When my children came back, they were broken’
A woman’s three children were separated and sent overseas to a string of different institutions for up to seven years without any legal representation, she has revealed.
The mother said the Department of Child and Family Services wanted to place the children at care homes in the United States, at first for short-term assessments, but that two of the youngsters remained abroad for several years.
The trio were all preteens when they left the island and one was sent to an institution in a different state from the others.
Their mother said she had been sent to the US for residential care when she was just 12 and told The Royal Gazette that the family still struggled to recover from their experiences.
She said: “When they were overseas, all of them felt like they were being punished and when I was overseas, I felt like I was being punished because it felt like my mom couldn’t love me and my daddy didn’t want me.”
The woman added: “When my children came back to me, they were broken.”
Her children went into foster care as she struggled with a difficult divorce, but after a family trauma, they were sent abroad.
The mother said the children, now adults, were sent abroad and spent time in a total of six institutions between about 2008 and 2015 for various periods.
It is understood that the DCFS needed assessments that it said could not be carried out in Bermuda.
The mother said her daughter’s experience was similar to her own.
She explained: “She still, to this day, is struggling to figure out who she is; she’s still trying to take off the layers.
“When you’re in places like that, you have to harden up yourself or you will get hurt; it’s like being in jail for real.
“You need to protect yourself in all of the ways you can.”
The youngest of the children was said to have returned to Bermuda after a few months, but the mother said the oldest was overseas for up to seven years.
He was 17 when he returned and the mother said he still had problems with adjustment to a normal life.
She added: “They ruined him more than he was already, then they dropped him at my door and left me to pick up the pieces.”
The overseas care homes her children were sent to included the Family Foundation School in New York, which was renamed the Allynwood Academy and closed in 2014 after a “truth campaign” by former students.
Alleged abuses including public humiliation, social isolation or menial labour, were reported in The New York Times last year.
Other punishments included being forced to bury rocks in the ground one day and being told to dig them up the next.
Oxbow Academy in Utah, and the Pines Residential Treatment Centre, in Virginia, which changed hands in 2010 and is now known as the Harbour Point Behavioural Health Centre, were other care homes where the woman’s children were sent.
The other three institutions were in Massachusetts, including the Germaine Lawrence campus, which media in the state reported last August was to be closed, a Devereux Advanced Behavioural Health centre, and Stetson School.
The woman said that the DCFS could have done more to support her own mother and herself as teen moms, rather than get involved after problems started.
The woman was speaking after it was revealed that youngsters sent abroad at the request of the DCFS before 2014 were moved without any legal representation.
The vast majority of cases, 48 out of 50 children, who went overseas as part of the department’s psychoeducational programme between April 2014 and November 2018 were dealt with without a legal representative.
The woman said she spoke out because she wanted the authorities to make sure there was enough funding available for every child in need of an independent advocate, known as a litigation guardian, to get one.
The woman said: “Children need someone to speak on their behalf.
“Not every situation is textbook, not every place that a child comes from is textbook. You can’t make the same decision for every child and expect it to work.
“It was incredibly difficult for me to speak out, but I did it in the hope that other children will have a voice and so that other parents can have support in place for their children.”
Bill Stock, the vice-president for government and community relations at Seven Hills Foundation, which affiliated with Stetson School seven years ago, said six Bermudian youngsters had been admitted there between 2005 and 2012.
He added that the children were referred to the school by the DCFS and the main contact was department director Alfred Maybury.
Mr Stock added: “As with any referral from a government entity, it is and was Stetson School’s understanding that each youth’s legal rights had been upheld.”
A spokeswoman for Devereux, which provides “medical care for children with behavioural healthcare needs”, said US privacy laws barred her from discussion about young people treated there.
She added: “Generally speaking, Devereux doesn’t engage in the issue of legal representation as part of our process of admission because we operate medical programmes.”
She added that placements were “entirely voluntary”.
A spokeswoman at Harbour Point said the change of ownership meant she had no access to Pines’ records.
Youth Villages, which merged with Germaine Lawrence in 2012, did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for Oxbow Academy said he could not discuss anyone who had been in the institution “based on confidentiality and respect for the families we serve”.
The former president of the Family Foundation School could not be contacted.
The Ministry of Legal Affairs and the DCFS declined to comment.
A government spokeswoman said: “It is the policy not to disclose any public information regarding individual cases.”
A DCFS spokeswoman said last week that all overseas institutions used by the department were licensed by “their respective licensing body and are accredited through an accrediting body”, and children overseas were visited by DCFS staff on a regular basis.
She was speaking after the Glen Mills Schools in Pennsylvania, also used in the past by the DCFS, had its licence revoked in the wake of an investigation into abuse allegations.