Column: Improving Social Conditions In Bermuda

June 3, 2020

[Opinion column written by Elisabeth Kast & Nicola Paugh]

The murder of George Floyd triggered widespread outcry in the US, internationally and at home in Bermuda. And it should. While we sit 600 miles across an ocean from the US, the underpinnings of the social and racial injustice which exists in the US are no different in Bermuda.

The riots and protests have been akin to the tip of an iceberg, where the under-the-surface realities include histories of income inequality, racial discrimination, healthcare disparities, unaddressed multi-generational trauma, and the list goes on. These same injustices exist and persist in Bermuda.

They manifest through various forms of institutional discrimination which serve to keep marginalized populations oppressed.

Vulnerable black youth face significant challenges in achieving positive life outcomes relative to their less vulnerable, white counterparts. By as young as 8 years of age, some of these children will already be more likely to engage in antisocial behavior, based on a range of risk factors; race is a major component of these risk factors.

Primary-school aged black children are far more likely to be incarcerated by the time they turn 18 than their white peers. This is a grave injustice that has been evidenced in local and international data for decades. It is not just a social and racial justice issue, it is a complex, multifactorial human rights failure.

All people have a right to access the same education, employment, and health outcomes.

In 2014, the Inter Agency Committee for Children and Families [IAC] conducted a comprehensive assessment of the situation facing children and families in Bermuda.

The report demonstrates locally what is evident in the academic literature: that children and families experiencing multiple deprivation were among the most vulnerable, as they tended to suffer from ill health, low educational attainment, unstable homes, involvement in violence, as well as increased vulnerability to abuse, neglect and hunger. These families are predominantly black.

Based on this assessment, IAC drafted a Children’s Agenda identifying eight critical priorities for improving social conditions in Bermuda:

  • 1. Bermuda’s children and families live healthy lifestyles within the context of healthy social norms.
  • 2. Bermuda’s families can afford to live independently and with dignity, supported by a sufficient social safety net, as needed.
  • 3. Bermuda’s children and families live in a nurturing and restorative culture that enables them to feel safe and secure across all spheres of life [school, home, community]; and provides the opportunity, after a period of reformative separation, to re-join mainstream society.
  • 4. Bermuda’s children have access to the support necessary to recover and build resilience from trauma.
  • 5. Bermuda’s children and families have the education and skills necessary to secure a job that allows them to earn a living wage.
  • 6. Bermuda’s children fulfill their greatest potential, by pursuing their creativity and passion
  • 7. Bermuda’s parents have positive parenting tools and techniques that prepare and encourage children.
  • 8. The Bermuda community is empowered to participate in key decisions.

Changes in these priority areas would help to increase equity, opportunity and justice in our community. A recent Forbes article “Greater Capitalism” summarizes the challenges with pursuing these important policy objectives.

“Democracy is structurally poor at long-term outcomes. The cost of imprisoning a person—financially, much less socially—is many multiples of what it would have cost to educate and nurture him properly.”

Investment in early childhood education and prevention supports has proven its return on investment, yet we often cut spending on early intervention and remain willing to spend $80,000 a year to incarcerate one individual in Westgate. The earlier in a person’s life that we address these issues, the greater the returns individually and to the community at large.

However, we rarely see the community rally for these necessities to the extent that it exerts significant enough pressure to cause the ENTIRE system to change.

But with awareness comes opportunity. The hope is that enough of those in our community who are not directly affected by risk, vulnerability, disadvantage, racial injustice and social disparities will join those who are, to collectively raise the political will to address some of the long-standing social challenges in our community.

Can we be a model to the world of how we shift priorities? Decisions on living wages, immigration policies, and education reform are all tough conversations that require a difficult balance between social and economic needs.

We do not currently have the right balance. What are we all willing to advocate for to have a more balanced, just, and united community? The Children’s Agenda presents an opportune starting place for a national advocacy agenda.

To see the full Children’s Agenda of Priorities and associated policy recommendations, please visit here.

- Elisabeth Kast, IAC Advocacy Committee Chairperson & Nicola Paugh, PhD, IAC Programme Coordinator


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  1. Kathy says:

    You forgot number 9. Bermuda’s children should go to school TOGETHER!