MILE 23, GEORGE PRICE HIGHWAY, Belize District, Wed. Sept. 4, 2019– On the night of Thursday, August 22, there was unrest at the Princess Royal Youth Hostel at Mile 23 on the George Price Highway, and police were called in. On their arrival at the premises of the hostel, unruly girls at the institution threw rocks and other missiles at the police vehicle, breaking its windshield and causing other damages to the vehicle.
After this incident, six of the girls, ages ranging from 14 to 17 years, managed to escape from the compound. Police and the administrators of the hostel collaborated and the six girls were recaptured and returned to the hostel.
Commissioner of Police Chester Williams said that all is not well at the hostel and had ordered the police’s Commander of Operations and the Regional Commander to collaborate with the administration of the Princess Royal Youth Hostel to get to the bottom of the problem in the institution.
Commissioner Williams said that on Saturday night, August 17, eleven girls had also escaped and the police and the administrators at the hostel found the girls and returned them to the hostel. One girl, a 16-year-old, has not yet been found, and the administration believes that she is with her boyfriend.
During an extended interview with us today, Maureen Williams, Deputy Director of Community Rehabilitation Services, under which umbrella the Princess Royal Youth Hostel falls, told us that it is not easy to maintain law and order at the institute because the hostel was initially designed for youths with behavioral problems, but now its role has been expanded.
She said the hostel is now a detention center and a psychiatric center for youths with mental issues. She said that mothers who cannot control their children bring them to the hostel to be reformed, and parents bring their children who are not performing well in school, to be helped.
She said that the youths have a host of issues and a wide range of problems, and it is not easy dealing with them.
Williams says that adding to their problems is that some girls are at the hostel for too long a period. She said the girls want to leave, but they have nowhere to go because they have been abandoned and rejected by their families. Williams said some children who are sent to the hostel are gang members. She said some of these children have bad attitudes, and they not only intimidate hostel staff, but they also recruit some of the other children to become gang members.
Williams said the organization is collaborating with the Ministry of Health to put in place a system of treatment for those with psychiatric problems. She said that other stakeholders can also be of assistance to the institute in helping the children.
Williams is urging members of the public to step forward and volunteer to help the children by tutoring them. She said that members of the community should not criticize the department so much, because much is being done to help the children, but it is difficult to work with children who have been traumatized, abused and have experienced various forms of devastation.
Williams told us that many activities are in place to help the children, and these include online computer training, online school programs, sporting activities, competitions with other organizations, schooling off the compound, and teachers who come to the hostel to tutor them. They are taught dance and drama by Joseph Stamp Romero, and karate by sensei Leon Gill. They also are taught technical and vocational skills by trained staff.
Williams said they do not have the capacity to deal with some of the troubled behaviors displayed by the children, and there must be collaboration with stakeholders, but the parents and relatives of the children must be a part of helping the children.
Williams said they have begun to strengthen the area of the fence through which the girls escaped, but this is not the biggest issue. She said one of the biggest problems is that most of the girls feel abandoned and rejected by their families.
She is calling on the parents of these children to step up to their responsibilities, to take command and control of their children, and to come and show their love and appreciation.
“On Saturdays, the bigger girls would want to go out to their relatives,” Williams said, “but no family comes for them, and this makes them feel rejected, and this leads to other issues.”
Williams said that it is difficult to get dedicated workers at the institute, professional workers who are “made of steel,” who cannot be intimidated by the children, perhaps because of the distance people have to travel to get there.
A staff worker told us that the environment at the hostel is rather hostile. The staff worker said that when the girls escape and are caught and returned, they are held in their dorm. They are given The Universal Rights of Children Booklet, and have to sign an agreement, and their privileges are restricted and they must work their way back to full freedom.
The staff worker said that because they are seasoned children, this means nothing to them. The staff worker said there is a high staff turnover rate because employees of the hostel find it difficult to cope with the hostile attitude of some of the children, and their acts of intimidation.
Williams said she cannot say when the children will try and break out again, but they are carrying out an investigation to find where the breakdown in policy and security occurred, and correct it. She said that although Compol Williams said that the situation must be addressed, that something must be done quickly to prevent the girls from escaping again, neither he nor his delegates have been seen there, and no meeting has been held with them.
Williams said that she is not expecting much help from the police, because she knows they are swamped with work, but it would help if they could make frequent patrols at the hostel.