Understanding the Law
May 23, 2008
Protect our children from abuse & neglect

This is the month when we pay special attention to our nation’s children. Hopefully, the interest would continue for every month of the year. The children of today are the adults of the not too distant future. If we produce disturbed children, then the forecast for our future would be bleak. Our children need the guidance, care and protection of the older members of our population so that they could grow strong and healthy with a sound education.{{more}} But, unfortunately, not all our children are fortunate to secure the care that they deserve. We hear of children who have been abused not only by total strangers but also by close members of the family. The suffering of any one child is one too much for any country.

Draft Bill

The laws governing the treatment of children have to be invigorated to meet the needs of the children in this challenging time. The OECS Governments had the foresight to produce a draft bill for the care of children and the sooner it is adopted and implemented the better it would be for the children of our nation. There is an existing Juvenile Act but a Child Care Act should help to promote the interest and treatment of the child while taking into consideration the role of the parents.

The Child Care Act

The primary purpose of the Child Care Act would be to provide for the care and protection of children from abuse and neglect, in addition to providing adoption services. It would be under the supervision of the Minister and a Director of Family Services. In all the actions involving the child, the “safety, welfare and well being of the child is given paramount consideration’ This consideration, although it would take into account the interest of the parents, will give significant weight to the ‘best interest’ of the child at all times, and especially when a child has to be removed from the home. In fact, where the child is mature enough to make an opinion it would be given serious consideration.

When a request is made for assistance or a report of abuse or neglect reaches the Directorate, it would trigger off the investigative action of the Directorate. Parents or persons responsible for the child, as well as the child, would be interviewed with a view to resolving the problems. The Directorate would require information from medical, social, educational and other service records concerning the child or the parent of the child or both. It would also consult any other persons and gather other evidence that may be necessary to complete the investigation and to make assessments.

In the meantime, the Directorate would arrange for support services for the child or his or her family. Of importance is the care plan that it must produce in consultation with the parents whether jointly or separately to meet the immediate needs of the child without taking the matter to court. However, it may seek an interim or final order of the court where necessary. The removal of the child from his or her parents shall only occur where it is necessary to protect the child from the risk of serious harm. The Director must, therefore, have reasonable grounds to believe that a child is in need of protection and the health and safety of the child is in immediate jeopardy.

Best interest of the child

The “best interest” of the child is by extension the best interest of our nation. We need to give them all the support to secure a strong and healthy nation.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: [email protected]