Of the schoolchildren referred through youth courts to the Bonaventure Boys Home over the last three years, none has graduated high school and more than a third have been charged with further crimes.
Michael Myles, the at-risk youth officer for Cayman Islands schools, has tracked the life outcomes for 35 students charged in the youth courts and referred to the home since September 2013.
The data is not an officially required account, but rather Mr. Myles’s own research on how Bonaventure boys fared when they left the home.
The range of outcomes for children returning to school after a time at the home makes for grim reading.
“Exited from CIFEC for poor attendance and behavior challenges … exited CIFEC for threatening behavior … transferred to alternate education. Did not graduate … attended Clifton Hunter escorted by prison officers to complete exams. Did not graduate …. ”
Of the 35 cases analyzed by Mr. Myles, none of the boys has graduated high school.
So far, 13 of the youths who attended the home during the three-year period have gone on to face adult charges for further offenses, including burglary, assaulting police and attempted rape, according to Mr. Myles’s data. One has died, three are still in school and seven are still at Bonaventure, where they typically undergo a six-month to 12-month residential program before returning to mainstream education.
He said the data is not an indictment of the home itself, but shows that the system is not working for at-risk youth, and earlier intervention is needed.
Sydney Williams, general manager of the Children and Youth Services Foundation, known as the CAYS Foundation, which runs the home, does not dispute the figures, though he noted that the foundation is not usually informed when former residents are back before the courts.
He said the treatment program at Bonaventure is just one aspect of a “continuum of care” that also involves social services and education. He added that many of the children, some of whom were truant for long periods before getting involved in crime and being admitted to the home, were already behind in their education when they got to Bonaventure.
He said many made significant progress at the home but regressed when they returned to unstable family situations.
“A high percentage of Bonaventure residents are either not allowed to return to mainstream school or have aged out of the school system, which impacts the graduation numbers. Administrators have rejected the youths’ request to return to school based on past behavior regardless of how much improvement they have made while at Bonaventure,” he said.
He said the students receive in-house instruction from two qualified teachers and often make huge strides, though he acknowledged this does not currently lead to an accredited qualification, something he hopes to rectify by partnering with the Ministry of Education.
He accepts that some students do go on to be charged with further crimes.
“Many factors were involved in these youth committing crimes, which could range from not being allowed to return to school, failure to provide specialized education to meet the youth needs, parents’ inability to provide the type of structure that is necessary due to limited parenting skills or barriers to receiving needed services,” he said.
Mr. Myles, a former house manager at Bonaventure and a manager at its predecessor, the Marine Institute, believes many of the students thrive during their time at the home, but that there is not enough support to ensure a smooth transition back into the “real world.”
He believes there should be a requirement for CAYS to keep more comprehensive data and to demonstrate positive change for residents in the years after they leave the home. He believes his unofficial tracking is currently the only data on the outcomes for past residents.
“Success is not simply leaving Bonaventure,” he said. “If that is the only measure of success, then everyone was successful, no matter if they ended up in jail. We need to be looking at what happens to them afterwards: Did they graduate? Did they get any vocational qualification? Did they stay clear of drugs and crime?”
The CAYS Foundation says it tracks the boys through its after-care program for six months and is working on extending this to a year, as well as adding a supervised living program for residents who have been discharged but are unable to return home.
Mr. Williams says the home is working on partnerships to link the boys to vocational training and apprenticeships, but he emphasized that “treatment” at the home is just one part of the picture and more needs to be done to address the conditions the boys return to.
Though Mr. Myles says he would like to see more accountability from the home and more quality assurance from government for the $2.2 million it allocates to the CAYS Foundation each year, he says the problem is not one that the boys home can fix on its own.
“This is not an indictment of Bonaventure. As a country, we have not done enough,” he said. “You have kids that have been identified from primary school as at-risk and we watch them go through the system and end up in the adult courts.
“I can give you examples of children that I dealt with in the ‘90s as a young social worker and I am now dealing with their children. This is a multigenerational problem that has been neglected by successive governments for decades.”
Whether through Bonaventure or another entity, Mr. Myles believes intervention, including family therapy, must come earlier for the 100-plus children identified as at-risk for behavioral reasons.
Children are taken to Bonaventure only when they have committed a crime and come before the youth courts. By then it is often too late to make a change, he said.
“I put these statistics together to advocate for a diversion program. We have identified every child at risk in the school system, we know what the challenges are, we know we have to help their parents. There are no resources allocated to do that.
“We have real problems, but we are treating the symptoms, we are not working with the families and fixing the homes.”
He believes spending money earlier on family therapy, treating mental health issues, promoting self-control and teaching conflict management skills would save government money in the long run.
A recent strategic review that looked at potentially bringing the CAYS Foundation into the Department of Child and Family Services outlined some similar concerns. The report notes that care plans were not being completed in all cases for children at Bonaventure, hindering the effectiveness of a child’s transition back into the mainstream.
The report states, “The DCFS is not collecting data on the care planning process and, therefore, they are unable to properly examine it to determine its effectiveness and the corresponding impact on accountability. Without completed care plans, the likely consequence is that a child’s issues, as well as those that present in their families, are not adequately addressed.
“There are no clear mechanisms in place to ensure effective care planning and, therefore, a child could be discharged back into the a harmful environment thereby exposing the community to further dysfunction and antisocial behavior.”
It also highlights that Bonaventure has hired two educators in an effort to fill a gap in the system, but there is no approved education plan for children at the home.
“To date, a service level agreement which outlines the roles and responsibilities of both entities when it comes to educating this group of children has not been signed by CAYS or the Ministry of Education.”