MANILA, Philippines – (1st UPDATE) The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) assured the public on Thursday, May 25, that the children of orphanage Gentle Hands are in “safe hands” following their sudden removal from the facility on Tuesday, May 23.
The 123 children who lived in Jason’s House, Gentle Hands’ facility in Quezon City, were pulled out on Tuesday following the DSWD’s issuance of a cease and desist order (CDO) against the orphanage due to alleged living standards violations. The order was issued the day before – Monday, May 22.
The Association of Child Caring Agencies of the Philippines appealed to the DSWD for transparency in how the agency dealt with the Gentle Hands case. The DSWD said that the department was doing “everything they can to provide extra loving care to the children from [Gentle Hands] knowing fully well of the possible trauma that they might experience during the transfer.”
“Our social workers are well-trained in handling children who underwent trauma. Our child psychologists are also monitoring the children and ready to talk to them to ensure that they are comfortable, [and] physically and mentally healthy,” said DSWD Assistant Secretary Romel Lopez.
Gentle Hands executive director Charity Graff earlier raised the concern that the children’s sudden pullout may “reactivate trauma” for those who had experienced abuse and felt “safe” in the facility.
The children cried on Tuesday as they were briefed that they had to be taken away. The DSWD transferred them to three facilities: Elsie Gaches Village in Alabang, Nayon ng Kabataan in Mandaluyong, and the Reception and Study Center for Children in Quezon City.
Some Gentle Hands staff accompanied the children in their new facilities. In a statement on Thursday, Gentle Hands said, “We are grateful they let us in, though that seems to be nearing its end as well.”
Gentle Hands did not disclose on record details of the living conditions of the children in the new facilities, saying that they “don’t want it to be our word against theirs.”
“[The] best fact check would be to enter the facilities, like how we opened our doors to the media, and to ask the kids directly,” they said.
Best interest of children
In a statement on Wednesday, May 24, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) highlighted the importance of putting primacy on the best interest of children.
“While we affirm that the serious concerns raised must be acted upon expeditiously, we also stress that it must be dealt with in a manner that is conscious and sensitive to the needs of the children,” the CHR said.
The children were originally meant to be removed from the facility on Monday evening, but Gentle Hands and the DSWD arrived at a compromise to postpone the pullout. CHR lawyers and special investigators were present on Monday evening, and in a dialogue between the DSWD and Gentle Hands on Tuesday morning.
The CHR said that it would closely monitor the progress of the case and the children’s situation.
“The Commission reminds duty bearers, as well as child rights advocates, that it is crucial that we minimize the risk of further trauma, hurt, or harm to children when conducting investigative and intervention processes,” the CHR said.
“It is only through supportive and encouraging means can we gather accurate and credible information from children, which are necessary in attaining justice. Likewise, approaching these cases with empathy greatly facilitates the success of recovery and support services,” it added.
Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian conducted a surprise visit to Gentle Hands on Saturday, May 19, after receiving complaints about the facility. They noticed a fire exit obstructed by two high chairs, absence of onsite social workers during the visit, and “overcrowded” living conditions, among other alleged infractions.
Graff said they were willing to comply with everything that the DSWD required. But she and Gentle Hands’ lawyers believe that the alleged violations did not warrant a need for a CDO, nor for the children to be pulled out. They also claimed that they have not received such complaints before, and they were not given any notice nor warning before the CDO was issued.
Gentle Hands continues to work to get the children back. The children could be sent back if the CDO is lifted, the orphanage’s counsel said, provided that their license is not revoked during the DSWD’s 20-day investigation. – Rappler.com
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