The closure of the St Michael’s Home for Boys brings to an end an institution from a bygone era that had, increasingly, demonstrated its unsuitability to our fast-changing social environment. The home was established by the Anglican Church in 1889 as a residential school for homeless boys. The government partnered with the church in 1980, which led to the Statutory Authority Service Commission (SASC) taking over responsibility for staff there. For decades, the home catered to male children in need of supervision, deemed “beyond control.” However, the problems with the facility soon began to dwarf its laudable objectives.
Last year, Newsday reported the school was racked with staffing problems, poor maintenance and filthy conditions. And four years ago, 13-year-old Brandon Hargreaves died there while playing with another youth. A lawsuit filed in 2017 also alleged physical and sexual abuse took place on the premises.
Institutions like St Michael’s have the potential to do a tremendous service to society. There is great value in specifically catering to the needs of our most vulnerable: our children. With the problem of male under-achievement now rampant in society, it is also the case that increasingly boys are at risk of being left behind.
Many positive interventions have undoubtedly been made, with the help of the staff and workers at St Michael’s, over the years. But sadly, residents of the surrounding neighbourhoods will attest to the feeling of being under siege over the years by various residents there. This was probably because security at the neighbouring St Michael’s Interim Rehabilitation Centre (a separate institution) has often left much to be desired. Inmates there – before the courts for serious crimes – are known to have escaped.
The proximity of both institutions was itself problematic. It had the unfortunate effect of generating an aura of criminality over the St Michael’s Home for Boys, an aura that would have been counter-productive to efforts made there. Be that as it may, the closure of the home is an opportunity for reflection on the role of the State in supporting denominational institutions. Is the State doing enough? Can its subventions be more efficiently managed? Anyhow, why is the State required to do the job of parenting in the first place? What is happening to our families?
In the end, the only reason why this home had to stay open for so long was because of something of a crisis in society’s understanding of the role of the parent. More assistance should be provided by remaining rehabilitative institutions, such as the St Jude’s Home for Girls and in NGOs that work to support parents in need.