State wards run off despite security measures
The Government has spent some $125 million improving security in 10 state-run residential child-care facilities across the island in recent years, but that has failed to stop wards from running away.
Checks by The Sunday Gleaner have confirmed that between January 1, 2011 and April 30, 2015, there were at least 231 instances of children absconding from state homes.
"The Child Development Agency (CDA) has in place a private security contract valued at approximately $100 million for three years (2014-2017)," head of the CDA, Rosalee Gage-Grey, told The Sunday Gleaner.
"In addition, over the last several years, the agency spent more than $25 million to beef up security infrastructure at residential child-care facilities, covering the erecting and repairs of perimeter fencing, construction of guardhouses, and installing security cameras at some facilities," she added.
Based on data obtained by The Sunday Gleaner, more of the over 4,000 children who are in state care have been finding ways to run away from these facilities.
Last year, 78 wards ran away from residential facilities. This was a slight increase on the 74 who fled in 2013, but much higher than the 20 who fled in 2012 and the 25 in 2011.
COULD REACH 100
For the first four months of this year, there have been 34 instances of children running away from homes. This is an average of 8.5 per month, and if the trend continues, it could result in 102 such occurrences by the end of the year.
According to the CDA, about 90 per cent of those who run away are returned into state care.
Some of the children return on the own, while others are taken in by family members or the police.
Those who are returned gave a number of reasons why they ran away, including a need to be with family, peer pressure, relationships, sense of freedom, as being in a facility is seen as confinement and they find it difficult to adjust to life at the facility.
Gage-Grey pointed out that social workers and psychologists who work with these children have been finding that despite many of them having been abused by family members or members of their community, they still have a strong bond with their families and communities.
"Therefore, we have seen that especially around holiday times, especially Christmas time, the absconding rates tend to go up as children yearn to be around family members," noted Gage-Grey.
She said another factor is that some children have a challenge with the structure in place at the state institutions and crave the "freedom" and lack of supervision that they enjoy away from these facilities.
"It is also important to note that a child-care facility is not a maximum-security facility, and as such, children are allowed to travel to and from school daily. Some children who abscond do so by going to school and not returning home."
She said the CDA has developed a protocol that governs absconding.
"When a child runs away from a facility, the standard operating procedure is to instantly notify the police and prepare a written notification immediately to both the police and the management of the agency to include a photograph. A prescribed police notification form is completed.
"A blast containing the names of all children absconding from state care should also be submitted to the Ananda Alert system within the Office of the Children's Registry by the police."