The upsetting results revealed by the 1997 Robert Sabga report and then similarly by the 2021 Judith Jones report on the country’s children homes enraged citizens. The reports complained about failures of child-welfare institutions, badly supervised children homes, financial wastage, perpetrated physical and psychological abuse of children and implied political irresponsibility. But what did the children themselves then think and feel?
One fatal consequence of the reported mistreatment, neglect and abuse of these children would likely leave them with broken hearts and minds and the disposition to subsequently lose their way into delinquency, crime and prisons such as what we found in the Remand Yard in 2013. The route from abused children and broken homes to crime and prisons is well known.
It was to help prevent this fearful possibility that three months (October 1997) after the July 1997 Sabga report, with a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CDA), I did a follow-up study of children from seven of these same children homes to find out what they thought about their treatment and future. To what extent were their hearts and minds broken? Their mental health? How could it be healed?
The 70-page data-filled report entitled – Juvenile Homes: An Analytical Basis for Reform, Interventions and Rehabilitation, was submitted in October 1997 to the then government, the Ministry of Social Development, with 18 recommendations for interventions and rehabilitation.
The report advised: “This report and its results should be closely considered alongside the Cabinet-appointed task force report (July 1997) which dealt largely with management and physical conditions of these homes.” It added: “This report takes an in-depth look at the social, economic, educational and psychological characteristics of the youths in these seven homes. The results could be effectively linked to the findings of the cabinet task force for overall attention in terms of rehabilitation policy developments and implementation.”
After all, studying the management and physical conditions of these homes is certainly helpful. But understanding what these conditions did to the hearts and minds of these children is a critical basis for their intended rehabilitation and future lives.
Our October 1997 report was a strategic mechanism to help prevent them from drifting into subsequent deviance. We sought to give voice to these children. Not sensational news but necessary for social justice. Does any government agency have data on what happens to children after leaving these homes? Fifty per cent said they “missed” their friends, over 30% said they “needed education to improve their lives,” over 50 per cent said they “didn’t deserve” to be there, etc.
Last Tuesday, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, a high school drop-out, murdered nineteen 10 to 11-year-old children and two teachers in Texas in the US. He had just shot his grandmother in her face. With body armour on, he had locked the classroom then sprayed bullets from his assault rifle and handgun. Why? It was a bloody scene with politicians repeating promises for anti-gun legislation and the crowded media asking the same question they asked in 2012 when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 six to seven-year-olds in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Why?
In 2018, 19-year-old Nicholas Cruz fatally shot 17 children in Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School. Why? In 1999, two teenagers (17 and 18) massacred 13 students at Columbine High School, Colorado. Gun-driven slaughter happens outside schools too – at concerts, shopping malls, etc. Why? Earlier this month, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, peddling a “white supremacy” manifesto, assassinated ten black shoppers at a Buffalo grocery.
As US President Joe Biden noted, all this have made the US “a most violent society” with the highest number of mass killings in the world, especially in schools. Why? Apart from background checks, security guards, police arrests, etc, the billion-dollar question really is why, what was the deadly motive for such young men to go on such killing rampage?
Is it temporary insanity or premeditated murder? Hormonal defect? A burning grievance? Were they badly mistreated, abused in childhood? What made the mind of these killers so violently sadistic? It is unlikely such young men got up one morning and decided to kill innocent people, especially children. The extensive complaints about our children homes demand serious, urgent attention to help save their hearts and minds from becoming irretrievably broken.