A new facility for troubled youth that has been in the works for years is now close to becoming reality.
Department of Children and Family Services Director Deanna Look Loy met with Public Works officials last week to discuss plans for the new facility.
The secure remand facility, planned to accommodate up to 18 girls and boys, will also include a separate residential drug rehabilitation wing.
‘This is something we have been trying to get off the ground for a very long time and we are finally at the stage where it is set to go ahead,’ said Health and Family Services Minister Anthony Eden.
He said $1million has been set aside for the project, with further funds to be allocated in May’s 08-09 budget.
The urgent need for the facility was recently underscored after a girl, a ward of the court, was sent to Tranquility Bay in Jamaica in January. She joins another Caymanian girl already there.
The Government has been using the Jamaican institution as a last resort secure remand facility in cases where Grand Cayman’s on-Island juvenile facilities, the Frances Bodden home for girls and the Bonaventure home and Eagle House for boys, have proved incapable of handling difficult cases.
The choice of Jamaica is not arbitrary. Children with criminal records will not be granted US visas to attend similar institutions there. If Tranquility Bay were to close down, the Cayman Islands will find itself in a particularly difficult situation.
The threat of closure is not idle. The Jamaican facility has been under intense scrutiny for years by organisations like Nospank.net and the Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse for its harsh treatment of the minors sent there.
The facility, located in a remote location in Treasure Beach near St. Elizabeth, west of Kingston, is owned and operated by the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools. The 19-year old organisation holds approximately 2,400 children ranging from seven to 18 in facilities in the United States, Jamaica, and Mexico.
Despite the criticisms, Cayman Islands government officials say they are not concerned with the facility now that it has reportedly scaled back its most controversial disciplining techniques, which include forcing students to lie face down on the floor for days and weeks on end as a form of punishment.
‘Right now, we are satisfied that students are not being mistreated,’ says Mr. Eden.
But while Tranquility Bay’s teaching methods are intended to reprogramme children to have better relationships with their families, but Mrs. Look Loy has told the Compass she feels that particular outcome is not apparent.
‘We would really like to get a facility built in Cayman, as it is very difficult to work with the children if they are not home, as children who are experiencing problems need to have their families involved,’ she says.
‘Unfortunately, we have had to send children overseas over the years because when these children exhaust all the resources that we have, we have no choice but to seek the kind of therapy and services they need outside the Island,’ she said.
Specifically, Cayman does not have the capacity to house children who continually abscond.
‘The situation is not ideal but there is no other option at the present time,’ says Mrs. Look Loy.
The mother and aunt of the latest girl to be sent to Tranquility Bay have been meeting with Children and Family services, and Mrs. Look-Loy says that while the situation is unfortunate, it was not unanticipated.
‘We would really have preferred to have dealt with this situation here on Island so that she could undergo therapy here close to her family, but with a child that continually absconds there is no option here at present.’
Mrs. Look Loy says she is particularly pleased the proposed facility will include a residential drug rehab wing. At present, the Department of Counselling can only offer an outpatient programme to youth with drug problems.
‘These children need more than that,’ says Mrs. Look Loy.
‘It’s difficult to treat other issues like delinquency and family problems if the kids are using drugs. Drugs problems need to be dealt with first of all,’ she says.
While the new facility will house both children in remand and children in the drug treatment programme, they will be housed in different parts of the building.
The Minister says two potential locations, one in North Side and one in East End, are being discussed and the drawings are with the Public Works Department.
He says the East End site looks promising as it is on a few hundred acres being used by Northward prison.
‘It’s definitely not a final decision, but it seems that it will be a suitable site, with enough room for the facility to be constructed they way we want.’
He says that overall, the increased push to get the facility built is part of a comprehensive initiative emanating from a recent study investigating the factors underlying criminality in Cayman.
‘We are in the process of pulling together a high level council comprised of representatives of the attorney general, the chief secretary, our ministry, social services and the judiciary among others to incorporate people who deal both directly and indirectly with young offenders to deal with these and related issues,’ he said.
Mrs. Look Loy said the Department of Children and Family Services is trying to focus on early intervention.
‘What we are trying to achieve with these programmes is making these children functional citizens,’ she says.
‘You have to ask yourself, why, for example, are they absconding when we send them to a home? It’s likely that they are coming from a highly unstructured environment and that the structure of a place like Frances Bodden comes as a shock.’
She says the government can’t be blamed when the situation calls for a child to be sent to a more secure remand facility.
‘When discussing the most recent situation, we see the girl was a ward of the courts. How many things had to happen before this situation came about, and where were the parents in this?’
‘When it comes to dealing with problem children, the parents have to be involved, they have to take responsibility,’ she says.