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Sunshine League to shut down children’s home

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The Sunshine League Children’s Home will close its doors for the final time today after Government refused to take on the facility.

Youth, Families and Sports Minister Glenn Blakeney announced that 24-hour residential operations would cease after talks to try to secure its future failed.

Mr Blakeney said it was no longer “deemed viable” for residential foster care for two to 18-year-olds to be offered.

The 92-year-old children’s home first announced it would be closing at the start of July due to the excessively high cost of operating the 24-hour programme.

But Government stepped in and said they would try to find a solution to keep the home up and running.

During this interim period when talks continued, the eight foster children who were in residence were placed in private homes or with foster parents.

However, two teenagers have continued to live in the children’s home on an emergency basis.

Alternative arrangements are now being made for the 15-year-old female and 18-year-old male.

The charity’s five full-time and 13 part-time employees will also lose their jobs, although they will be helped to find alternative employment.

However, the Sunshine League name will be retained so that donations can continue to be collected. All money raised will now go to those children who live with foster care parents.

Mr Blakeney said Government had completed a review of the operational efficiency and financial status and “concluded that its operating model is unsustainable”.

He said: “Regrettably, despite considerable effort on the part of both Government and the Sunshine League, I must inform the public that it is not deemed viable for the Government to assume operational responsibility that would allow the Sunshine League to continue as a 24-hour residential foster care facility”.

Government reduced the charity’s annual grant from $200,000 to $100,000 in the most recent budget. The rest of the home’s estimated $700,000 annual operating costs have been funded by private donations.

Zakiya Johnson Lord, interim president of The Sunshine League, said the charity would now be changing its focus to meet the needs of all foster care children. She said: “Yesterday we heard for the first time that the Government is unable to take over the running of a residential facility.

“We will, therefore, now work to identify the growing needs of Bermuda’s foster care children and develop initiatives that enhance the lives and development of the foster children.

“These initiatives will require funding and we very much hope that our donors will continue to support them as we believe this is a cost-effective use of our donors’ money compared with the high cost of running a 24-hour residential facility.”

Mr Blakeney explained that Government had done everything it could to “find a suitable resolution which would allow the continued operation” of the children’s home.

He said Government taking over operation of the Sunshine League would have been “a conflict of interest”. This idea was put forward by the charity’s executive board but Mr Blakeney said Government being both operator and regulator would have been contrary to the Children’s Act 1998. Another option considered was for the Government to bring in a third party to run the facility but this was deemed “not to be economically viable”.

Mr Blakeney said it was “of great concern to Government” that the charity would continue to collect donations, even though they would not go towards the running costs.

He said: “It was made abundantly clear to us that the Sunshine League intends to continue accepting donations under ‘The Sunshine League Children’s Home’ brand name, even after it ceases to operate as a 24-hour residential foster care facility”.

Mr Blakeney questioned whether soliciting donations after they ceased operating was legal, suggesting it was in contravention of the Charities Act 1978.

He said: “They cannot continue to solicit or accept donations for a home that does not exist”.

But Ms Johnson Lord insists that as a company limited by guarantee, they can continue to accept donations for charitable purposes.

She said: “It was misleading for the Minister to suggest that we could be in contravention of the Charities Act.

“As we stated in July, our focus is on meeting the needs of foster children in Bermuda and we have always been able to fundraise for purposes other than a 24-hour residential facility”.

The paperwork to change the name from The Sunshine League Children’s Home to The Sunshine League has been submitted to the Registrar of Companies. The company owns the building oin King Street, Pembroke.

Ms Johnson Lord also thanked all the staff and volunteers who had “provided care and sacrificed their time” since the children’s home opened in 1919.

She said: “We look forward to the next development in our charity’s history and will share these with the public in due course”.

Mr Blakeney announced the closure of the children’s home at a press conference yesterday. He refused to tell the media in advance what the press conference was about and turned up 20 minutes late.

He added: “I wish to remind the public that Government continues to have the best interests of the children at heart, and has already taken proactive measures to place affected children in alternative foster care home environments”.

The Department of Child and Family Services will continue to provide its foster care programme. If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, call 296-7575.

Bad news: Youth Minister Minister Glenn Blakeney announces that the Sunshine League will be closed yesterday while Permanent Secretary Wayne Carey looks on. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Glenn Blakeney gives an update about the status of the Sunshine League, yesterday in the AB Place Media Room.(Photo by Akil Simmons) August 30,2011

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Published August 31, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated August 31, 2011 at 10:12 am)

Sunshine League to shut down children’s home

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