CDA struggles to find places for children in need of care and protection
The Government is facing a huge task to find space in places of safety and children's homes for wards of the state.
The Child Development Agency (CDA) late last week said that the total capacity in places of safety is 408, and in children's homes, 2032.
"On average, about five per cent of those spaces are available for placement, at any given time," said the CDA.
Even so, the CDA said housing wards of the state in police lock-ups is not something it would do, even though it could happen.
"It may be necessary for a police officer to take a child to a police station if, for example, the child is found wandering the streets late at nights, seemingly without parental control.
"In accordance with the law, the child should be taken before the courts within a specified time. The CDA is also to be advised that the child is in their custody."
According to the CDA, it has instituted a number of initiatives to keep children out of residential care and to ensure effective management of the space capacity in homes and places of safety.
In late August, Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna announced that a Cabinet submission dealing with the issue of children in police lock-ups was in its final stage.
Hanna announced that she would be seeking Cabinet's approval to, among other things, have child offenders held in separate facilities from adults.
However, the minister warned that the problem would not be solved overnight.
According to the detention and courts' documents, at August 31, four children - 10, 13, 16 and 17 years old - were in police lock-ups across the island and the only "offence" they committed was that they were in need of care and protection.
A further 12 children were in police lock-ups for various other reasons.
NEED TO NOTIFY AGENCIES
In the weekly Force Orders issued last Friday, Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington told his charges that "with immediate effect", they must inform the CDA and Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) as soon as a child is taken into police custody.
Ellington reminded the men and women under his command that children taken into police custody must be placed before the court within 48 hours of being arrested.
"Where no appropriate court is sitting within the specified time, members are reminded that they may take the child before a resident magistrate's chambers," said Ellington.
He also pointed out that children who are remanded by the court should immediately be transferred to Metcalfe Street Secure Juvenile Centre, Fort Augusta, or any other facility specified by the court.
The country's top cop also instructed that the CDA, OCA and the Office of Children's Registry should be given weekly updates on children in police custody.