact with former wards of the GIS who have shared both positive and negative experiences regarding their time spent at the institution, with him.
“I made a specific point of not reaching out to anybody who an investigator or the board might be looking to investigate their complaints. I do, however, once things have settled plan to speak to everybody,” (AH)