The juvenile system is broken and as a result many young people are falling through the cracks.
This was the key observation made during last night’s panel discussion hosted by the Bridgetown Optimist Club on the topic, Alternative Pathways For Young People Who May Be At Risk For Criminal Activities.
Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite took part in the event at which independent Senator Carol Lady Haynes raised the concern that too many well-behaved children leaving Sterling Children’s Home were winding up on the wrong side of the law.
Based on that observation, she said club members had decided to provide three “transition homes” for young adults.
“When these children get to 16 or 17 we suddenly see them in the press that they were headed to the law courts. And that is why we decided that we would get some transition [homes] so that they have those two years to get some guidance before we [the system] throw them out.
“If you have children coming out of a situation where they never have to think for themselves, then take them out with no family, virtually no money, and put them to survive there is no way they’re going to survive.”
However, she said the three fully outfitted transition homes, which were provided by the Optimists for young adults leaving the Sterling Children’s home, were on the verge of being rendered derelict as a result of under-utilization.
In response, a surprised Brathwaite said: “If you are having girls leaving Sterling without anywhere to go, there is no reason why we should not have a transitional phase where we let them live on their own for a year.
“Give them strict rules and offer them support, because they are 18 it doesn’t mean that are ready to go into the adult world by themselves. So that does not make a lot of sense,” he told the gathering.”
Concern was also raised about the level of guidance children were receiving at the children’s home.
Optimist member Janet White said, “I’m not too sure if the handlers understand what they are dealing with there”.
As an example, she said when the Optimists spoke of introducing an Internet safety teaching programme, the handlers said the children did not have cell phones.
“All the kids, they have phones,” White said, and asked, “If they don’t know what the children have, how are they able to address the issues that they are dealing with?”
Brathwaite supported White’s point.
“I live in St Philip and you see the children walking the road up to the homes with their cell phones. Obviously these aunties don’t know what you’re speaking about.”
He therefore invited the Optimists to join members of his office in visiting the home along with members of the Child Care Board.
During last night’s panel discussion, radio talk show host and head of the Nature Fun Club Corey Lane also highlighted the challenges facing juvenile offenders.
“Most of these children come from communities or neighbourhoods that are seriously challenged, and you don’t have any option but to send them back into the same communities,” he said.