Sergeant Janet Williams-Richards serves in the Community Safety and Security Unit at the Grants Pen Police Station. Sergeant Williams-Richards recently participated in the first residential training for police on the Child Justice Guidelines, developed by the Office of the Children’s Advocate with support from UNICEF. This resource informs police how to handle any child who interfaces with the justice system with care and empathy. She spoke with us about her passion for children and her hopes for more police to follow these guidelines.
I deal a lot with children. I love children so much! I think the Lord keeps sending them to me, every day, based on where I am. I always say I may not be trained with papers, but I’m trained in the Holy Spirit. And he is helping me, because he knows my heart is after troubled children.
As police officers, when we are handling children, there are a lot of challenges as well as difficulties.
The trauma behind “uncontrollable” children
You have a lot of children who are taken to us, or we are called at the station to come to their homes, based on various reasons. Some of them are considered “uncontrollable” – children who are acting out and rebellious. We are always able to pinpoint most of the reasons why. Sometimes it’s a one-parent home with mother alone; the fathers are usually away – they leave or are locked up in prison.
And sometimes while this is happening in the home, it spills off in the school because the children go to school with the same kind of rebellious behaviour.
What I have seen is that there is always a breakdown, there is always an underlying situation why the children are behaving like this. As police officers, there are instances where we have to follow through with processes and procedures in keeping with the law – but even while we do this, we need to think about the child and the long-term. The more children we can change, the less crime we will have.
When I must be more than a police officer
There are many cases where I have to step in and not be just a police officer.
Recently, a little girl and her mother came into the station to make a report. I didn’t ask right away what was happening, but I realised it was serious. So I went to the girl and I said, “I can see that there’s something troubling you.” She was shaking. I asked her to come to me and I hugged her. I did that because we are not just police, we are human beings!
I hugged her and she was shaking, shaking, shaking. And I said, “I don’t know what happened, but it’s going to be okay.” Her mom was crying too. And I said to her, “I’m just here to love you, I’m here to help you. Please don’t look at me as a police officer. If you want to talk, I will just listen.” Then she started talking. And she told me she had just been raped.
Let us see how we can save this child
I was just there hugging both mother and child. I told the girl, “I love you. I am feeling you, I am feeling what you’re going through. It’s going to be alright.”
The case was turned over to the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), but I keep checking up on them. The girl is getting high grades. And the mother keeps telling me, “I don’t know what we would have done without you.”
I think this training for the police will have an impact. I hope and I believe that whenever a situation arises that involves children, what the officers have heard and all they have been taught is going to come back. And I hope that what will be in the forefront of their minds is ‘let us see how we can save this child’.