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At-risk children sent to the US for decades

Children from Bermuda have been sent to schools and institutions overseas for decades when social workers here deem them to have exhausted all available local services.

Health minister Kim Wilson told MPs last month that children who go abroad for “therapeutic placements” as part of the Department of Child and Family Service’s psychoeducational programme are “not able to be serviced in a traditional school environment”.

She said all such youngsters were now assessed for psychiatric and medical conditions at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of Utah Health but gave no information on where they then go for treatment.

The department told The Royal Gazette in November it wouldn’t disclose the list of current facilities as it “could be determined as a breach of confidentiality and directly impact the children and parents who currently have children in overseas facilities”.

Few of the children sent overseas have had any legal representation.

Sources have shared details with the newspaper of some schools where they are understood to have been sent.

Devereux Advanced Behavioural Health has facilities in 13 states in America, catering for “tens of thousands” of families, with the DCFS believed to have primarily sent youngsters to the Florida campus.

On its website, Devereux states that it “changes lives — by unlocking and nurturing human potential for people living with emotional, behavioural or cognitive differences”.

Allegations of the mistreatment of students at its Pennsylvania Kanner Centre have been reported by the media, with five staff members facing charges in November of assault or failure to report child abuse, according to CBS Philly.

A Devereux spokeswoman described the accusations yesterday as “categorically unacceptable” and that the organisation had learnt from the experience.

She added that no children from Bermuda had ever been served there.

The spokeswoman also said that “very differently” from the Glen Mills Schools — which the Gazette reported last week was under investigation after accusations of staff violence against students — it “does not provide juvenile justice or reform” programmes.

She added: “Every programme we offer is staffed by clinical and, or medical professionals and is offered in open, non-secure, therapeutic medical settings.”

The spokeswoman said that because its programmes were medical, rather than corrections or reform-based, Devereux did not generally engage in the issue of legal representation before a child being admitted.

Discovery Ranch in Utah caters for boys aged from 13 to 18 and on its website states its goal is to “help troubled teens and their families heal mentally, physically and emotionally”.

The school tackles issues including depression, trauma, addiction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and difficulties in parent-child relationships.

A spokesman said teenagers had attended from many different countries and “there may have been some students from Bermuda”.

He explained most teenagers were placed there by their parents, adding that in his experience it was not common practice for children in care in the US to have legal representation, as the state was expected to act in their best interests.

Natchez Trace Youth Academy in Tennessee calls itself a “highly structured residential treatment facility” offering a “cognitive behavioural programme” for boys aged 12 to 17.

“We demonstrate integrity, care, compassion, fairness and consistency in all we do and provide a highly structured programme,” says its website. “Accountability and responsibility are the cornerstones of our treatment process.”

In February 2018, Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis was quoted in a news report as saying that problems with teens escaping from the school were ongoing.

The sheriff was quoted as saying officials weren’t alerted for hours in some cases and thousands of dollars of taxpayer money was being used on search efforts.

Anthony Troutt, director of risk management at Natchez Trace Youth Academy, said in an email: “I have been directly involved with most of the admissions we accepted from Bermuda Department of Child and Family Services.

“To my knowledge, we have always enjoyed an excellent rapport with our contacts there, including with the director of DFCS, Alfred Maybury, and his team.

“We are not aware of a youth ever being admitted to our facility without legal representation in court or benefit of procedural due process.

“While we do not release information regarding the number of admissions and discharges and do not release admission and discharge dates, I can say that we have not had a youth from Bermuda in several years.”

In November, The Royal Gazette reported the story of a woman who claimed she was sexually abused as a teenager at a now-closed Eckerd Youth Alternatives centre in Atlanta, Georgia.

The DCFS said Eckerd was no longer used by island social services.

An Eckerd spokesman said: “Eckerd no longer accepts placements from the Bermuda Department of Child and Family Services and was not aware of allegations that children were sent outside of Bermuda without legal representation and procedural due process.”

• UPDATE: This story has been amended to include a comment from Natchez Trace Youth Academy.