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That pot Kenny show on Newstalk. Like many institutions across the state, overstand child detention campus in this country faced the difficult task of keeping the young people in its care and its staff members safe and covid free during lockdown. This involved changes to work practices for staff out of the daily routines for young people. But between them, they managed to keep and achieve their goal. Now to tell us how they did it, the director of Boston, Pat Bergen, is on the line.
Pat, good morning. Good morning, Pat. How are you doing?
I'm doing very well. I hope things are all good in Boston. We did a program from there on one occasion, very impressed by your operation.
So and the challenges that you faced when lockdown was about to happen because you wanted to keep those in your care covid free.
Yeah, lockdown seemed like a long time ago now, but I suppose when the whole issue of covid-19 first came to light, we had was initially put in place an emergency plan for the campus and that was involved a whole series of restructuring bought up from an operation perspective, visits, staffing rosters. And that was what we focused on, was how we could maintain some level of stability in the campus while managing the risks associated at an early stage with this unknown virus.
And while the past couple of months we have, I suppose, readopted ourselves, we've been agile in relation to what we've had to do. And I suppose that that has, I suppose, kept us in a position where we're covid free up to today and hopefully that'll continue.
Now, one of the things I've been looking at, the measures that you introduced Zoome type calls instead of visitations because people could not come in from the outside and visit to add to your young charges, but that actually turned out to be quite a hit.
Yeah, I think initially when the government decision was to restrict our movement, informing parents, families that visit on campus were to cease immediately created its own anxiety. So very quickly, within a number of days, we looked at the whole concept of virtual visits. So we hadn't actually experienced that previously. It was all on site visits. So we developed a whole mechanism of engaging with families where it starts off as face time, but it developed into Zoome and other other mediums.
But some of the feedback we got bought from families and young people at the time was the benefit. Some families found it difficult to travel from different parts of the country to Pakistan and all of a sudden there was an option now to have contact with their their children on a more regular basis. But also what we found was a feedback from young people is that, you know, the concept of a virtual call into the house, they could see other family members, they could see pets.
And it allowed, I suppose, the level of stability which we required over that period of time because of the non-direct contact with family members. That was quite helpful. And it's something that we have continued to have in place. I mean, we've kind of bespoke at the moment in relation to direct visits and factory visits, but that was a real eye opener for us.
Now, some people benefited greatly. They got early release. How did you go about deciding who would get early release?
I suppose, again, when when you look back to last March and April, the concerns we had was should covid-19 come to campus, there would be very substantial restrictions on the campus. So we began to look at, you know, people that were due to leave in the following months. And we determined Tehrik I see five criteria for young people to be considered. One is some place to go to was around Atlanta sentences and also at the terminals around the offending behaviour from which they were placed with us.
The fourth and fifth looked at objections from Gardez or probation services around the possibility of young people leaving was we looked at the behavior that young people had to be displaying on campus. So over, I suppose, three or four months, we've had up to 20 young people at various times who were due to be released. We get them early released temporarily. But there was a contract drawn up with them in regard to their behavior and what they were expected to do and attend and manage at home.
And they were quite successful now court appearances and not really on. So things might have stalled things that needed to be done in terms of court appearances. You managed to do those remotely as well.
You know, prior to the covid-19 lockdown, we would have had one or two young people that had attended court to video conferencing from time. We have the facilities in overstand to have video conferencing. That was something that was established when the buildings were put in place a number of years ago, however, as well as the infrastructure throughout the other courts, the courts in the country. We're not as structured as they need to be, however, there's been substantial changes made by the court services and all of a sudden court video conferencing became part and parcel of our routine.
So we went from, you know, very, very, very few accessing courts to almost two thirds of young people being in a position to avail of video conferencing. During that period of time, there was always a requirement for some young people to attend court in person because of the offences are because of the status of the court settings. So, again, what happened is that's become part and parcel of an approach now where there is some video conferencing and also some that saves on resources as well.
Now, what about teaching?
Because one of the most impressive things I saw in overstand was that the classrooms and where kids might even be in very small numbers, not quite one on one, although sometimes it would happen, but two on one or three on one with the teacher. How have you managed to keep teaching going?
Well, today, the school is opening on campus after quite a few number of months closed. And you know where they come back to teach us today to to the school and to the campus, as was in March when it when it shut down again, there was a real challenge for everybody around how that was going to be delivered. Our young people are not, I suppose, the best in relation to working on different platforms for education. But attempts were made to manage to provide education by teachers from home into the classrooms and out of our care.
Staff tried to support young people attending classes. But again, as you'd be aware, most young people over that period of time were focused on junior. Certainly concert and attendance and engagement was difficult for ourselves, but not more difficult, I think, for a lot of young people out in the community and also for parents to trying to continue to motivate young people to engage in education, even though the school regime is what the school is back now.
What about mask's? Will your students be wearing masks and the teachers wearing masks?
No, our teachers, our sorry, our students don't wear masks. I suppose we've we've developed a system across the campus where each unit there are up to eight young people living in a unit. They're apart their family unit. They don't mix with other young people across the campus. And our care staff and our other staff that work directly with them are supposed to work indoors, Hobson itself. So in the school, the teachers will have the option to wear masks or visors.
However, our classrooms are well geared for social distancing three young people to a classroom with one teacher. We anticipate there shouldn't be any challenges with that.
Yeah, I mean, the teachers probably need not fear going into the classroom because you've got a covid free campus at the moment. But, you know, there are people coming and going who go home and so on. Do your prison staff. I was going to say prison officers, but they're not the detention staff, should we say. Do they wear masks?
On campus and mix with their families and so on? Yeah, they do.
And I also the big focus for us, our sense of being how adults behave out in the community is the key issue rather than the young people they know there's no risk to for troubled young people because they're living there on a full time basis. So like anybody in the community, when you go out, you need to follow the public health rules, follow government advice. And our staff have been adhering to that. And that has assisted us in keeping the compass covid free.
I mean, the core issue for us has been around handwashing, cough, etiquette and social distancing around the rest of the campus outside of those in the unit. And that has that has been successful in relation to young people coming into campus. We do triage when they come on campus first. Our medical team does medical checks with them. And if there's a requirement for tests, we will do so. I think over the past number of months, we've had six young people that have tested because of symptoms, but they were all throughout Coventry covid free well long may it continue at Patta and maybe we'll talk to you in a week or two when you've had the opening up of the school.
And hopefully you will have maintained that 100 percent covid free records. But Pat Burgum, the director of Overstand Child Detention Centre, thank you very much. Thanks for joining us.