Firm but not abusive
THE leadership of the under-pressure Sunbeam Children’s Home in St Catherine has claimed that rampant displays of maladaptive behaviour by some of the boys placed there forced the staff to be firm with them on a daily basis, but insisted there is no wanton physical abuse of the minors.
On Wednesday the leadership of the home — which has been in the news since Monday, when the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) announced that it would be delicensing the entity due to allegations of abuse of the wards — told the Jamaica Observer that the claims were incorrect.
Both the chairman and manager of the facility rejected the allegations as they claimed that some boys have made the home hell for other wards and members of its staff, particularly the females.
Manager of the home Desmond Whitley told the Observer that it has been facing numerous challenges, which the CPFSA is aware of but has failed to address.
He said one of the challenges which they have sought help from the CPFSA with is to separate the bigger boys from the younger ones as the staff have to be defending the smaller children from regular attacks.
“They [the CPSFA] said in their letter that they conducted behaviour modification training. I don’t know about that. This is the only facility that has on staff a personal development trainer that is developing and training our staff because we recognise that there are challenges to care for the children.
“A female member of staff fell asleep here and a boy sexually assaulted her. The children that come into care generally are from areas of the society where there is violence. Some of them get involved in gangs. Some of them have even been placed at Metcalfe Street Juvenile Centre,” said Whitley.
“There is a new policy where the Government is trying to take them out of Metcalfe and we get some of them. Their behaviour is not as good as you would hope. They challenge the staff. We have to retool. We have to re-equip. You have to alert staff about these things to be able to manage and it comes through training. We don’t control the children we get. Sometimes, we don’t even get them with a profile. Sometimes, we just get a call and the children come to us.
“We have been asking the agency to remove some of the boys from here because of their profile and because of their behaviour. They have not done it. Their explanation is that they don’t have any space, but all of a sudden they have found 50 spaces to relocate them,” added Whitley, in response to the decision by the CPFSA to relocate the 52 boys who were at Sunbeam.
According to the CPFSA, the decision to close the facility and relocate the boys was made after abuse continued at the facility, despite warnings and training of staff to correct certain aspects of the operations at the home.
The CPFSA has also reported that the police are probing the latest allegation of abuse of one of the wards at the facility.
But Whitley told the Observer, “The maladaptive behaviour, aggression and violence of the children is beyond the capacity of our staff. Some of these older boys ought not to be here. You have to create some sort of separation. You cannot have six- and seven-year-olds in the same space with boys who are 16 and 17. The agency has not done enough to provide the resources.”
He added that some of the boys require constant support with medication and when they don’t get it, they act out.
According to Whitley, instead of delicensing, the home needed greater support from the CPFSA.
“I am not just talking about financial resources, I am talking about things like therapy. Quite a number of the boys who are here have to get medication just to stay calm. We are talking about children who, if they don’t get their medication, they rip the place apart. Our staff confront those on a daily basis,” added Whitley.
In the meantime, chairman of the home Randy Finnikin told the Observer that sometimes boys attack female staff members and have to be restrained.
“Boys hit female staff, and so on, but we understand the environment they are from. We understand that our job is to nurture, guide and coach these our sons to embrace a more tranformative lifestyle. I spend a minimum of three hours per week with these boys and I could have up to 20 of them. I have a very good relationship with these boys and even in my presence, they are fighting. In my presence, a bigger boy is slamming another boy’s head on a wall.
“As the chairman who is caregiver at that time, you have to appreciate that I would have to get involved and hold on to that big boy and tell him to stop that now. Someone might say they saw me grabbing up a boy and physically abusing him, but I was really restraining him from hurting another child,” said Finnikin.