Those of you unaware of what Tranquility Bay is, it is a facility for pre-teens and teens in Jamaica under the umbrella of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS), an American-based organization. There have been hundreds of accounts of abuse there.
Last February families flew in to visit their kids at Tranquility Bay. Cindy is one of the mothers who went to visit her son, Mike. She brought her teenage daughter, Ashley with her.
When they arrived at the facility they were turned away because some were wearing sleeveless shirts. The parents were unaware there was a dress code for them. They had to take the long ride back to their hotels to change.
When they came back they were allowed on the property. While they were sitting around the pool a boy stepped out onto the balcony overhead and threw down a neatly folded piece of paper. Ashley, Mike’s sister, picked up the note while her mother, Cindy, looked up at the boy. He pulled up his shirt and Cindy saw bruising on his shoulders, under his armpits, and on his back. Cindy also saw another boy looking through the glass who had a metal plate in his mouth. Other parents witnessed this as well.
Cindy read C. S-S's letter. “… Please I am begging to get this note to the American Embassy because there are no staff here that will do anything … please please get this to the embassy so that I can talk to them ...”
In his letter he also wrote to his own mother, telling her: “… The staff then threw me down and started hitting my head over and over on the floor. One staff dropped his pen and the other staff picked it up and started to stab me in the right shoulder. While all this was happening other staff were punching me and hitting me with my sandals …”
Cindy forwarded the boy’s letter to CAICA. CAICA immediately contacted agencies in Jamaica - the American Embassy, Child Welfare, Unicef, the Ministry of Education and Youth – and the State Department. CAICA provided these agencies with Declarations, a copy of the boy’s letter, and the names of the boys who were being abused. Cindy indicated the facility claims no fault.
CAICA recently received a letter dated May 21, 2007, along with the Education Act, stating an investigation has been launched into this incident and that they are obtaining advice from their Attorney General in connection with their investigation. We await the outcome of their investigation.
Cindy, Ashley, and Mike had some time alone together. While they were down at the beach – an activity Mike said they are never allowed to do during his stay at Tranquility Bay - Mike told Cindy that children were being abused there - that the boy with the full jaw plate in his mouth had his upper left jaw shattered. He had been pinned down on the floor by several staff and was “smacked” in the face with staffs’ walkie-talkies. According to Mike, staff claimed that during the restraint the boy’s face bounced off the floor, breaking his jaw. The American Embassy said there is a pending investigation into this incident. Mike said injured kids are taken away from the facility when the Embassy comes for a visit (it is important to note he is not the first teen to say this – we at CAICA have heard this complaint numerous times at a number of WWASPS facilities).
Mike talked about medical neglect. He complained to staff that he was having difficulties breathing and he thought his nose was broken, but staff called him a liar telling him nothing was wrong. It took them weeks to get him to a doctor.
Before this incident occured Cindy had made it clear to Tranquility Bay that she did not want surgery performed on her son in Jamaica unless it was an absolute emergency. She told them if he needed surgery she would have him brought back to the US. They did not listen to her requests and had the surgery performed on her son in Jamaica without her knowledge.
Mike also indicated the facility had to cut back on academics because they were low on funds. In February 2007 the American Embassy indicated the numbers at Tranquility Bay had dropped.
Mike said a lot of the staff were fired because they were giving upper-level children alcohol and pot. Mike, who had reached upper level, ratted out his friends – a practice that is encouraged in many programs as a way to move up in the program. Many people believe this is done in an effort to keep kids there longer. At a rate of $3,000 to $5,000 per month, or more, this is quite an incentive.
While he was at the beach with his mom and sister, Mike was sunburned on his shoulders – shoulders that barely ever saw sunlight. Cindy could not understand why Mike was so upset. When he calmed down he told her he would be blamed for self-infliction of wounds and his levels would be dropped. Cindy did not believe this could possibly happen and explained to staff that Mike did not inflict this upon himself, that he did wear sunscreen, and that the reason he burned was probably because his shoulders hadn’t seen much sunlight in nearly two years. Staff assured her they would not drop his levels.
Cindy learned Mike’s levels were dropped and he was frightened. Everyone had found out it was Mike who ratted them out about the alcohol and the pot. He wanted to talk to his dad and said he feared for his life.
Frightened to return to the facility Cindy decided to take her younger daughter and fly back to the US. Before leaving Jamaica she said she contacted a transport company to pick up her son - Sunrise Transport out of Utah. The driver went above and beyond the call of duty to pick this child up and return him to his mom, all in the course of a day.
Parents and staff who witness abuse or neglect in programs have a duty to report
I commend Cindy for her courage and strength in reporting this incident to CAICA and by providing her and her daughter’s Declarations to us so that we could pursue an investigation into this issue.
Other parents were there. Other parents saw the incident. But other parents never came forward to tell what they saw. In fact, parents often believe the program when they tell them that their child is a liar, a manipulator, and that their child will self-inflict wounds just to try to get out of the program. Sadly, often these kids are telling the truth. I’m sure there have been some who have lied but it is irresponsible to assume they are all liars.
This, along with staff who fails to report, is in part why the abuse continues and why these children and youth are silenced.
Program directors and staff are telling parents that advocates are exaggerating and that what we say is too far-fetched. If that were the case why would nearly 150 people be filing a lawsuit against WWASPS alleging the very things advocates have been reporting about for years? Some parents have been told I’m a disgruntled parent when in fact I’ve never had a child in their programs. WWASPS are not the only ones – there are other programs and facilities that are being sued for abusing children and teens.
Some advocates, including myself, are people who learned that children and teens – by the thousands – were, and continue to be mentally and physically abused in facilities and programs, and that these kids are being warehoused for profit. We feel it is our obligation to expose what we know.
If everyone reported the abuse they witness – and we are all morally obligated to do that - at the time they witness it, or at the time their child is removed from the program and tells them they witnessed abuse, the abuse allegations would have to be investigated and people would not be so intimidated and afraid. As long as this remains silent, behind closed doors, thousands of children will continue to be mentally and physically abused each year.
This is a virtually unregulated multi-billion dollar a year silently emerging industry, there is no governmental oversight, and there is no single entity without a monetary interest looking out for the interest of these children. No entity that has the power to make unannounced visits to these otherwise very “private” programs. Congressman George Miller is trying desperately to change all of that.
I say “silent” because no matter how much we try to get the word out about abuse, neglect, and deaths in these programs people in the general public have no idea this industry even exists and that the abuse, neglect, and deaths exist. They should because their child, niece, nephew, grandchild, or friend could be next.