CAY BAY--The eagerly anticipated Youth Rehabilitation Facility in Cay Bay is nearing completion. The original building, which was designed as a boarding school-type facility has been restructured for use as a closed facility for boys between the ages of 12 and 18, who are to be detained whilst receiving counselling, treatment, guidance and education, in order to enable them to have the best possible chance of succeeding in society.
The new facility will be a closed institution. When the facility is up and running, 10 places will be available for boys sentenced by the criminal court. There will also be 10 places for boys with severe behavioural issues, who have not been sentenced by a criminal court, but who have received a placement order by a civil court. This could be in cases where a boy can no longer be maintained at home and/or school due to severe behavioural issues.
Project Manager Sandra Voorneman has more than 25 years experience in youth care, having been manager of an institution for 150 youths with severe behavioural problems. She has previous experience with setting up similar projects, and has been living in St. Eustatius for the past three years. She has been involved with youth work in both Statia and Saba, to develop and establish a Youth and Family Centre, including youth care and family guardianship.
"The Youth Rehabilitation Facility is very much aimed at giving the youths a chance to make something of their lives. Tailor-made education is the key. Every child deserves a chance, and these boys are no different. Currently, there is no facility in St. Maarten where these boys can be detained, and they end up in adult prison. Children need education, a daily structure and treatment suited to their needs, which is not available in an adult prison. The new Youth Rehabilitation Facility aims to close this gap," says Voorneman. "We want to give these youths an opportunity for the future, teach them perspective and new skills."
Also in the dedicated working group are Director of the Court of Guardianship Richelda Emmanuel, Youth Prosecutor Karola van Nie, and acting director of the Foundation Judiciary Institutes Windward Islands, Cynthia van Samson-Filemon, Carmelita Smits-Rombley and Ron Verhaar.
The four first named members of the group, all of whom have shown themselves to be dedicated advocates to improve facilities for troubled youths on the island, have recently visited "Opa Doeli," a closed Youth Detention Facility in Suriname. "We learned a lot and obtained a lot of ideas for our new facility," says Voorneman.
"In the Netherlands, I worked for Horizon Institute for Youth Care and Education, a facility for youths with severe behavioural problems," she says. "There were a number of Antillean boys at the facility. St. Maarten is in the process of creating a formal cooperation with Horizon. The partnership still has to be formalized, but Horizon will be offering support to the new rehabilitation facility."
The working group has the full support of Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson, who has been supporting and pushing the plans for a youth care facility for a long time.
The project phase of the new facility is two years, Voorneman explains. "The idea is that at the end of the project phase, the facility can be run and managed by mostly local people. At the moment, for certain vacancies, it is very difficult to find qualified staff locally. We have also advertised in the Netherlands, but we have created the task to set up an in-house training programme, as certain theoretical knowledge and experience is a necessity to work in a facility like this."
Recruitment for staff has started, and closing negotiations are ongoing with a number of candidates. "We aim to start in October," says Voorneman."The facility is still looking for a Behavioural Science Expert, as well as for a team leader with experience with the target group. Particularly a Behavioural Scientist is hard to find," says Voorneman. "We did advertise in the summer holidays, so we will advertise the vacancy again next week."
Suitable candidates from the Netherlands would be considered for vacancies. "But it is important to have a good balance," Voorneman says. "And of course, the person would have to have a very good knowledge and understanding of St. Maarten and its culture."
"It is very important to recruit the right people," says Voorneman. "We need people who can really make contact and connections with the youths, to show them that there are other ways they can live their lives. Of course, youths have to learn that their behaviour has consequences. If someone kills someone, of course we have to deal with that. But in the new facility, we want to focus on the future: where do we go from here?"
Each youth who arrives at the facility will have a tailor-made action plan, depending on their problems, their capabilities and their ambitions. The aim is to put a support network in place. If the parents are not in a position to support their child, other adults will be sought to provide support.
Staff in the facility will work closely together with the Prosecutor's Office, the Court of Guardianship, and the Probation Service, but also with other external partners, such as community police officers and potential employers or people who are willing to further train youths as apprentices.
"It is very important that there is a support network in place when a youth leaves the facility again," says Voorneman. "Maybe we won't be able to help every youth, but we will be able to help many of them. A lot of behavioural issues can be improved with structure and clarity.
"In helping these youths, we need the support of the community," she says. "We are asking the community to support us, to support the youths. Everyone deserves a second chance in life. We need the community to help us, we cannot do it alone. We need the support and trust of the community to show these youths that they too are the future."
Voorneman says that the group is working very hard on preparing for the opening of the facility. "We want to formally introduce the facility to the community. We are currently discussing the best way to do this. There will be an opportunity for the community to speak to us and to ask any questions they may have."
But the initial focus is on completing the building, which is expected to be finished, in time, before the end of October. "Decoration is an important aspect," says Voorneman. "We would like the facility to have a friendly character, both inside and outside. On the inside, there will be an opportunity for the youths to have an input too.
"The most important thing is to provide a positive approach, a responsible quality approach in which the youths play a central role. Many people talk about making things better for troubled youths, but actions are what really matter," says Voorneman.