Government closes criticized Playa Ancha center for children

SANTIAGO – On March 13, the government closed the Playa Ancha residential center for children. It is the first of many such closures. The Piñera administration is restructuring these services and replacing the related state agency with a new Child Protection Service.

On March 13, President Sebastián Piñera finalized the closure of the Playa Ancha residential center for children, or CREAD (Spanish acronym), in Valparaíso. The center sought to help at-risk children and was run by the existing state agency in charge of protecting and administering the legal rights of minors, Sename (Spanish contraction).

A necessary change

The government said it closed the Playa Ancha CREAD because it “was not delivering the protection that the kids needed,” it was not performing the “obligatory principle of caring for and protecting them.”

At one point the center had as many as 120 minors, but that number was down to about 80 when the last residents left the center on February 26.

The center was the first to close because it had a long history of complaints. According to BioBioChile, a 14-year-old violated an 11-year-old at the institution in 2018. The media also reported complaints that caregivers beat, tortured, and were otherwise violent with the children. A United Nations committee also petitioned for its closure after a delegation visited it in January.

Piñera announced the definitive closure at a ceremony in Valparaíso, as reported by La Tercera; and he said, “it is obvious and evident that it is enough to look at the amount of bars, locks, high walls, the lack of green spaces, that it was very difficult for a child to be rehabilitated from the damage that society itself had caused.” He added, “This is not a familiar environment under any kind of view. So from the beginning we made the decision to close this Playa Ancha CREAD, but, beyond that, close all [such centers] in Chile. And replace them with another concept from another model, which is a house where the family environment is reproduced as best as possible.”

The first of many

According to the presidency press site, in the next two years there will be more closures of these institutions in order to “install the change of the model to promote family reunification, foster care in host families and, when that is not possible, [at least] use family residences.”

The Playa Ancha CREAD will be replaced by four new family residences which are located in Cerro Alegre, Viña del Mar, Villa Alemana, and Quillota; and, according to La Tercera, these new places “have personal spaces” and “children can move freely as anyone in their home, and they are located in neighborhoods so that children can join them and be included in community dynamics.”

The media also report that during 2019 the closure of another 4 centers is expected, 2 in the Metropolitan region, 1 in the Biobío region, and 1 in the Arica region. These four centers will be replaced by 14 homes: 11 family residences and 3 “high specialty residences.”

A new structure: Child Protection Service

These closures are part of a bigger plan by President Piñera to create a new Child Protection Service and eliminate the current Sename.  

As reported by La Tercera, the stated goal is that minors receive a system that takes care to work with the family and that pays attention to the needs of children under 14 who commit criminal acts and those who are separated from their families by judicial order.

This new project is also intended to complement the Youth Reintegration Service, which is already in legislative process and seeks to establish a new institutional framework and a new procedure for the application of penal sanctions to minors, as explained on Chile’s Library of Congress site.

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