One month and five days after an alleged severe beating of a two-year-old infant at a daycare centre in Falmouth, Trelawny, the accused perpetrator remained on the job without sanction from childcare watchdogs or other state authorities.
A probe by The Gleaner has revealed that a key child-rights agency and the regulator of daycares and nurseries had not been informed of the assault charges though the matter had been formally reported to the police and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA).
The lapse in reporting protocols has placed the CPFSA and allied agencies under the microscope and raises questions on how integrated Jamaica’s child-protection services are and whether they respond quickly enough to shield minors and have alleged offenders penalised.
Shaneka Lemord, mother of the child, said that she sought the intervention of the police on February 27 – the day after the incident occurred – and reported the matter to the CPFSA on March 4.
The operator of T’s Tiny Tots Day Care was also informed of the incident, said Lemord.
Black and blue
But Lemord said that the caregiver who allegedly assaulted the child, his back scarred with welts, continued to work there for weeks.
“When me see inna mi son back, is like when you take one tick and just murder summady. Some black and blue marks, him skin blister. Even a cut on his back,” lamented the distressed mother as she recalled the day she discovered the streaks on her son’s back.
“She just grab him and tek out everything out on him. Six lick him get. Me can just imagine the power and might that she use and beat him.”
Lemord said she called the caregiver, Jacqui Harding-Fearon, at least 15 times to get answers on the beating of her infant son regarding the telltale signs but got no response.
“It was 4:45 a.m. on the 27th that she responded, saying her ringer was off and she would call me later that morning,” the mother told The Gleaner.
Lemord did not wait for a callback, but telephoned the caregiver again, pressing her for answers.
The caregiver, Lemord said, admitted to whipping three children who had reportedly clogged a toilet, which began to flood, while she was taking linen off a clothes line.
“She said the amount of water she saw in there, she just grab the three of them and beat them with a bag strap, because she was angry,” said Lemord, who has had to quit her job to stay home with her son for the last month.
The infant has been enrolled at T’s Tiny Tots since he was three months old.
Lemord and her son have received one instance of counselling under the aegis of the CPFSA, The Gleaner understands. But the infant’s mother believes that the childcare watchdog has been derelict in its handling of the case.
“Between the police and the Child Development Agency (former name of the CPFSA), I have had to be running behind them to do anything about the situation,” Lemord said.
CPFSA Public Relations Manager Rochelle Dixon Gordon said her organisation received the report and launched an investigation. She confirmed that the child was referred for counselling with the Victim Services Division.
“We have been in dialogue with the child’s mother as the matter is still under investigation,” Dixon Gordon said.
Referral was also made to the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) and a report also sent to the Early Childhood Commission (ECC), which has responsibility to license daycare facilities, added Dixon Gordon.
“We are also following up with the police regarding actions against the perpetrator.”
But Diahann Gordon Harrison, the children’s advocate, said on Monday that she had no knowledge of the incident and checks with her officers revealed no evidence that they had been informed.
And executive director of the ECC, Karlene DeGrasse-Deslandes, said she was briefed on Easter Sunday by the CPFSA, one month and five days after the report was made and 48 hours after The Gleaner had reached out to the watchdog for comment.
Efforts to get a comment from the police on the progress of the investigation were unsuccessful.
Commanding officer for the Trelawny Police Division, Superintendent Carlos Russell, said that he was aware of the incident and would call back with an update.
Up to news time, the superintendent had not returned the call and a Constable Carby, the initial investigating officer, was not at work on Monday.
Maureen Thompson, operator of the daycare, told The Gleaner on Friday, April 2 that Harding-Fearon was no longer in her employ. But when pressed on the date of her termination, Thompson revealed that the woman had been fired that same Good Friday.
“Initially she was suspended for a week, but after speaking with the CDA again, I was directed to send her off, so she has been fired and will be in receipt of the letter shortly,” Thompson told The Gleaner on Monday evening.
The daycare operator said that this was the first such incident at the centre and that she was being guided by the authorities.
“I didn’t want to do the wrong thing, so I made sure to follow the protocol,” she added.
Harding-Fearon, who has worked with the daycare centre for 11 years, said she was suspended on March 8 and recalled to work on the 15th.
Regretting the incident, Harding-Fearon said she hit the child because she was frightened by the toilet mishap.
“I apologised to the mother. I am very sorry about it,” she said late Monday evening.
Harding-Fearon disclosed that she was called to attend an interview at the Falmouth Police Station and was warned that she would be arrested if the mother pressed charges.
Under the Early Childhood Act Standard 3.2.11, corporal punishment and physical abuse are never to be used to manage inappropriate behaviour by children.
“The institution’s policy on non-use of corporal punishment and physical abuse is discussed with every member of staff and parent,” DeGrasse-Deslandes told The Gleaner on Monday.
The ECC said it would launch an investigation into the incident on Tuesday.
Jamaica is home to 339 daycare centres.
In the meantime, the OCA said that one of its responsibilities is to hold government agencies accountable, ensuring they act in the best interests of children.
Only when the State fails to act does the OCA intervene, said Gordon Harrison.