Daycare deaths in Trinidad and Tobago

Choosing a daycare or preschool is hard. Because, in Trinidad, daycares can be like Hotel California. Children can check in anytime they like but they may never leave.

In Trinidad, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to trust people. Especially with children. Except, of course, it’s your mother or, maybe, your mother-in-law, or Aunty Mabel, who lives down the road and has 13 children and 94 grandchildren. Sure, one of her sons looks like a pedophile and one of her grandsons, the one named Mike Tyson, bites like a crocodile but, she has a big living room and a swing in her front yard.

A daycare is any place where children get daytime care in exchange for financial reward. Some people, like single or working parents, use daycare because they don’t have a choice. Others use it so they can get a break from the little scamp because You and I both know that some kids can be absolute scamps.

Take for instance this one boy who gets three flavours of Ice cream but he only eats the chocolate. And this girl who thinks her dalmation is an actual 3D colouring book.

So, yes, choosing an “Early Childhood Centre” is terribly difficult. Because you don’t have to look hard to find horror stories. In fact, some of these stories are so terrifying any parent with options can easily become paranoid, quit their job, and take care of their own child and probably start back working when the little one turns 18 or 35.

In 2010, a baby boy died after choking on food he vomited while asleep. It was his first day at daycare. After the incident the mother said,

“My baby was healthy when I left him. Apparently they fed him and I don’t know if they burped him properly. The care takers told me they tried to revive him but they should have known to just call the Emergency Health Services (EHS) immediately. They are not trained professionals.”

In May 2016, a baby suffocated at a daycare. The daycare owner, a qualified nurse, said she was sorry.

In June 2018, an eight-month-old child received scratches which seemed to form the word “Shh”. A doctor’s report said, “the scratches were too many to count”. An officer at the Children’s Authority told the father (And this is very important):

“There was nothing legally that could have been done, referring to some policy that was before Parliament.”

In July 2018, a baby was badly beaten at a daycare. When the child’s mother saw him she said, “I didn’t even recognise him.”

In May 2019, while we were writing this episode a baby died at a daycare.

In these brief moments, we’ve recounted almost a decade of horrible experiences. Chances are you know someone who has, in some way, suffered from a terrible experience, whether it’s at a daycare or preschool.

Trinidad has hundreds of early education centers. Both public and private.
There are approximately 500 private Early Childhood Care and Education Centres that are not registered with the Ministry of Education, Which I find absolutely baffling, because, on the ministry’s website, it clearly states that “all private schools operating in Trinidad and Tobago must be registered in accordance with the Education Act Chap 39:01”.

Interestingly, in Barbados, “Operators failing to register risk facing closure of the day care centre or may be subject to a fine of $500 and/or six months imprisonment.”

And Registration is an annual process.

Locally, the Ministry of education’s website clearly outlines the steps for registration.
For example, written approval must be obtained from WASA, the Electrical Inspectorate, Trinidad and Tobago fire services, Regional Health Authority, The Nursery Association of T & T.

And as a parent you can demand to see these things. I’m not making this up.

Your child’s school must have at least one qualified teaching staff with relevant certification. And NO, Mrs Mabel, the fact that you have 13 children and 94 grandchildren doesn’t count. We’re talking about A Certificate in Early Childhood Education from a recognised tertiary institution, where teachers learn first aid and “HOW to burp a child and how long to hold them upright 101.”

There are standard requirements for registration that every parent should know.

  1. Teacher child ratio should not exceed the following:
    • From Birth to 2 years 1 teacher to 4 students
    • From 2 – 3 years 1 teacher to 6 students.
    • And from to 3 to 4+ years 1 teacher to 15 students.
  2. Corporal punishment is not allowed.
  3. No naughty corner.
  4. No kneeling on a grater.
  5. No drugs.
  6. No alcohol.
  7. And no All Fours competitions.

So, if you go by aunty mabel and aunty mabel’s nursery has more kids than Chucky E Cheese on a Saturday, chances are aunty mabel is being very naughty.

  • Providers must record and report all signs of child abuse and/or neglect to the relevant authorities.
  • All accidents/incidents must be recorded in detail.
  • The ECCE Division and the Ministry of Health must be notified immediately

So, it beats me then that in some of the mentioned cases, parents only got the news when they arrived at the ECCE in the afternoon. Can you imagine, you arrive at the facility, several children, including your child, are on the ground bleeding, the teacher is smiling. She says:

“Today was fun.”
“But Aunty Mabel, what happened to my child?”
“Silly, Daddy Pig, remember we have fight club on Thursdays.”

The standards I mentioned a moment ago are based on proposals from 2004. The proposals go as far as outlining:

  • “how to plan field trips”
  • “An induction process must take place that introduces new staff/volunteers/students to colleagues, children, parents etc.”
  • “Groups of children must be cared for in their own space.”

In other words, a four-year-old should NOT be in the same room with a new born.

That last proposal makes sense.
Some people just shouldn’t be in the same room.
Like Batman and joker.

Or your child and Aunty Mabel’s son the one who looks like a pedophile.

So, no, given their age some kids shouldn’t be in the same space And no, Aunty Mabel, you can’t care for children in the same room you make ketchup.

I find it baffling that some of these proposals aren’t actually law.
Let’s talk about the nurseries act; and by nurseries I don’t mean a place where young plants grow, but a room for kids; and by kids I don’t mean young goats, I mean human children.

If we’ve done our research properly, The “CHILDREN’S COMMUNITY RESIDENCES, FOSTER CARE AND NURSERIES ACT” was updated in 2015. There are sections still awaiting proclamation. Namely sections 42 to 52,

  1. which make it illegal to manage a nursery or daycare without a license;
  2. which ensure that a license will not be granted unless the authority is satisfied with health, safety and security measures;
  3. which authorise random audits;
  4. which state that the authority can revoke licenses in the event of a breach.

The National Council for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCECCE) is a cabinet appointed body. One of its responsibilities is the introduction of appropriate legislation for the operation of all daycares and preschools. T-h-e-r-e-f-o-r-e, I have a question for the NCECCE which, by the way, is a difficult name for a children’s organisation,

Years have passed Why aren’t sections 42 to 52 law?
Once upon a time, The government pulled off Section 34.
Sections 42 to 52 should be a breeze.

Here’s an important point.

A NATIONAL REPORT ON TEACHERS FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO found that the ECCE Division was satisfactorily staffed and operationalized by 2008. The bad news is this is no longer the case. In 2014, many contracts weren’t renewed. So, yeah, there’s a staff shortage. According to the unesco report The division simply doesn’t have the manpower to monitor and support the education centers throughout the country.

We shouldnt just kick back and say “wha you go do, boy” Or “that is how it does go sometimes.” This legislation and monitoring of childcare centers is a pressing concern. As parents, as future fathers and mothers, we must demand the very best for our children.

Whether it’s from the government or from our actual day care provider. For example

Umm. Aunty Mabel.
Is your umm… nursery… registered or not?
I noticed it’s just you and you have 30 children here and your grandson, the one who likes to bite, the one named Mike Tyson.

Perhaps because of the fear of victimisation you may choose to say nothing. I get that.
But remember this. There are people who are very good at staying silent. For example some people will sit in a taxi traveling from Curepe to San Fernando and not bat an eyelash as the driver flies above the speed limit or drives along the shoulder or breaks a traffic light. Do your know where some of those people are now?

They’re dead.

And do you know where the ones who’ve spoken out are?

They’re alive. Sure they’re been put out of the taxi and are still stranded on the highway but they’re alive.

Maybe that isn’t a very good example but you get my point. A child you’re stranded with is way better than a dead child.

In the end our biggest responsibility is to the children of our nation.
We desperately need to have these laws and monitoring system updated.
There mere fact that it isn’t law means that our children are growing up in an abusive environment.

We need to fix this and everyone needs to get involved.
So, if you’re up to it, here’s what you can do.
You can call the Children’s Authority on their hotline.
Tell them you’re calling to report an abuse.
Tell them that there are crucial sections of the Nurseries Act that aren’t yet law.

More than likely, they’re going to tell you that they’re waiting on Parliament or the Attorney General. Right now, That’s Faris Al-wari. The good news is, that in December 2018, back when Devant Maharaj was leaking phone numbers, Mr Al-wari beat him to it. His phone number is 683-6442.

Call him. Text him. WhatsApp him.

I’ve done my part. I’ve tried calling and I’ve texted him. No response.

Maybe you’ll have better luck.
Message the AG. Call him. Whatever.

If he responds maybe he’ll tell you what the ministry of the attorney general’s website will tell you, “An Act does not come into immediate operation. Blah, blah, blah.” I get that. But ten plus years of tragedies is a long time. If the AG doesn’t respond, tag him in the comments section. Tag the ministry of legal affairs as well. Or keep it simple. Share the video at the beginning of this article.

Even if you aren’t a parent. Because one day you may have children. And one day, that same child whom you sent to Aunty Mabel’s daycare, is going to choose your old-age home. And that, my friend, is another nightmare.