House of horrors - Girls unsafe, on the edge at Homestead

Published: Sunday | March 30, 2014 Comments 0
The Homestead Place of Safety in Stony Hill, St Andrew. - Ian Allen/Staff Photographer
The Homestead Place of Safety in Stony Hill, St Andrew. - Ian Allen/Staff Photographer

Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

The Homestead Place of Safety in Stony Hill, St Andrew, is failing miserably, with many of the girls leaving "worse than when they came in", according to a source close to the facility.

The State-operated place of safety, established as a home away from home for girls between the ages of 12 and 18, houses girls deemed in need of care and protection, those in conflict with the law, and psychotic children.

But the mix is proving poisonous, particularly for those girls who have not run afoul of the law.

"Children in need of care and protection get culturised by the ones who are in conflict with the law, and the ones who can't help themselves get beaten up by both sets," added the source.

An undercover probe by The Sunday Gleaner confirmed these claims as our news team saw several indicators that all is not well at the facility.

Our news team witnessed lewd and violent behaviour, flourishing in an environment that facilitates antisocial tendencies, with lesbianism, vulgarity and even criminality being the order of the day.

During a mid-morning undercover trip to the place of safety, a calm atmosphere greeted our news team as a few girls milled around.

This would soon change, as the young girls started streaming back on to the compound, most having been out at school.

VERBAL CLASH

One girl, who was quietly going about her business before the others arrived, faced a verbal onslaught from the newcomers.

"Mad coke head, suck you m... gal! A time fi yu dead! Look how you big," taunted one of her tormentors.

When she finally responded with a "suck back yu m... ", she had to run for cover as she was pelted with stones.

It was later pointed out that she was one of the girls with psychotic disorders housed at the premises.

It was clear to our news team that the attack on this girl was neither new nor unusual at the facility, and wards who spoke to our news team said girls had to be prepared to defend themselves to survive at this place of safety.

"When mi did come here, mi did quiet. Mi neva use to give any trouble, but now mi rude," said 16-year-old Sandraas she explained the survival rules of the facility.

"Mi just deh here for three and a half weeks, but mi adapt," declared 15-year-old Katharine.

"You have fi tough it out inna dem place yah, because anytime you move soft 'round dem, dem tek advantage a you. We live like puss and dog. We fight regular because dog nuh like puss and puss nuh like dog. And dem (other girls) thief," added Katharine.

The administrators and other workers at the facility were not spared the wrath of the violent girls.

One manager was recently struck with a piece of iron by a ward and the girls boast about their deeds.

"Mi trace (curse) off one worker, 'bout she nuh wah carry mi go clinic this morning because mi trace har off and almost push har off the step yesterday," bragged Sandra.

NO SURPRISE

The lewd and violent behaviour is no surprise to the Child Development Agency (CDA), which has oversight responsibility for the place of safety.

"The teens have varying emotional needs and issues, bearing in mind the difficult circumstances that brought them into state care in the first place," the CDA told The Sunday Gleaner.

"A large percentage of the girls residing at Homestead come into care suffering from the trauma of abuse, and react to the harm committed against them in a myriad of ways. These matters are dealt with accordingly, through close monitoring, psychological and psychiatric counselling and continued vigilance by caregivers," said the CDA.

But the constant battles by the girls is not the only thing they brag about as they speak openly of leaving or running away from the facility whenever they want to.

"Di place no secure. Wi scale (climb over) the fence," shared Sandra. "The security dem weh deh here old and fool-fool bad."

"It (running away) is a regular thing because once they have been exposed streetwise, they find it very hard to stay in one place too long. So what we have are persistent runners," shared The Sunday Gleaner source.

"Last week, five (girls) ran off and the police brought back three, a mother brought back one, and one is still missing. The ones that were brought back by the police brought in weed and mobile phones. They are involved in the lottery scam and one of them lap dances," added the source.

But running away from the facility has more than one consequence.

"One of the girl dem weh did run weh mi did like, so mi did just run weh too, but mi come back," declared Katharine as she pointed out that the girls are not shy to make it known that they are lesbians.

During a discussion with a group of seven girls, one ward of the state, Sandra, declared that "only one person here is not a lesbian".

Others chimed in to point out who was having an affair with whom as they went on to tell what couples were spotted doing.

"Mi si Sandra a beat har woman last night," announced Katharine as the wards present, almost to a person, said they decided on same-sex relationships because they did not trust men.

SEXUAL RELATIONS DISCOURAGED

"You are not going to get away from that. They have staff who have slept on the dorm to prevent it. They have had counsellors come in, and they have had the police from CISOCA (Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse) come in, but they can't get away from it. Most, if not all the girls, have had some form of sexual stimulation," said The Sunday Gleaner source.

The CDA did not comment directly on the lesbian practice at the facility, but said its policy discourages wards of children's homes and places of safety from engaging in any form of sexual relations

The staff complement at the facility includes 24 house mothers, three duty officers, four laundry staff, one social worker, one assistant manager and a manager. This is nine fewer than what is ideal for the home.

Most of the staff members are also not trained to deal with psychotic cases or severe behavioural problems.

However, the CDA argued that teens from the Homestead facility benefit from the services of its psychologist based in Kingston, one of four deployed across the island.

"At the facility, the resident children's officer/social worker conducts initial assessment and referrals, does follow-up sessions, and organises general counselling and group sessions. This officer also liaises with the schools and families," said the CDA.

"The children also benefit from Ministry of Health's Child Guidance Clinics and the recently commissioned Smiles Mobile Unit, as well as from private psychiatric services where necessary.

"Additionally, the management of the place of safety has formed partnerships with volunteer and government agencies to facilitate group and individual therapy. These include church groups of varying denominations; organi-sations such as RISE Life; the Ministry of Health's youth intervention programme and Ministry of Justice's victim support programme ," added the CDA.

The Government provides a stipend of roughly $39,000 a month per child, but this is woefully inadequate, as the girls are fed three meals a day and given two snacks along with the funding of their other needs, such as personal-care products.

The facility, which is situated on two acres of land in Stony Hill, St Andrew, was formerly a boys' home before it was closed for refurbishing in 2004 and reopened in 2005 as a girls' halfway house.

It is intended to house children on remand pending a court ruling in their case, after which they are either sent back home or go to a children's home. This has, however, not been happening, with 68 girls (the CDA says 59) currently being housed at the 60-person capacity facility. Just over 30 of the wards attend school daily.

Names changed.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com

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