Care centres failing youth: Daily Dispatch

Education, security, management found wanting

HUNDREDS of young offenders at state-funded youth care centres in the province face a bleak future as the state offers them education only up to Grade 7.

Those in privately controlled institutions are educated up to Grade 12.

These details are contained in a report tabled by the portfolio committee on social development at the Bhisho legislature last week, after conducting oversight visits to child and youth care centres across the province.

Of the six centres visited, five are state-owned. Some centres house juvenile offenders while others are used as temporary places of safety for vulnerable children.

The MPLs discovered lax security measures, violent behaviour by inmates, racism allegations and lack of resources in some centres.

The committee, chaired by ANC MPL Christian Martin, visited Enkuselweni Youth Centre in Port Elizabeth, Erica Child and Youth Care Centre, Sikhuselekile in Mthatha, Qumbu Secure Care Centre, John X Merriman Centre in East London and the troubled Bhisho Youth Centre.

They found “glaring differences” between government-run centres and the private one, which was significantly “better managed”.

Martin’s committee also uncovered allegations that white offenders were referred to private centres by courts of law, saying “this can be construed as racial segregation”.

The committee now wants Social Development MEC Nancy Sihlwayi to conduct a full investigation into the allegations and provide it with a report in a month’s time.

Martin’s committee also asked the sitting to consider availing academic programmes for the vulnerable youth to be able to study up to matric while serving their term at these centres. Other findings were that: ● At Sikhuselekile, there was no management board, and the premises were not fenced, putting the lives of both children and staff at risk;

● In Qumbu, there was “practically no security” and not all security cameras were functioning; and

● At the Bhisho centre, sentenced children “experienced serious behavioural challenges” and officials were unable to control them. In some instances, young offenders vandalised state assets, including CCTV cameras.

“This poses a huge security risk as the children’s movements cannot be fully monitored,” Martin said.

“The situation is exacerbated by the fact that security guards do not have the security grades necessary for dealing with situations involving sentenced children.”

During a debate at the legislature last Thursday, DA MPL Kobus Botha said it was unacceptable that children were receiving “poor quality services as quality assurance checks for compliance were compromised”.

He said the provincial government needed to “fix our broken centres before it’s too late”.

Sihlwayi said her department would work towards reinforcing security measures in the centres. She said the report was “a frank and honest assessment” and that they would do their best to address the findings.

In her policy speech, Sihlwayi allocated R49.7-million towards the centres. —