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Reformatory CP - June 2005

Corpun file 16038

Sunday Observer, Kingston, 19 June 2005

'They beat us here'


By Petre Williams
Observer Western Bureau reporter

COPSE, Hanover - It's a recipe for disaster: 72 little boys, most of them between eight and 13 years-old, supervised by 11 poorly trained caregivers on a largely unsecured compound. That's what life is like at Copse Place of Safety in Hanover.

While Copse meets the standard requirements of a 10:1 ratio of caregivers to wards, in some ways the institution fits the profile of the facilities described in the 2003 report that painted a damning picture of the island's children's homes and places of safety.

There were no complaints of sexual abuse during the Sunday Observer's brief visit last week, but one little boy complained that staff members dole out affection sparingly and sometimes beat the children in their care.

"You can't talk to dem," the boy said of the staff. "Dem seh dem nuh have no time for you."
He appeared to be no more than 10-years-old and was obviously missing being in his own home.

"Dem beat di children (here)," he said, adding that staff members use their hands to inflict punishment.
Another little boy said his biggest problem was having to constantly fight with other boys who try to steal his belongings. "Dem fight mi fi mi things," he said.

He also complained that the staff often shout at the wards of the home, and he does not feel that he is treated well, generally.

Derval Rowe, the newly-hired manager at Copse, is familiar with the complaints and made it clear that home employees who physically abuse the boys do so at the risk of being suspended once the charges are proven.

A staff member at the Copse Place of Safety in Hanover disciplines a young boy at the facility, unaware that his picture is being taken.

The problem, said the trained social worker, is a lack of training for staff members who are simply trying their best to cope. Including Rowe and the 11 caregivers (nine duty officers and two housemothers), there are 25 members of staff at Copse.

These include an assistant manager, a clerical administrator, 1 teacher of general subjects, 1 woodwork instructor, 1 agriculture instructor; a cook, six maids and a handyman.

"The staff has not been trained to deal with emotional problems," Rowe told the Sunday Observer. "They are employed to do a particular job. They are not trained to deal with human emotions and so they would not be able to deal with these situations."

To get past this hurdle, he has decided to hire a full-time social worker who will live on the compound. There are also plans to hire three more teachers within the next two months, taking the staff complement to 28.
For now, the current staff and the boys they care for simply do the best they can.

Despite the challenges, some of the young boys have managed to adjust to life at Copse. Living there, they said, was "alright" and they were not badly treated. For one boy, who has been at the home nestled in the hills near Lethe from as far back as 2002, the experience has been good.

His only problem, he said, is that his dream of working with computers has been hampered by his inability to do CXC examinations.

He told the Sunday Observer that he should have done a number of subjects earlier this year but "things did not work out". He would not divulge any details of what went wrong.

Most of the boys at Copse fit the stereotypical Oliver Twist profile of children in homes. During last week's visit, they were unkempt - none of them wore shoes and through the holes in one little boy's shorts it was obvious that he was not wearing any underwear.

Rowe, the manager, could not explain the absence of the boy's underwear, saying only that it was the responsibility of housemothers to ensure that the boys were bathed and properly dressed.

As for the pitter-patter of numerous shoeless feet and the bedraggled appearance of most of the boys, he said:
"I spoke with the staff and I was told that they usually give them shoes but they destroy them and I have observed that a number of shoes are lying around the place," Rowe explained.

He added that the boys' clothes were dirty because they often lay or sit on the floor or on the ground, when outside.
But according to Rowe, all this will change in another few months when the boys will have a tighter schedule of activities that run throughout the day and uniforms are introduced.

For now, securing the compound and keeping the boys inside is one of Rowe's more pressing concerns. There is an unmanned gate, but no fencing around the perimeter of the home. The boys can leave at will. The new manager plans to raise funds to address this and other challenges at the facility.

Rowe, who has only been on the job for a few weeks, is brimming with ideas to improve conditions at the facility which, since it opened its doors in November of 1951, has provided a temporary home for thousands of boys from the western end of the island. Rowe will be among the first to admit that there is a lot of work to be done. His office, for example, reeks of cat faeces and has huge holes in the roof.

Across the rest of the compound, there are leaking roofs and peeling walls that beg for a fresh coat of paint.
But Rowe is undaunted by the task ahead of him.

"This is what I have inherited and I am here to make a change," he said, adding that he intends to work closely with the Child Development Agency to find solutions to the problems at Copse.

The home is among those next in line for a facelift, according to the CDA, which upgraded the Homestead Place of Safety in Stony Hill, St Andrew last month.

At the time of the 2003 Keating report, when 15 homes were visited, 10 per cent were found to be in need of minor repairs. Another 40 per cent needed moderate repairs while 35 per cent needed major repairs.

One building, for example, was infested with termites and rodents and needed to be re-roofed. Included among the recommendations made in the report was a time-table for home inspections, as well as the setting up of standards relating to the occupancy and the capacity of the homes.

"We conducted a complete physical audit of all the homes and have undertaken some sort of rehabilitation in all of the homes in one way or another," said head of the CDA Alison Anderson.

She added, however, that Hurricane Ivan had caused severe damage to some of these facilities, forcing them to restart the upgrading process. In addition to Copse, repairs will soon be done to the Muirton home in Portland and Mannings Boys' Home in St Elizabeth.

"The contract for Mannings was signed last week," Anderson said, adding that extensive work will be done on the Glenhope Girls' Home on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston.
"The home is not in a great state," she said.

- Additional reporting by Taneisha Davidson

Copyright 2000-2001 Jamaica Observer. All Rights Reserved.

Corpun file 16037

Jamaica Observer, Kingston, 20 June 205


Action taken against children's home worker

By Horace Hines
Western Bureau staff reporter

The front page of yesterday's Sunday Observer, which prompted the suspension of a duty officer at the Copse Place of Safety in Lethe, Hanover.

LETHE, Hanover - A duty officer at the state-run Copse Place of Safety in Hanover, whose photograph was splashed across the front page of yesterday's Sunday Observer as he beat a young boy at the facility, has been suspended.

Copse's manager Derval Rowe said the worker - whose name he opted not to release - was verbally notified yesterday, and this will be followed up with written notification today.

"He will be suspended immediately, until further instructions from my regional director, Sydney Grant," Rowe said.
The duty officer was photographed, without his knowledge, as he disciplined a young boy last Thursday.

According to Rowe, the youngster told him that he had been punished for stone-throwing.

The incident is seen as yet another black eye for those running the island's children's homes and places of safety. The government and privately-run facilities were widely criticised in a 2003 report that painted a picture of children being neglected, physically and sexually abused in ramshackle, overcrowded facilities.

ANDERSON. action will have to be taken

As it moved to implement the 46 recommendations in the report, the Child Development Agency (CDA) replaced all 13 of the superintendents who used to run the state homes with managers that were hired after an intense two-day vetting process.

These changes, along with last week's charging of two former employees of children's homes with carnal abuse, had been seen as positive steps forward.

Yesterday, the CDA's chief executive officer Alison Anderson condemned the actions of the suspended Copse employee as she pointed out that corporal punishment is against the law.

Action would have to be taken against the duty officer, she said, stressing that this would only be done after a thorough investigation.

ROWE. duty officer will be suspended immediately

"There are various types of discipline that would be applied, depending on the severity of the abuse and the circumstances, but action will have to be taken," she said.

Yesterday, Rowe made it clear that corporal punishment was not allowed at Copse. "We have a zero tolerance towards any form of corporal punishment, we don't allow that," he said, quickly adding that he has not received any complaints from the boys that they were being physically abused by the staff.

"The workers have all been instructed that they should not apply this form of punishment." It was challenging, he said, to work at the place of safety as the boys could be a handful. Most of them, said Rowe who describes himself as a trained social worker, came from "a dysfunctional family setting".

"While they are here, it is my goal to make a change in their behaviour pattern," he said. "We use consequence and denial of privileges as a means of punishment, and we use counselling as another method as well."

He added: "Consequence, for example, would mean removing them from the area of activity into a confined area and they stay there for a period of time. Denial of privileges includes denying access to television and other forms of entertainment."

Since he began running the facility two weeks ago, Rowe said, he has encouraged the staff to praise the boys when they perform well and he has plans to move towards reinforcing positive behaviour through a reward system.

Copyright 2000-2001 Jamaica Observer. All Rights Reserved.

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