Up to four young women are soon to be released from the Government Industrial School (GIS), but have no one to go to and nowhere to go, Minster of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite has revealed.
And Brathwaite said their situation was typical of the circumstances of many teenagers who were sent to the facility as children but were let out as adults with no connections to society, and very little idea how to make it on their own.
The minister made the disclosure during an Optimist of Bridgetown panel discussion on the topic, Alternative Pathways For Young People Who May Be At Risk For Criminal Activities., at Island Inn last night.
“At this point in time I am told by the management of the Government Industrial School that we may have about three of four young ladies who within the next couple of months might be graduating from the school, but there is nowhere to send them. There is no mother, no father, no aunt, uncle, no one who is willing to take these young women,” he said.
Brathwaite said it was imperative that the young adults be given some level of support, otherwise they were likely to end up in trouble or be harmed.
“We have to find a way to ensure, notwithstanding that they are adults, that we can give them the kind of support that is necessary. Otherwise we know what is going to happen; they are going into society, they are going to either end up doing things that they should not be doing, or be taken advantage of.
“So we have the challenge of providing support not only
when these children are with us, but in some cases after they leave the school.”
The Attorney General also spoke of a young man “who really wanted to try”, but shortly after his release from GIS his brother forced him to sell drugs in order to continue living in the home.
He said in many instances young people who violated the law were sent to GIS for “protection” because their parents believed they were uncontrollable, or the youngsters no longer wanted to stay in the family home.
“Most of the children who come into contact with the criminal justice system have some serious challenges to begin with . . . .They usually come with considerable baggage,” he added.
But he said institutions such as the GIS were never fully equipped to take on the many challenges faced in reforming those children and preparing them to re-enter society.
“We receive these children with some very serious challenges. Then we have our own issues in terms of the amount of resources that we have available so we can improve the lives of these children when they are with us, that when they go back into society that they be much better off,” the Attorney General said in an appeal for help from social service clubs such as the Optimists.
But Optimist Mike James pointed to roadblocks at the Sterling Home, which the club had attempted to assist by providing three transition homes for the youngsters before they are released into the wider society.
He said the homes were never used and some were in a state of dereliction because it was not clear at what age the transition should begin.
“So you have three homes which were built [and] outfitted which are not being used for that transition period where you go from having somebody telling you what to do, when to do it, where to do it,” James said.
As a result, he added, the youngsters were being put out into society without training on what to expect and how to cope.
“These are not violent people, but what are they going to do?”
In turn, he appealed to the minister to allow the Optimists to teach the young adults “some life skills, how to press, how to spend money . . . buy groceries. These are the things that we want to do, but we are put in a system where you’re damned if you do [and] you’re damned if you don’t”. (GA)