Staff at the St Jude’s Home for Girls are pleading for protection after a caregiver was assaulted during a failed attempt by two residents to escape the Belmont compound over the weekend.
The incident at the home has been confirmed by Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister in charge of Gender Affairs Ayanna Webster-Roy and the Children’s Authority of T&T (CATT), which said a police investigation is now in progress.
Guardian Media was told the victim was supervising 13 girls at the “Intake House” on the St Jude’s compound on Saturday when the incident occurred.
This house is reserved for residents who are now entering the system and are in need of assessment. A source, who did not want to be named, said two of the girls asked to use the washroom and then launched their escape bid.
“When they exited the toilet, they would have been facing the back of the caregiver. They snuck up behind her with a pot and a toilet tank cover, then they would have hit her twice on her head, which started to bleed,” the source said.
Based on pictures sent to Guardian Media, both objects broke on impact with the woman’s head.
Guardian Media was told the intent was to render the caregiver unconscious so that the girls could acquire the keys for the compound’s back gate. However, their plan failed.
“They tried to lock the doors on her (the caregiver) but she managed to get to the doorway and called the security for help,” the source added.
Guardian Media was told residents at the Intake House act out in a violent manner at times due to the adjustment of moving from an environment where they had their freedom to one where they must surrender their cellular phones and go to bed at a specified time.
One of the attackers was recently sent to the home after posting a video to social media holding a knife and threatening to harm a relative.
This is also not the first time the cover for a toilet tank was used to attack a worker. A spokesman said one of the houses at St Jude’s has no covers on any of the toilet tanks due to it being weaponised in the past.
The spokesman also confirmed the victim has been struggling with her injuries and suffering from severe headaches.
“They couldn’t even do the stitches on the day of the injury because of the bleeding, they had to drain the wound first,” the source said.
The spokesman said unfortunately, the threat of violence is something all workers deal with at the institution.
“Some people come to work here and in two weeks they leave saying they can’t handle it,” the source said.
The spokesman said staff members are not trained to deal with children in need of supervision or “violent” children.
The home was highlighted in the 2021 Judith Jones-led investigative report into children’s homes, where abuse of residents was noted as an issue.
However, page 44 of that report stated that staff at St Jude’s were “not trained to handle rehabilitation in girls in policy or response methods in their manuals and the staff are not trained to deal with the extreme behaviours.”
But a spokesman said management tries to paint a different picture of the situation.
“When they (management) talk to the Minister, they will make it look like all is well, and that is wrong. The institution needs to be more accountable and serious adjustments must be made,” the spokesman said.
The source said what is even more frightening is that nothing sparked the violence last Saturday and the attack was an ambush.
“It wasn’t like there was an argument with the residents, they just asked to use the toilet, so it’s not like she was trying to de-escalate, this was premeditated and it was her against 13 children,” the source said.
Contacted yesterday, Minister Webster-Roy replied via text message, saying: “I received the report on the incident. I empathise with the team member who was injured, as well as those staff and children who witnessed the incident and were traumatised. The necessary therapeutic intervention will be made available. I am aware that some children can become violent; I have witnessed it first-hand during a visit to the facility. We will continue to work with the team at St Jude’s to ensure the safety and security of staff and residents.”
The Minister was also asked for specific interventions with regard to safety and security but did not respond.
The Children’s Authority meanwhile said it is currently providing support to the home and had reported the incident immediately to the police.
“The authority condemns all acts of violence against staff and is providing the necessary intervention to the home,” it said.
According to the 2021 Judith Jones report, St Jude’s is an unlicensed facility with 56 girls in its care and fully funded by the State.