Boys’ and girls’ homes need total upgrades
Bermuda has two residential homes for children in care and both need a string of improvements, people with inside knowledge have said.
The sources said the buildings, the staff and the care provided all needed to be upgraded.
The Royal Gazette spoke to former residents and others who have been inside the home for boys on Aeolia Drive, Devonshire, and the Brangman Home for girls, in Smith’s.
A third children’s home, also on Aeolia Drive, has been closed for more than two years.
All three homes are the responsibility of the Department of Child and Family Services.
Desmond Crockwell, an anti-violence campaigner, said he visited the boys’ home regularly and went on a daily basis this year.
He said: “The physical structure needs an upgrade. I believe that they also can use more committed workers. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with the workers.
“They might just not be in the right environment.
“At-risk children need committed, caring, relationship builders. They need people that are willing to build relationships with them, more than just turn the key or get paid. That’s the most important thing.”
A girl who lived at the Brangman Home when she was in care said: “Sometimes the home does not have enough beds or mattresses, so I have seen residents sleep on the floor in sleeping bags.
“One time, it was a room with eight people sleeping in one bedroom.”
She said on one occasion she was told to put her mattress outside the office where staff worked.
The girl said: “When the mattress gets moved down outside the office, you can hear the staff talking.
“I recall the staff calling some of the residents ‘lifers’.
“This is a derogatory name, which means that we are going to be lifers in the system — in other words, we had nowhere to go and no one wanted us. As far as they were concerned, the next step for us was jail. Many of them used to talk down on us.”
The Brangman Home was broken into in the early hours of November 24 last year, which sparked a visit from Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Minister of Legal Affairs, to meet staff and residents.
Ms Simmons said afterwards she had taken “immediate precautions” to ensure the safety of staff and residents “by increasing security measures at the facility”.
She added: “The Ministry of Public Works has engaged the services of a private security company for a full safety assessment and additional safety features being added to all facilities.”
A request for an update on the safety assessment was not provided by the DCFS.
The girl said she was told about a break-in at the Brangman Home when she was not on the premises.
She added: “Although I was not in the home at that time, I felt unsafe hearing about the break-in.
“My fears were further realised due to the numerous supervisors and staff that appeared to not have our best interests at heart.”
The girl said: “One such example was when staff from the Department of Works and Engineering would have to attend the home to complete repairs to the property.
“The ... staff would allow the male workers to sleep on the couch in the girls’ home and there were times when the workers would be drinking inside the home.”
She added that was not “a one off and unfortunately ... staff did nothing to stop the Works and Engineering staff from displaying this behaviour.”
The girl also alleged that staff who worked at the home drank and smoked in front of the girls who lived there.
The DCFS lists three care services in the Government’s Budget Book — the Brangman Home, the Youth Development Centre and Observatory Cottage.
There is a separate line item for Residential Treatment Services, the umbrella term for all residential care. Total spending for this financial year for all four line items was estimated to be $3.7 million.
The average cost a day for each resident in financial year 2017-18 was $430 at the Brangman Home and $502 at Observatory Cottage.
The Royal Gazette reported in November last year that work to upgrade the Youth Development Centre appeared to have been at a standstill for more than 18 months.
The centre closed at the end of March 2017 for repairs which were expected to take three to four months, but the building is still empty and boarded up.
Boys in care at present live in another building on Aeolia Drive, which also houses administration offices.
A source said: “Historically, when boys returned from the overseas psychoeducational programme, they went to YDC, since they were returning from more secure environments. Without the third facility, they no longer do that.
“So essentially, in theory, there are high-risk children with lower-risk children. Research suggests that when you place low-risk individuals with higher-risk ones, the low-risks are easily influenced.”
The source added that there was little on offer in terms of education or therapeutic programmes at the boys’ home and that “essentially, they are just babysitting”.
The allegations made by the former girls’ home resident were put to the DCFS but the department did not respond by press time.
There was also no response to questions about the state of the children’s homes and the programmes offered.
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