While the Drop-in Centre on Hadfield Street has been a haven for countless children over the years, concerns have been raised over the deplorable conditions and subpar care at the facility.
“I’ve been going for a while and about three weeks ago I was sitting in the dining room and I saw roaches, little roaches everywhere,” a volunteer, who did not want to be named, told Stabroek News.
She stated that the roach infestation is so bad that some of the children even have bites. “I didn’t even know roaches bite you but it’s bad. I remember seeing one of the kids and I asked him why he had so many bumps on his hand and he told me it was because of the roaches,” she added.
Besides the pest infestation, she said, there are other signs of deterioration at the facility. “As I said, I have been coming here a while and so I have seen how it has [declined],” she added, while pointing out that there were several holes in the fence. “It also floods. Sometimes, when it rains, it hasn’t in a while, it floods really badly,” she added. She said that sometimes the children would have rashes and other health issues because of the flood water.
“That’s not even the worse. The flooding comes and goes but there were several times when I went there after 3 pm and saw the dining room filthy with food and used dishes,” she said. She added that since there isn’t a room dedicated for doing schoolwork, the children would often use the dining area, which is rarely clean. “Sometimes, I am not even sure where to sit and rest my books because it is filthy everywhere and those are things the staff should be doing,” she further said.
Stabroek News had made several efforts to visit the centre but was denied entry. When Stabroek News contacted Director of the Child Care and Protection Agency Ann Greene, she stated that while there have been complaints about the infestation, actions were being taken to fight it. When Stabroek News sought permission from her to visit the centre, instructions were to seek same through the Ministry of Social Protection. However, the ministry directed this newspaper back to Greene.
Volunteers are not the only persons concerned about the state of the facility. Several workers have also complained about the conditions that the children have to endure. “It’s a lot of children, about 40, and sometimes they have to sleep on mattresses on the ground,” one worker said.
Apart from the deteriorating physical infrastructure of the facility, the volunteer said that the treatment of children at the centre is also in need of redress. “The kids need proper counselling. They all went through traumatic experiences and they need special care. They are not normal kids and you can’t treat them the same way you would treat normal kids,” she noted.
She explained that often there would be loud verbal exchanges between the children of the centre and the staff. “They are not angels. They will push back and what’s not, but you can’t let it get to you and push back even harder,” she said, while stating that the children are not getting the care that they need. “I don’t know if it’s the staff that’s not trained or what but some things I’ve seen make me doubt it,” she added.
A volunteer explained that a while ago she noticed that the room where the girls stay was padlocked from the outside. “I couldn’t find words for it… So, what if there was a fire?” she questioned. The woman said when she brought the issue to attention to the person in charge of the centre, she was told that she should go back and tell the staff something about it. “I’m just a volunteer. I don’t have any power over anything and I shouldn’t be the one having to instruct them otherwise,” she reasoned.
The volunteer also said that while the older children take care of the younger ones, it is not an ideal situation.
She said the centre’s current staff are not monsters but some of them need more training. “They need to get more qualified and trained staff who know how to deal with children who have been through traumatic childhoods. You have to understand why they are acting out and, if I may say so myself, they have enough reasons to,” she said.
Additionally, she highlighted the fact that some of the children are not in school and are allowed to stay in and “lime and lounge. There are a quite a few of them who are not in school; some have finished but then some are just there,” she said, while emphasising that the issue needs to be addressed.
Positive relationships needed
She explained that if the centre is to also follow its mandate and focus on the children’s educational development, there should be a dedicated study area. She noted that some of the older children who are writing exams often complain about noise and their inability to stay focused through it.
She said that in addition to a proper facility and a new system the children need people from the outside to visit them and show them positivity. “They don’t need cake and sweets and ice cream. I mean, of course they would like it but they need people to have good and positive relationships with. They need to spend quality time with people,” she said as she noted that while they have received donations from different organisations, she is encouraging people to volunteer to spend time with the children.
She is also calling for the government to turn its gaze to the centre. She said that she has witnessed cases where some of the children grow too old to be housed at the centre and they are released, only to find themselves in worse situations than they were in before. “I still keep in contact with them and some of them are working in the markets and doing any and everything to get money and get by,” she stated. She suggested that the centre pay more attention to training the children and teaching them skills that they can use when they are older and go out into the world. “They came from homes and situations which are messed up and they are thrown into something similar, which is counterproductive. Yeah, they get three meals a day and have a roof over their head, [but] even the quality of the roof over their head can be debated on,” she said.
“They get school clothes and some of them get to go to school and what’s not but it’s not significantly better in my opinion and observations. I think we can do better and we should be doing better,” she added.
The Drop-In Centre started in 1999 in a building aback of the Sacred Heart Church on Main Street. It was not meant to be a residential facility. Its purpose then was to allow street children to ‘drop in’ for a hot meal, counselling and skills training with the aim of earning their trust and eventually getting them off the streets. It was later moved to its current location at Hadfield Street.