Halfway house plan to help older children

  • Raised issue: Gina Spence (Photograph supplied)

    Raised issue: Gina Spence (Photograph supplied)

Young people who get too old for the island’s care system could soon be supported by a halfway house to help them deal with the move into adulthood.

Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, told MPs: “In the 2020-21 year, a transitional living regime for children who are too old for the care of child and family services will be established.

“At the age of 18, children in care, most of whom have spent the majority of their childhood receiving services from the department, shift from being dependent on support from the department to depending on themselves.

“Many are not ready for the transition to adulthood.”

The news came as he announced that an extra $750,000 will be given to programmes in the Department of Child and Family Services as part of a $1.06 million increase in legal affairs ministry’s budget.

Mr Dickinson said residential and community-based programmes would be offered at the new centre.

He explained: “The residential programme will ensure housing stability, while the community-based programme will provide case management support, guidance, and connection to educational, vocational, mental health services and life skills coaching.

“It is essential to ensure that the needs of these children are addressed to improve the quality of their lives and afford them the opportunity to be successful contributing members of our community.”

Concerns have been raised in recent years about a lack of aftercare for young people who grow out of the child protection system.

Last December, The Royal Gazette reported that a 24-year-old man was struggling to adapt to adult life after being in the care of DCFS, including at treatment centres overseas, as part of its Who Cares? series.

A woman who looked after the young man’s welfare said that he was “having a hard, hard time because we don’t have a place for transitional living”.

Gina Spence, a community activist, explained last April that former foster children were often at risk of becoming homeless.

She said at the time: “A lot of young adults actually find themselves parentless and homeless after they age out of the system. A lot of young men in particular just go from house to house where they’re just staying with a friend or someone’s letting them sleep in their basement or the cellar.”

David Burt, the Premier, planned to tell the House of Assembly last November that the next Budget would include funding support for “a repurposed group home for those of our citizens who have aged out of the Department of Child and Family Services system and who need a managed, residential programme to thrive in Bermuda”.

However, he was unable to deliver the whole statement — called “Throne Speech 2018 and Beyond” — because he was ordered by Dennis Lister, the Speaker, to stop reading.

The Inter Agency Committee for Children and Families, a group of social services organisation, yesterday welcomed the proposed funding boost.

A committee statement said: “DCFS is tasked with the vital role of safeguarding the children in our community.

“That responsibility requires adequate resources to ensure service providers can meet the needs of their clients.

“This increase in budget demonstrates a welcomed acknowledgement by the Government of the importance of increased resources to support our service providers in critical areas.”

Mr Dickinson said yesterday that the Ministry of Legal Affairs would receive $50.1 million in 2020-21, an increase of 2 per cent on this financial year.

He added that “a portion will be allocated to the Psychoeducational Programme, which has been underfunded for several years”.

Mr Dickinson explained: “The programme provides children and youth with protection, care and nurturance by licensed overseas therapeutic facilities.

“It was developed to focus on children who could not be effectively treated in Bermuda or those who had exhausted all available local therapeutic treatment services.”

The Gazette’s Who Cares? series reported that governments on both sides of the political divide spent more than $33 million over the past ten years to send hundreds of children to overseas institutions.

Only a fraction of the youngsters had independent legal representation before they were sent away.

Mr Dickinson added that part of the $137.6 million budget for education would be used for “the provision of key wraparound services needed for students who exhibit severe behaviours in public schools” and who needed “consistent, daily intervention and support”.

Mr Dickinson added: “Accordingly, two support centres will be introduced in the public school system for the primary school level and the middle/senior school level at a cost of roughly $520,000.

“Full-time professionals that include education therapists and school counsellors will be hired.”

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Published Feb 22, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 22, 2020 at 6:31 am)

Halfway house plan to help older children

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