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Sending troubled children to US cost $33m

Governments on both sides of the political divide have spent more than $33 million over the past ten years to send Bermudian children to overseas institutions, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

Most of the cash was paid to schools and “treatment centres” in the United States by the Department of Child and Family Services to care for vulnerable children in its psychoeducational programme.

Hundreds of youngsters have gone abroad, to places as far afield as Utah, Idaho and Arizona, but only a fraction of them had independent legal representation before they were sent away.

Some have made allegations of serious abuse and mistreatment at the centres and complained of feeling isolated and abandoned.

It cost about $115,000 a year in tuition fees for each child treated abroad in 2016, a public access to information disclosure from the DCFS revealed.

Budget Book figures show that was cheaper than the average cost a year for a child in an island residential home, which ranged from $157,103 to $183,346 in 2017-18.

But the $115,000 figure did not include travel costs.

The amount spent on the psychoeducational programme in the past decade — $33,658,000 between 2008 and 2018 — is almost three times more than the $11,571,000 spent in the previous ten years, between 1998 and 2008.

An average of $3.37 million a year has been spent on the programme in the past decade, compared with an average of $1.16 million in the previous decade.

The Royal Gazette traced spending of public funds on the psychoeducational programme back to financial year 1994-1995, as part of its Who Cares? investigation.

The figures showed that $46,972,000 has been spent since 1994-95 — an average annual cost of $1.96 million.

Children were sent abroad by the Bermuda Government, to at least one harsh reform school, as far back as at least 1984, but The Royal Gazette could not obtain Budget Books that went back that far.

Annual spending on the psychoeducational programme in the 1994-95 financial year was $431,000.

It stayed at a similar amount until 2000-01, when it jumped to $583,000.

It rose again in the next three years, with spending on the scheme going over the $1 million mark for the first time in 2003-04.

It dropped back to $780,000 the next year but then rose again over the next few years to a peak of $5.8 million in 2010-11.

Spending on the programme from 1994-95 rocketed by 1,246 per cent to the high recorded for 2010-11.

The most up-to-date figure for spending on the programme is $1.4 million in 2017-18.

The estimate for spending in 2018-2019 was $2.1 million and $1.8 million for 2019-20.

The $33.7 million cost of the psychoeducational programme for the past ten years was compared with the amount spent on Bermudian centres and programmes for children in the care of the DCFS.

The department listed spending for three residential homes, plus a line item called Residential Treatment Services, in Budget Books for the ten years from 2008 to 2018.

The cost of those four items came to a total of $33.3 million.

The DCFS also runs a foster care programme, which cost $23.9 million over the past decade, and a family preservation or home-based programme, which cost $14 million over the same period.

The Ministry of Legal Affairs, which is responsible for the DCFS, said 20 children were in Bermudian children's homes in 2018 and another 20 were overseas as part of the psychoeducational programme.

There were 88 youngsters in foster care and 238 children in the family preservation programme, in which children stay at home and their parents are supported by the DCFS.

A spokeswoman for the DCFS said: “Recommendations for referral overseas via the psycho-ed programme are made after all other resources locally are exhausted.

“Local resources are family, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, other family intervention programmes and outreach services.”

She added: “The department does not wish to negate or take away from the perceptions of those who choose to take their stories to the media.

“However, we wish to highlight that the decision regarding overseas referral is not one that is taken lightly.”

She said that “year over year, there have been improvements in the processes of the psycho-ed programme”.

The spokeswoman said: “All sections in the department are continually assessing and reassessing processes and making improvements for the betterment of the clients that we serve. Psycho-ed is no different.

“Based on experiences, procedures have been reviewed and adjusted to keep up with best-practice standards and budgetary constraints.

“Where we are today is light years from where we were in early to mid-2000.”

Alfred Maybury took over as director of the Department of Child and Family Services in 2000.

The spokeswoman earlier said the number of psychoeducational referrals a year was in decline due to “increased effort” by the DCFS to use island resources where possible.

She added: “It is also worthy to note that despite the new referrals per year, the total number of children actually in placements per year has also been declining.

“This is due to children transitioning back to the island and efforts to have them reintegrate into services and supports on island.”

The former United Bermuda Party was the Government in 1994 and had been since 1968.

The Progressive Labour won power in 1998, lost to the One Bermuda Alliance 14 years later, and regained power in 2017.

To view the Government spending graph, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”

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Published December 11, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated December 11, 2019 at 6:44 am)

Sending troubled children to US cost $33m

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