‘All I want them to do is return my children’

- mother of Drop-in Centre fire victims pleads for release of remaining siblings

Almost three months after she tragically lost her two sons in a fire at the Drop-in Centre, Sonia George is frustrated since the system that is supposed to help her family continues to fail and all she wants is to have her three remaining children returned to her care.

“All I want them to do is return my children. I can’t take this anymore and I want President David Granger or somebody to look into this matter,” she said in tears during an interview with this newspaper on Monday.

George has since left her ramshackle dwellings, which had been deemed unfit by the Ministry of Social Protection. She has moved into a three-bedroom apartment, which is being rented for $35,000 a month with the hope of having the children returned to her but there has been no move to have this done. She stated that no counselling was provided to her, nor did she receive any skill training as was promised. There has also been no financial assistance, nor has she seen the plot of land reportedly purchased for her in Sophia.

Stabroek News has seen a letter from Minister within the Ministry of Communities Valerie Sharpe-Adams in which she indicated that the land was paid for by the Ministry of Social Protection. The ministry is expected to hand over to George and her children, a furnished two-bedroom house on that plot of land by December 30, 2016, according to the information provided by the Ministry.

Contacted, Public Relations Officer of the Minis-try of Social Protection Terrence Esseboom told this newspaper that from the information provided, George had refused counselling and the skill training was expected to start yesterday. He also said he was told that George did not inform case workers that she had moved, nor does she answer her cell phone.

However, George, who has a supervised visit with her children at the Child Care and Protection Agency (CCPA) every Tuesday, said it was difficult to understand how the officers could say they are unable to make contact with her, when she was there once a week. She insisted that she had told the officers that she had moved out and that her husband no longer lives with her since it was stated he was abusive and he did not want his presence to be a hindrance to the children being returned.

 Drank bleach

During one of the supervised visits, George said, her youngest daughter, who is 20 months old, apparently swallowed some bleach that was in a sanitary cup at the CCPA office. She said the child had wandered off and returned to them with the cup in her hand and crying. Upon investigation, the father found that the cup contained bleach and raised an alarm.

George said they were admonished, but pointed out that not only was an officer present, but the space where they visited with their children belonged to the state, was frequented by children and should be safe.

The visit was cut short and they were told that the child may not have drunk the bleach, but later that night she was called and informed that the baby was hospitalized “for anaemia.”

A weeping George said she is still unclear as to why her daughter was hospitalized as she got no information from the hospital, but the child spent five days at the institution before she was discharged. Her nine-year-old daughter also had to seek medical attention because she was vomiting and had diarrhoea.

“I want to know if they take my children to take better care of them how come two dead and two now sick?” George questioned. “All I am asking is for my children to come back to me and I would take care of them. I presently seeking a job but is because of this running around I can’t really settle down.”

She said that since the incident with the bleach, their visits with the children are now done in the CCPA’s counselling room and two officers are always present.

According to George, when she informed one of the officers that she had better accommodation, she was told the “matter has to go court.” She said she does not understand what that means since she was told that her children would be returned when her circumstances improved.

“I need to know why they are holding on to my children onto now,” the woman lamented as she called for answers.

Joshua George, 3, and his brother Anthony George, 6, perished during the early morning fire at the Hadfield Street-based Drop-in Centre on July 8. The two were among five siblings who were removed George and her husband’s Chapel Street, Lodge home by CCPA officers two days before the fire. Twenty-nine other children who were in the building managed to escape.

A Commission of Inquiry (CoI) ordered by President Granger following the horrific deaths found that there were “systemic failures at all levels” and the persons in charge of the centre were collectively responsible for the state of affairs that led to the deaths of two young brothers in a fire.

“The CoI found that this was a tragedy waiting to happen and that there was collective responsibility for the tragic event which claimed the lives of Joshua and Antonio George. The system to protect the children failed and therefore all the players are collectively responsible,” the report had said.

Among other findings, the report highlighted the overcrowding at the centre, the inadequate and poorly trained staff working at the time of the July 8 fire, and the lack of adherence to fire regulations.

Further, the inquiry found that following a fire of similar origin at the centre, recommendations from the Guyana Fire Service in 2010 and 2015 were not fully implemented.

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