February 27, 2009
‘Children must take first priority’

Director of the Family Affairs Division, Cammie Matthews, is deeply concerned about the growing number of reported cases of child neglect and abandonment.{{more}}

Matthews was at the time addressing a matter that occurred earlier this week, where two toddlers perished in a fire at Redemption Sharpes after being left at home alone.

In an interview with Matthews on Wednesday, he noted that what happened was unfortunate and there is no excuse for a parent to leave his or her children in a house unsupervised. He went onto say that it is of critical importance that parents set their priorities straight and put their children first.

The Division has also come under some fire by the general public as it was said that the matter of the neglect of the children had been reported on several occasion to their office. Matthews said he was not aware of such reports. “We take such reports seriously, and if a complaint was indeed made to the Division, we would have responded as rapidly as possible,” Matthews declared.

Matthews also noted that when reports of neglect are made, his office carries out spot checks and tries to make contact with the parent or parents. Matthews said that in cases where there is neglect, the children are placed in foster care.

Records from the Division reveal that there were 58 reported cases of neglect in 2007 and 36 cases of abandonment. Up to March 2008, a total of 12 cases of neglect cases had been reported, along with four cases of abandonment. Matthews told SEARCHLIGHT that there are still a number of parents who seem not to understand the seriousness of parenthood. “Children must take first priority in the lives of parents. Failure to do so is lending itself to serious child abuse and setting the stage for children to be exposed to all sorts of unnecessary dangers,” he added.

Meanwhile, Commissioner of Police Keith Miller is of the view that if better judgment had been exercised, the children would have still been alive today.

On the day of the incident, homeowner Leroy “Jerry” Williams had left the children at home alone to go to work, after telephoning their mother to come and stay with them. She never showed up.

Miller said that he still couldn’t fathom why someone would leave two helpless children without adult supervision. “I think that a different approach should have been taken, and I am sure he could have contacted someone nearby and alerted them to what was happening,” Miller opined. The top cop also indicated that there have been instances before where mothers have been arrested for endangering the lives of their children. Miller also said that the possibility exists that charges might also be brought against Williams.

He urged parents to be more responsible and warned them that if they leave a child at home alone, they would be liable to face criminal charges.

Indications are that the matter of the deceased children being left alone in the past was reported the police on several occasions, but nothing was done. In response, Miller said he was not aware of such reports and that if such reports had indeed been made, that the persons should come to the Central Police Station and state which station the report was made to, the department, and which officer it was made out to. Miller said once these things are done, a full investigation into the matter will be launched.