Mother bemoans failed system’
A woman sent overseas for residential care when she was aged just 12 said the move felt like a punishment and left her unprepared for adult life back home.
She explained that her only childhood problems were emotional and that she was “tricked” on to a flight to the United States with a promise of a swimming pool.
The woman said three of her own children were sent overseas years later after decisions made by the Department of Child and Family Services.
The woman told The Royal Gazette all three were traumatised by the experience.
She said: “They’re broken, they’re trying to put the pieces together. They know they don’t matter, they know they’ve been forgotten, they know they’re just a number.
“Myself and my family, we’re still not living, we are in a place of stagnation. The judicial system has failed us, the children and the parents.
“The judicial system put these people in control of your children’s care, in control of your children’s lives; you can’t say anything, you can’t do anything.”
A difficult childhood meant that the woman, who asked not to be named, was in foster care and institutional care, including the former Sunshine League home and the government-run Brangman residential centre.
The woman said she was not given independent legal representation and “the next thing I remember I was overseas”.
She added: “I think they had made a decision that they didn’t have facilities to deal with my emotional issues, which stemmed from maternal deprivation, and they didn’t have things in place for that.
“They tricked me into eventually getting on the plane, I used to be into swimming a lot, they said there’s a pool over there, you can swim whenever you want.
“I was excited, it was going to be something new, then when I got there it wasn’t anything like I thought. It was like a prison. I thought, ‘what did I sign up for?’.”
The child went to Wiley House in rural Pennsylvania, later renamed KidsPeace.
The woman, now in her forties, said: “I tried to run away many times because I was in the middle of nowhere with no family, nobody was calling, nobody was checking on me. It was like they sent me somewhere and I disappeared. I wasn’t even remembered on birthdays or Christmases. Once we got over there we were forgotten.”
She said that between two and four girls shared a room, but up to 20 used the same bathrooms. School classes were held at another site, but the woman said the standard was “way beneath normal level learning”.
She added: “I didn’t feel I was being challenged or taught anything. When I came back to Bermuda, I couldn’t function in a normal school environment. I put myself through education after the fact.”
The woman said: “I learnt a lot of stuff I probably shouldn’t have learnt about because I wasn’t meant to be in that type of place. I was exposed to a lot of issues.”
The mother claimed that some restraint techniques used by staff “would get kind of out of hand”, such as three adults to one child. Punishments, the woman claimed, could include isolation and excessive or unpleasant tasks like cleaning the bathroom with a toothbrush.
The woman said some of the staff members were “really nice” and a number of fellow residents helped support her.
She admitted: “I challenged what they tried to enforce in the beginning.
“At times they wouldn’t let us talk and when we were leaving our units to go to the main hall to eat, we were walking like robots. We were not allowed to communicate or be within a certain space of each other; it was extreme.”
The woman said that the children would be taken for weekend outings.
She added: “I ran away on a few of those activities. I didn’t know where I was going, I just wanted to be free.”
She said: “In order for me to get home, I had no choice but to conform. I had no choice but to push everything I was feeling, needing, wanting, to the pit of me and become their robot.”
The woman returned to Bermuda just before her 16th birthday after three years at two KidsPeace institutions.
She said no provision was made for her care and that, at just 15, the family court ruled she could have legal responsibility for herself.
She said: “I spent a lot of years trying to find out who I was. Because I was exposed to so many different personalities and issues, I felt like I had to separate myself from people in order to do that.”
The woman insisted she was ill-equipped to cope with life back home.
She said: “They sent us somewhere, they brought us back and then they chucked us into the world. We had no preparation for that, except for when we were overseas we learnt basic things like how to make our bed, be extremely clean, to wash dishes; basic stuff, but no real life skills.”
Robert Martin, the director of communications at KidsPeace, said privacy regulations prevented comment on individual clients.
He added: “We are licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and we are a healthcare organisation which follows the regulations and is under the oversight of that entity.”
A government spokeswoman said that the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the DCFS had nothing to add after a statement last week that overseas schools were licensed by “their respective licensing body and are accredited through an accrediting body” and regular visits were made by Bermudian staff. She added: “It is the policy not to disclose any public information regarding individual cases.”
The Gazette asked the Government if children from Bermuda were still sent to KidsPeace but no answer was received.
• Were you sent to an overseas institution by the Department of Child and Family Services or do you know someone who was? If you want to share a story in confidence, e-mail email@example.com
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