Secret child transfer ‘inhumane’, says professor

| 20/02/2009

(CNS): Professor Barry Chevannes has called a government decision to prevent a mother from saying goodbye to her child being transferred to Tranquility Bay as “inhumane". However, the UWI consultant and author of a report surrounding the details of a Cayman Islands teenager that was sent to the reform school in Jamaica (left) states that the decision to send the girl to the controversial school was justified.

Despite the significant amount of evidence that the methods used at this particular school, which is now closed, were questionable, neither Chevannes or the Minister of Health and Human Services Anthony Eden believed sending young at-risk Caymanians to the facility was inappropriate — it was considered a viable last resort option for troubled youngsters despite it being offshore and having a very controversial reputation.

The minister told the press yesterday (Thursday 19 February) at a specially convened briefing that the reason his ministry had commissioned the report was because the child’s mother had complained about the decision to send her daughter to Tranquility Bay and to keep that decision from both her and her daughter.

Although this young girl is not the first troubled youngster sent from Cayman to the school, it was the first time a parent had complained publicly about the decision and, as a result, the ministry had promised to investigate. In his report summary, Prof Chevannes said that, in light of the child’s behaviour and its deterioration, the decision to send her to Tranquility Bay was justified, but the decision not to tell her mother was unwarranted and violated the mother’s right to know.

Chevannes added that the decision to deny permission for the child to spend Christmas with her Grandmother was “…most insensitive, even taking into consideration the child’s history of absconding.” He said the failure to advise the child’s mother of the departure date and time of her daughter’s removal from the island and further denying her the chance to say farewell were inhumane.

In his report, Chevannes says he supports the government decision  to establish its own facility and recommendsthat in future the right of parents to know shoudl be enforced and for the Department of Children and Family Services to be restructured to minimise divergence by staff.

The minister said there would be no direct consequence to anyone in the department as a result of the report but the recommendations were already being addressed with the DCFS being divided into two units. He also said that government was seeking to establish a securefacility somewhere in the eastern side of the island. He explained that the problem of what to do with young people who were at risk or in trouble was problematic and more so now Tranquility Bay was closed.

“We do recognise that our best option is an on-island facility and work is underway to confirm the most suitable site, complete drawings and other detailed discussions,” the minister stated, but he said the most important thing was to build a robust therapeutic rehabilitation programme that is appropriate for young persons and run by qualified experienced staff.

“The needs of young persons in this area are indeed pressing and I trust the goodwill of the entire community can be summoned to give priority to the necessary funding in the present economic realities; and to appreciate that someone will have to be the neighbour to this facility,” the minister added, saying his ministry was committed to addressing the needs of children. 

However, the Children (Amendment) Bill, which was originally drafted in 2003, has still not been brought to the house during his four year tenure, as was indicated by government. Eden said that he hoped to table it and debate the bill before the dissolution of the House, which will be in approximately four weeks time.

He also confirmed that, despite contravening international laws regarding the rights of the child, there were still children inside both of Cayman’s adult prison facilities – HMP Fairbanks, the women’s facility and HMP Northward, the men’s facility. Moreover, Eden acknowledged that adult prisoners are now also being accommodated in Eagle House, which is a secure unit for young offenders up to the age of 21.

The problem of how Cayman deals with its young offenders or troubled youth has long been at issue, but over the years the courts have sent more than twenty young people to the controversial Tranquility Bay facility, whose owners have admitted to using pepper spray on their wards and to making them lay on the floor for days. The use of painful restraint techniques that do not leave bruising have also been reported at the facility by parents and former attendees.

A number of international organisations have raised concerns about the school, including the Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse. However, the Department of Child and Family Services said they had visited the facility along with officers from the Family Service Unit of the RCIPS and interviewed the children who were kept there, and said they believed they were doing well at the facility and there was no indication that they were being abused.

Justice Priya Levers was the first of Cayman’s judges to question the tradition of sending very troubled youth to the facility, and last year said the policy should be reconsidered until a report of the facility was completed.

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Comments (7)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    How can you take a child (no matter how much trouble that child has caused) without letting the parents know.  Do you not think that the mother lies awake at night worried about that child.

  2. Twyla M Vargas says:

    HEART WRENCHING

    It was heart wrenching and brought shock and tears to myself and my 10 year old grandson as we watch the horror of children his age lying on the floor of Tranquility Bay.  I tried the best as I could to explain to him, but it was very traumatic.

    I really cannot understand why Cayman Island Government have to send anyone anywhere.  There are places on this Island, too much to mention where these children can be put.  Check all the government closed up buildings.  Even in Bodden Town district, we have the old Clinic, we have the, what ever you want to call it, supposed to be old peoples home with no one living there.  We have another big three or four bedroom building hiding beside it abandoned.   Children have gone and pelted out the  windows.  How can I really blame them.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CLOSED UP TO ROT DOWN, while our young children is sent to some unknown place.

    Take for instance the Old clinic, it has top and bottom floors, constructed from concrete, and have been there for a decade, through storms and earthquakes, and it is still there.  Closed up obviously because they cant put who they want to put into it.  Promises, promises, promises, political, political promises.    Lies, lies and more lies.   Many days I wish I was not a Caymanian, and you know why, its because we have some of the  most selfish, lying hypocrites under the sun  running this country.    Not only now, but for a very long time.   They are only out for themselves.   I can imagine how these poor children suffer.  We do not need to do that, we nees to take care of our children.  As for the Children and family services in Bodden Town, that place is a social club.  I live a stones throw from it and some work needs to be identified for those people.    Most of the time you go there, no one is there.  They need changing.  Dont talk about asking for assistance for yourself or any family member if you are a Caymanian, it will take a year of going through the mill. 

    You want to have some entertaining fun, park in front of that building, and watch who is getting assistance.  Driving up in escalade and transam, getting rent money and food vouchers.   Help those children that is being sent away.  Find something to do and somewhere to put them.  there are enought buildings to put them in and there are persons who need work to assist with them.   Why do we have four government buildings closed up in Bodden Town and we are sending children away.   I would like to see expatriates running for office, because I am very sure they will take better care of Caymanians.     I really do not care who wants to chew me out for this.   I said what I had to say, and I am done.   Blessed.

  3. Anonymous says:

     This is the same government that wants us to trust them to do the right thing when it comes to our human rights.  No wonder they are fighting so hard to deny us free standing rights under the constitution.  Our children have no value to them nor do our elderly or disabled.  How they sleep at night is beyond my comprehension.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Gee,why would we need a Section 16?  By the way, where were all the "churches" in this, since they have so much say on MY RIGHTS!

    • Anonymous says:

       Take comfort, they are protecting our children from the "un-naturals".  Wow, I feel better.

    • Anonymous says:

      That question should keep some self righteous people up nights. Too busy protecting us from the homosexuals.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is totally ridiculous and as a UWI alumni I am ashamed that someone with Dr. Chevannes background in youth advocacy and development backed this horrible decision that was made by people in positions that have absolutely NO clue about the Youth in this country.

    This is why we need section 16 in order to save our youth from policy makers that only compound the problem.