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Cuts to DCFS programme sending children abroad

The Government has cut funding for a controversial programme which sends vulnerable Bermudian children to overseas institutions.

The Department of Child and Family Services will get almost $1.6 million to spend on its psychoeducational programme in the coming financial year — a $277,000 or 15 per cent decrease from the $1.8 million it was allocated in the 2019-20 budget.

However, shadow finance minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin said in the House of Assembly on Wednesday that the revised figure for the programme last year was more than $2 million, so the decrease for the coming year was really $493,000 or 23 per cent.

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, who delivered a brief in Parliament on the DCFS's budget on behalf of Attorney-General Kathy Lynn Simmons, said the reduction was due to some children growing out of the system.

Vulnerable youngsters from Bermuda have been sent to schools and institutions thousands of miles away for decades when social workers have decided they have exhausted all available local services.

The Royal Gazette's Who Cares? series in December highlighted the experiences of children in the psychoeducational programme and raised questions about whether sending them so far from home to centres across the United States was the right solution.

The series revealed they have gone to at least nine different US states since 2010, including Arizona, Idaho and Utah, the majority without any independent legal representation.

The series also touched on the physical state of the DCFS's on-island residential homes and quality of care.

Ms Wilson said 17 children — 13 boys and four girls — were treated at overseas schools in 2019 for a “complexity of issues identified across the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V Criteria of Mental Disorders”.

She added: “The department has sought for several years to find schools on the East Coast of the United States to meet the needs of our children, but unfortunately only a limited number are available.”

The minister repeated earlier claims that it was not “cost effective” to provide the services in Bermuda.

The total amount allocated to the DCFS for the new financial year is $16.4 million — an increase of $526,000 or 3 per cent on the 2019-20 estimate.

A further $500,000 has been allocated for a halfway house for those aged 18 and over who leave DCFS care. The new centre is estimated to cost $2.5 million in total.

A breakdown in the Budget book showed the largest increase in DCFS's funding was for administration, which will get an additional $1.2 million or 97 per cent.

Funding has been cut for children in care at residential homes, with extra cash instead to be pumped into foster care and counselling, as well as a scheme aimed at keeping children with their families.

The family preservation programme will receive an extra $658,000, a budget increase of 43 per cent to almost $2.2 million.

An additional $283,000 will be spent on foster care, which has been allocated $2.5 million for 2020-21.

An extra $122,000 will be spent on counselling and life skills for children and young people, with an allocation of

$1.1 million.

Spending on local residential facilities — the Brangman Home for Girls, the Youth Development Centre, Observatory Cottage and Youth Residential Treatment — has been cut by more than a half-million dollars.

Ms Simmons said earlier this month that the possibility of an on-island centre to treat troubled children was under discussion.

Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, said in his Budget Statement last month that the Ministry of Legal Affairs, which is responsible for the DCFS, would receive $50.1 million in 2020-21, an increase of $1 million or 2 per cent.

He said: “The safeguarding of children is paramount.

“As the representatives of our future generations, our children are valuable members of our society and deserve to be protected and kept safe.

“Therefore, $750,000 of the increase in funds will be allocated to programmes within the Department of Child and Family Services.”

The minister added: “A portion will be allocated to the psychoeducational programme, which has been underfunded for several years.

“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 or treatment services.”

He later told a press conference there were instances where “the capabilities currently in place in Bermuda were not sufficient to support the needs of various children”.

Mr Dickinson added: “So, inasmuch as there are children with needs that can't be met here, I think the legal affairs minister has to consider other options. Inasmuch as psychoeducational, off island, is a potential solution for those challenges, then they need to be considered.”

Ms Gordon-Pamplin asked Ms Wilson to provide a breakdown of the $750,000 referred to by Mr Dickinson, but no answer was given.

A Ministry of Legal Affairs spokeswoman later said Ms Simmons had “recorded all questions raised during the debate of Ministry of Legal Affairs budget in the House and the corresponding answers.

“She will further address the questions raised that warrant further clarification during the ministry's budget debate in the Senate.”

Who Cares? revealed that governments on both sides of the political divide spent $33.7 million over the past decade to send Bermudian children to overseas institutions.

They spent $33.3 million on residential homes for children in care in Bermuda over the same period.

Health minister Kim Wilson (File photograph)

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Published March 12, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated March 14, 2020 at 2:35 pm)

Cuts to DCFS programme sending children abroad

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