Defective electrical point with exposed wires led to Drop-in centre fire- CoI
The fire on the night of July 7 at the Hadfield Street Drop-In Centre, was triggered by a defective electrical point with exposed wires on the eastern wall of the girls’ dormitory. This is according to the Commission of Inquiry (COI) which was launched to investigate the circumstances surrounding the fire which caused the death of two siblings, Antonio and Joshua George.
According to the CoI, this caused the fire to travel through the electrical conduits in the ceiling of the building. It was noted that the Drop-In-Centre was not in compliance with fire regulations; failing to have fire escapes, extinguishers, and fire blankets among other emergency requirements.
The CoI recommended that the Social Protection Ministry must focus on improving the child care system which calls for a holistic restructuring and providing responsible and effective child care at all levels, taking into consideration the sensitive nature of cases that expose children to neglect and other forms of mistreatment.
The report stated that, at the time of the incident, the Drop-In-Centre was overcrowded with 31 children and two social services assistants which were a direct contravention of the Minimum Operational Standards and Regulations.
“These standards state that homes such as the Drop-In-Centre must maintain adequate staff on duty that will fulfil the agreed staff/child guideline ratio of a minimum of six social service assistants to meet the needs of the number of children housed at the centre at the time,” the final report said.
In this regard, it recommended that “suitably qualified staff should be recruited to meet the increasing demands of child care responsibilities (and) Workers in these child care facilities should be given additional time off from the working environment giving them time to relax after a period of work or tension.”
The Commissioner also found that crisis guidelines were adequately provided, but the house management was not familiar with them which subsequently led to the failure of fire drills and other forms of rehearsals to respond to emergencies.
To address this, it was recommended that the Ministry of Social Protection and the Child Care and Protection Agency (CCPA) focus more on “overhauling child protection, cutting red tape and improving the skills and knowledge of social workers so that they could adequately protect children in the state’s care.” It adds that Emergency evacuation plans must be developed and ppractisedat all child care facilities including safety protocols while in- house training and rehearsals should also be conducted for staff in crisis management at these facilities.
Additionally, the report said the Ministry should arrange and conduct inspections of all similar facilities nationwide and should have an Inspector of Homes appointed immediately while re-introducing the visiting committee to ensure compliance with the Minimum Operational Standards and Regulations.
Speaking specifically to the Drop-in Centre, the Commissioner recommended that the facility by relocated to a more suitable environment and renamed.
It was recommended that compensation be awarded to the mother of the two children who died in the care of the state.
“The CCPA and all Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are urged to put aside perceived personal grievances, self-seeking promotion and instead work together and focus on the objective of providing quality care, service and protection to children in the care of the state” the document urged.
During a recording of ‘Public Interest’ President Granger assured that if any person is found culpable of gross negligence or dereliction of duties, they will be held accountable.
“If any persons are culpable of gross negligence or dereliction of duties, yes we will make a judgment as to whether they are fit to hold those positions and if you equate that with rolling of heads, then yes but the aim is to prevent a reccurrence,” the President said.
Six-year-old Antonio George and three-year-old Joshua George, perished in the July 7, 2016 fire, after they became trapped in a section of the building. The Drop-In Centre, which is managed by the Child Care and Protection Agency, at the time of the tragedy, housed 31 children and two adults.