Cooper grapples with ‘unfortunate reality’

  • Sheelagh Cooper, founder and former executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children (File photograph)

    Sheelagh Cooper, founder and former executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children (File photograph)

A child welfare campaigner has claimed that Bermuda might be “so far behind, that we’re ahead” in services for young people with problem behaviour.

Sheelagh Cooper, the founder and former executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said that the island was well placed to deliver small-scale settings for therapy — and avoid problems created by larger residential treatment centres.

She aired concerns almost 19 years ago about a proposed $9 million Youth Pathways Village and said the money would be better spent on counselling and diagnostic staff in the education department, as well as an increased staff-to-youth ratio in residential homes.

The late Nelson Bascome, then the health and social services minister, said that youngsters could run away from the homes and those with severe problems had to be sent overseas for treatment.

Ms Cooper said last week: “My one word of caution when the Pathways idea was announced was the need to avoid the mistake commonly made in other jurisdictions that establish treatment facilities.

“The unfortunate reality too often has been that these therapeutic facilities rapidly become training schools and incarcerate increasing numbers of adolescents and teens.

“These facilities often become less and less therapeutic and more and more used as a place of punishment.

“If that were to happen here, such a facility in Bermuda would be a retrogressive step.

“I expressed that concern at the time when I saw the proposed architectural layout, which looked remarkably similar to a prison with wings and a central core.

“The numbers of children in Bermuda who need residential treatment are still relatively small and a homelike community-based setting is all that is required, rather than an institutional setting, which, if built, would inevitably get filled.”

Ms Cooper explained: “In a way, Bermuda is so far behind, that we are ahead.

“While many jurisdictions are trying to reduce the numbers of children incarcerated in training schools by opening smaller, more therapeutic settings, Bermuda could bypass that problem entirely and go straight to a small, therapeutic, intensive treatment facility with highly skilled psychologists and psychiatrists and a programme that involves the family in the child’s treatment and recovery.”

Ms Cooper added that she understood efforts were made to assess the cost of a residential therapeutic centre but that the expense was “deemed prohibitive”.

New Pathways Youth appeared as a line item in government Budget Books as far back as 2000-01, and also as New Pathways Youth Village.

These accounted for more than $14.6 million in public spending between 1998 and 2007.

The same line item number — 33110 — was attributed to Residential Treatment Administration in the 1999-2000 Budget Book and it became Youth Residential Treatment in the 2009-10 version.

It was thought in 2003 that building on the care centre could start that year after permission was granted under a special development order to demolish Observatory Cottage, in Devonshire, and replace it with a 40,000-square-foot residential centre with five wings for boys and girls.

Mr Bascome said it would not be a jail but would be a secure unit to help control young people who run afoul of the law.

The Royal Gazette asked for information about what had happened to plans for the centre and about the Budget figures, but the Government did not respond.

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Published Dec 13, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 13, 2019 at 7:13 am)

Cooper grapples with ‘unfortunate reality’

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