What happens when these youths become adults?
A high proportion of children who enter institutionalised care, whether they stay in Bermuda or get sent abroad, end up in trouble as adults, it has been claimed.
But the Department of Child and Family Services does not appear to collect statistics on how many are convicted of a criminal offence or sentenced to prison, nor is it clear if it tracks the educational attainment of those it looks after.
The Royal Gazette spoke to professionals and others with intimate knowledge of the island’s social services and corrections system. They claimed many of the present and former inmates of Westgate and the Co-Ed facility were in care as children.
One source said that it was for a multitude of reasons, but included the lack of proper educational and therapeutic programmes available to them here.
The source added that children sent abroad in the DCFS’s psychoeducational programme or who go for overseas treatment as part of probation conditions after being convicted of an offence in Family Court were often left angry, resentful and traumatised by the decision to remove them from close, regular contact with their family.
That, in turn, affected their behaviour and ability to make good decisions.
“I’ll bet more than half of [those who have been in care] are already in the criminal justice system,” the source said. “Their needs are not being met. They are not being serviced properly. Everybody passes the buck.
“There is more harm than good done for more than less of those children who go into care. Taking a kid away from their family when they are so vulnerable; it’s not going to have a good impact.”
The source said the local residential and overseas psychoeducational programmes run by the DCFS did not include a proper component for successfully integrating young people back into their families or community.
The source added: “They send these children away and then they don’t do any work with the family. When the children come back after being gone for two years they come back into the same environment. A lot of it is multigenerational stuff.”
A second source called on the Government to monitor what happens to children who leave the care system and to share the information with the public.
“From my observation, once they were 18, they aged out and that was it. These are children that have been highlighted as having problems. They are in your control, so you should track them for at least five or ten years. Where are all of these children?”
The DCFS said in 2016, in response to a public access to information request, that it did not collect statistics on the percentage of children in the overseas programme who end up in jail.
It did not respond to a question yesterday on whether it now records that data.
A question about whether the department or the Ministry of Education tracks how many children in care obtain educational qualifications also received no response.
A boy who was sent to Glen Mills Schools, a reform school in Pennsylvania since closed for child abuse and mistreatment, said students were allowed to watch television in class, unless there was someone visiting the school.
“We used to sit off and watch BET [Black Entertainment Television],” said the former student, who did not have any criminal convictions at the time, but has since been in Westgate as an adult.
“We didn’t even have to do no work. Remember, they sent me there to get an education. Let somebody be coming to do a tour of the place [and those in charge said] ‘look, do this here so everybody looks like they are doing their work’.”
A fourth source said: “When children go overseas they are not in a traditional academic environment. In fact, the primary reason for referral is treatment, not education. “While they may benefit from some form of academic support, in reality, when these children return to Bermuda, they return with significant academic gaps.
“Often they are placed in alternative educational placements upon return to Bermuda. This serves to further isolate and alienate them.
“It would be beneficial to know how many of these children return to Bermuda with a GED or trade certificate. What is the evidence that supports overseas treatment and validates it as a viable option that we have no choice but to continue to consider?”
A spokeswoman for the DCFS said in December 2018: “On return to Bermuda, the DCFS implements an aftercare programme. Aftercare consists of reintegration to the education system, ongoing individual and family support and referrals.
“If the child has reached the age of 18, they may choose not to participate. However, services are still offered to them.”
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