The murder of 15-year-olds, Simeon Daniel and Antonio Francois, following their escape from a safe house run by the Children’s Authority was far from inevitable and requires a full investigation.
Both were at-risk children who had made it safely into the hands of the State and still ended up dead.
It is therefore nonsensical for the Authority’s director, Nicola Harvey-Mitchell, to hold the contradictory and simultaneous positions of accepting responsibility for their escape while insisting that their murders do not represent a failure by the Authority. Unless it accepts that it has failed these two boys and moves swiftly to address the sources of its failure, time wasted in denial and defensiveness could cost other children their lives.
We have no doubt, as Ms Harvey-Mitchell asserted, that there are many good and hard-working employees among the Authority’s staff. Some may even be exceptional. However, her recognition that the boys’ escape was the result of a “gap in security and supervision” is an admission of failure, no matter how one slices and dices this fact.
What is alarming is that the Authority knew in advance that the boys were among a group planning to abscond because of what they claimed were abuse and mistreatment. The director herself got involved and reports a conversation with Daniel last week which left her assured by his words, “Director, I am not going to abscond.” But he did, and was gunned down days later.
The outcome of their escape raises several questions that demand answers: Aware that an escape plan was being hatched, was the Authority’s intervention appropriate and timely? Did it ameliorate the situation or aggravate it? In the circumstances, was the safe house adequately supervised? Why was the chipping away around the burglar-proof bars discovered only after their escape?
The director’s responsibility is not to defend her staff but to seek the interest of the children entrusted to the Authority’s care which, in this case, it had signally failed to do.
In defending the Authority, she cited problems which may have contributed to the tragedy and could very well lead to others. Among these was what she described as a “placement crisis” caused by the large number of children being sent to the Authority for “care and protection”.
An over-burdened system is a major problem which could further undermine the Authority’s work and set it up for chronic failure. It is therefore the responsibility of the board headed by Dr Carol Logie to lead the charge against this. As an entity under the Office of the Prime Minister, the Children’s Authority must be aggressive in demanding the resources required for fulfilling its mandate, starting with its first duty to “promote the well-being of the child”.
As it stands, the Authority has not only failed Simeon Daniel and Antonio Francois but parents like Daniel’s mother, Natalie Brathwaite, who intervened in time to save her troubled son by taking him to the Family Court and getting him placed in the Authority’s care, confident that she was doing the right thing. And now, he is dead.