Troubled school housed Bermudians
Vulnerable boys from Bermuda were for decades sent to an American reform school now under investigation for alleged child abuse and cover-ups.
The children went to Glen Mills Schools in Pennsylvania at the request of the island's Department of Child and Family Services, which said yesterday it became aware of accusations of staff violence against students only in February.
An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper in August last year included allegations from a 17-year-old boy that he was choked and punched by a counsellor while other staff held him down in an incident said to be caught on a surveillance camera.
The August 2018 article also revealed that Philadelphia's Department of Human Services had stopped sending children to Glen Mills and was investigating the operations of the Delaware County residential institution.
A special report in the Inquirer published on February 20 contained interviews with 21 past and present students and counsellors, and detailed several cases of children alleging serious assaults by staff.
Youngsters from Bermuda were sent to the school for more than 35 years and as recently as 2017.
The Inquirer report claimed “serious violence is both an everyday occurrence and an open secret at Glen Mills, and has been for decades”.
The report sparked some of the inquiries now under way, as well as the emergency removal of the 383 boys at the school last month.
In the emergency removal order issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services on March 25, the department said it had verified attacks by staff on children involving choking and punching, as well as a child being forced to lie about the cause of his injuries.
The order added a staff member had failed to intervene in a student-on-student assault which resulted in a broken jaw.
The school, which is about 30 miles from Philadelphia, denied the allegations in a detailed appeal filed yesterday with the Pennsylvania DHS Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.
Alfred Maybury, the director of the Department of Child and Family Services, told The Royal Gazette the last child from Bermuda was admitted to the school in 2017 and that none were there now.
He said in an e-mail: “Glen Mills was at one time a very highly respected institution and that is why, prior to 2017, DCFS used their services. Over the past few years, DCFS has used local resources and services for children in need.”
A department spokeswoman could not provide a figure on the number of children from the island sent to Glen Mills over the years by press time.
However, the spokeswoman said all overseas schools where children from Bermuda were sent were licensed by “their respective licensing body and are accredited through an accrediting body”.
The spokeswoman said: “The policy of the department with all overseas schools is to have weekly conference calls with the school and child.
“The worker from DCFS visits the child every six months from admission date and the director has a face-to-face visit with all children at least once a year in addition to the staff visits.”
She added: “DCFS has not received any information related to any children sent to Glen Mills being abused or mistreated.”
The news about Glen Mills came after The Royal Gazette revealed in November that 48 of the 50 youngsters sent abroad by DCFS as part of its psychoeducational programme since April 2014 had no legal representation.
None of the children sent overseas before then had legal representation.
The House of Assembly heard last month that 17 boys and 3 girls received treatment at various overseas centres in 2018 for a “complexity of issues” that involved mental disorders.
The website for Glen Mills said it was the oldest school of its kind in the US and catered to “court-referred youth” from 120 different jurisdictions, including counties in the US, as well as Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Bermuda.
The school, founded in 1826, added it had a “stunning campus” and “impressive athletic facilities”, and had used “peer pressure and group confrontation” techniques to tackle antisocial behaviour since 1975.
It said in its appeal against the emergency removal order that Glen Mills had been “one of the most visited, regulated, inspected and scrutinised programmes of its time” for the last 40 years.
The school said: “Contrary to recent media coverage, Glen Mills' success has not been built on a foundation of abuse, intimidation or violence against students.
“To believe that foundation exists, would be to accept that all of the ... people who actually visited, toured and inspected the campus were completely and utterly duped into believing that it was a safe place.”
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and the minister responsible for DCFS, did not respond to a request for comment.
Were you sent to Glen Mills or another overseas institution by the Department of Child and Family Services or do you know someone who was? If you want to share a story in confidence, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
•To read the Glen Mills Schools' appeal of the allegations, click on the PDF below “Related Media”.