♦ The following statement was released on Friday, November 9, 2018 in response to the Speech From The Throne by the Coalition for the Protection of Children

We are encouraged by the government’s clear commitment to dismantling systems of inequality through several restorative initiatives that include lowering energy and healthcare costs, mortgage relief and tax reform. Ensuring that locals enjoy equal job opportunities and seeking new industry for employment will be instrumental in the departure from increasing poverty. Exploring and implementing ways to reduce costs, particularly with necessity items as well as the implementation of a living wage will be crucial in reducing disparities.

Support for an increase in paid maternity leave, as well as an upgrade to the Child Support Legislation are long overdue so we are pleased that is being addressed. We had hoped to find reference to the business of child care delivery and the overarching protection of children. An essential element of government is to ensure that our young people grow up in a safe, healthy and nurturing environment, are shielded from predators, and are not put at risk. A focus on stopping the cycle of abuse and trauma, while strengthening the social safety-net is a charge for all of us but must be emphasised by our leaders. We have heard discussions of this intent but actions like mandating treatment for sex-offenders, ensuring that predators have supervision upon release and enforcing restrictions on access to children will be vital towards that effort. 

Having a Litigation Guardian for children in Court is a must. This should be employed for minors whose custody, care and control is before the courts and/or in cases of child abuse. Children’s rights and vulnerabilities should be protected at all costs by an objective person who is not bound by any other personal or professional mandate.

Preventative education and effective intervention methods addressing gang activity, substance abuse issues and the responsible use of technology will also be imperative so that children learn at a very young age how profoundly these issues can impact people’s lives. We continue to ask that a Responsible Use of Technology Policy will be adopted by the Ministry of Education in all schools.

Education

We are looking to hear more about the clear plan that expands on the available opportunities for our students and sees  our young people through to the “College Promise”.

Early interventions remain critical for children. We continue with our call for social workers to be on school grounds providing assessments, interventions and the much needed support for both teachers and counsellors. In cases where students are presenting with behavioural issues, we are seeking a departure from punitive measures to a more effective, restorative approach. This should include individual service plans for each identified ‘at risk’ youth.

Financial Assistance Reform

The F.A. Program is one that should ensure that Bermuda’s most vulnerable have access to the basic needs that many take for granted. There is a harsh reality that the cost of living in Bermuda is much too high, which inhibits a person’s self-esteem and belief that they can be self-sufficient. Allowing individuals to access higher education, without fear of penalty from FA, will support in increasing self-worth and the overall goal of sustainable self-sufficiency. We support a more individualized approach to the assessment of needs. Additionally, we would like to see a collaborative approach with other government agencies and community organizations, in order to further assist with creating a more holistic and realistic approach to addressing individual needs. Focus should be placed on working with families therapeutically in order to shift from living in crisis towards preventative action and responsible decision making. 

Mediation

We support and promote the practice of mediation for families so that the best interests of the child are at the core of the decision making process. We are pleased to learn that this restorative approach will be utilized through a Unified Family Court and Mediation Centre (UFCMC).

Overall, we see less of a focus on our vulnerable youth this year and were hoping for more emphasis on our most valuable asset: our children. However, we do see some positive initiatives in this year’s Throne Speech. We look forward to seeing action items relating to these commitments that track areas where families struggle and require assistance. We hope to see a shift in the way in which we care for children and their families, protect their welfare, and prepare them for the future as these are the most important issues we face during our lifetime. The Coalition remains dedicated to working with this administration in the formulation of goals and strategies which address the root cause of issues in order to have lasting impact on future generations.

 Kelly Hunt, Executive Director, Coalition for the Protection of Children

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