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Nichola Harvey-Mitchell

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The escape of five teenagers from a Children’s Authority Child Support Center between March 19-20, which led to the unfortunate shooting death of two of them—Simeon Daniel, 15, and Antonio Francois, 16—on Sunday night, was not their first attempt at running away from the state safe house.

This was disclosed by Children’s Authority Director Nichola Harvey-Mitchell during a virtual press conference yesterday.

Giving a history on how the boys—Stephan Nicholas, 16, Ricardo Thompson, 15, Stephen Antoine, 15, Daniel and Francois made good on the second escape, Harvey-Mitchell said, “They absconded during a time when one of our security officers was dealing with a distraction to some extent…another fight with some other boys, as well as the caregiver was offering some counselling session, that they asked the caregiver to make a snack for them. At that moment…that opportune time, the boys decided to abscond through a two-by-one burglar proofing of a window that we had and left to the back of the building. And from our investigations, we felt that they may have gone into a big drain and ran through to another part of the country.”

She said two days earlier, the institution found out that the boys were planning an escape and intervened.

“Before Saturday, we were aware that the boys were planning on leaving the CSC for several reasons, and we discovered that while they were on online school. They were communicating with persons outside of the authority, making plans to abscond accordingly.”

She said once the authority knew of the boys’ plans they were immediately offered counselling at the institution’s head office. She said after speaking with the boys, Daniel in particular, assured her he was not going to abscond, which made the news of his murder even more disturbing for the authority.

Harvey-Mitchell suggested the boys’ action may have stemmed from the removal of devices from them, which she believed made them upset and agitated. She said they also discovered after the boys escaped that they had been chipping away at the walls where the window was using stones so that they could remove the burglar proofing.

Harvey-Mitchell said the facilities were designed so the children would not feel as though they were in a prison but now the authority may have to consider an infrastructural revision.

Speaking about the murders of Daniel and Francois, she lamented: “For us, these boys were in our care. We act as temporary parents while they are in our care for the protection of these children and we all face the sadness that their parents face at this time.”

She said up to last Friday, the boys were in her office discussing their issues with her.

Responding to social media claims of abuse and ill-treatment at the home made by Thompson on Sunday night, Harvey-Mitchell confirmed one of the boys mentioned some abuse during their discussion last Thursday and Friday. She assured the complaints were being investigated.

However, she said from preliminary investigations, they noted there was a fight at the centre and some level of restraint was used to ensure the boys did not harm themselves and others, including the staff who were present at the time.

Pressed about whether the authority had other reports of abuse, Harvey-Mitchell said, “Yes, we have had claims of abuse within the particular home. Some of them were substantiated and some were not substantiated when we did our investigations into the children’s home. Similarly, at the child support centre, we had one abuse matter, if we could say that…recently and this present one which we have dealt with.”

Denying claims that staff was incompetent and lacked training, Harvey-Mitchell said the Children’s Authority only hired persons with the relevant knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes as per their degrees and experience in the field. She said they had trained psychologists, counsellors, social workers and medical doctors on their payroll and assured training of these professionals was also ongoing.

She said while she was not pointing fingers at anyone, the Children’s Authority should not be blamed for what happened, as she was satisfied it took proactive measures. However, she said in most instances, children came to the authority already severely traumatised and psychologically damaged by their experiences and the healing process was a lengthy one.

In the case of four of the five boys, she said the authority only received them in January and their assessments and interventions were incomplete.

Harvey-Mitchell said, however, that the welfare of the nation’s children should be everyone’s business as the authority could not do it alone. She said the institution was experiencing a placement crisis because it was inundated with the caseload of children in need of care and protection. In a bid to get all hands on deck, she said in the coming months the authority plans to launch its national pledge and a national child abuse protocol.