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Youth Rehab in Focus

The Missouri model has been referred to as the "guiding light" in youth rehabilitation.

The model holistically addresses the needs of youth at risk in order to avert their negative behaviours, promote their strengths and empower them. To learn more, a delegation from Government travelled to Missouri on 30 November 2010.

The delegation included the Minister of Community Affairs, Gender and Housing the Hon. Mike Adam, MBE, Ministry staff, a representative from Judicial Administration, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, Public Works Department, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Ministry of Education, Training and Employment.

Thirty years ago, Missouri closed its correctional juvenile facilities and began offering a more humane, constructive and positive approach.

On their visit, the Cayman delegation toured a day treatment programme, Star Day Treatment, for low risk youth and two male secure facilities, Northwest Regional Youth Center and Riverbend Treatment Center, for youth who exhibited the most serious offending behaviour.

"The youth we met were confident, articulate, insightful, goal-orientated, eager to share their experiences and they were hopeful and excited about their futures. It was the realisation that staff genuinely cared for their well-being that was one of the major catalysts for change," said the Hon. Mike Adam.

The Missouri Division of Youth Services (DYS), the agency that oversees youth rehabilitation programmes, now boasts some impressive statistics, such as three years after discharge 93% of DYS youth have avoided further incarceration, while over 86% are productively involved in their communities through school or work.

Furthermore, Missouri's recidivism rates are consistently lower than other states' in which youth are twice as likely to be re-incarcerated.

Missouri's recipe for success is a dedication to helping delinquent youth make deep and lasting changes to prevent future negative behaviours.

The agency has built a therapeutic treatment system based on the beliefs that all people have a desire to do well and succeed; all behaviour has a purpose and is often a symptom of unmet needs; and family engagement is vital in the treatment process.

The Missouri model is structured in such a way that youth are actively engaged in the process of change at all times unlike correctional juvenile facilities where rigid rules, external controls and coercive power attempt to force compliance.

The Minister advises the public that Missouri's approach "…is not at all a 'soft' approach to delinquent behaviour, but instead, a much harder, more demanding approach in which you must face and deal with your most difficult and traumatic issues and take responsibility for your actions and behaviour."

Based on research and the visit to Missouri, the Ministry recognises that the urgent need of the country is to build local capacity to help youth in need of intervention.

The Ministry along with key stakeholders, therefore, has developed both short-term and long-term plans to adapt the Missouri programme for the Cayman Islands. In the short-term, the Bonaventure Boys Home (BBH) and the Frances Bodden Girls Home (FBGH) have been earmarked to accommodate Therapeutic Community Programmes based on the Missouri Model.

Youth will not be sent to facilities in Missouri as incorrectly reported by some media outlets. Overseas institutions are no longer a viable option due to international immigration restrictions and the closure of Tranquility Bay for economic reasons.

Even if overseas placements were an option, the exorbitant cost and separation from family make it a less than an ideal arrangement.

The long-term plans are for a residential Youth Centre, based on the principles of the Missouri model, to be built in accordance with the Government's constitutional obligation to separate juvenile prisoners from adult prisoners by 6 November 2013.

The Hon. Mike Adam stated, "While the Ministry recognises that the Cayman Islands is experiencing the full impact of the global economic downturn, if we do not make a commitment to invest in our youth and build local capacity, the country will continue to see rising crime levels, higher levels of unemployment, the breaking down of families and communities and a greater strain being placed on the health care, the welfare and criminal justice systems.

"Our pillars of the economy, tourism and financial services, will also be negatively impacted.

"We have the opportunity and, not only the legal but also the moral duty, to chart the way forward with empowering our children and youth, strengthening our community and securing the future of these Islands."

To learn more about the Missouri model, read the independent review by the Annie E. Casey Foundation at www.aecf.org or visit the Missouri Division of Youth Services website at www.dss.mo.gov/dys/.

For further information contact: Prudence Barnes