Column: IAC Response To 2020 Throne Speech

November 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

[Opinion column written by Dr Nicola Paugh]

The Inter Agency Committee for Children and Families [IAC] welcomes the Government’s 2020 Throne Speech. From early in the speech and throughout, the Government makes a clear commitment to social priorities.

In 2014, IAC conducted a comprehensive Assessment of the Situation of Children and Families in Bermuda, which culminated in a national Children’s Agenda. The Children’s Agenda identified 8 critical priorities for ensuring child safety, wellbeing and permanency. These 8 priorities reflect the needs of the community and recognize that while all children are vulnerable, there are some who are more vulnerable than others and whose plights are exacerbated because of historical and institutional political, social, and economic barriers. The Children’s Agenda is a platform to address these barriers and it provides a vision for achieving greater social justice in Bermuda.

The 2020 Throne Speech addresses important aspects of the Children’s Agenda. The Speech ends with a strong statement that “in quiet moments, we may yean for a return to the normal, but in that normal, too many Bermudians lacked opportunity; too many Bermudians lacked the chance to build for their families that which some inherited as a matter of right; and too many Bermudians were denied the tools to break a cycle of multi-generational trauma and violence. To that normal we will not return.”

Breaking cycles of generational trauma and violence is a prominent theme of the Children’s Agenda. In 2019, IAC’s social sector stakeholders identified the ongoing need to prevent and address trauma and abuse while building a more restorative and nurturing culture as social priorities.

The development of a National Youth Policy that will involve the opinions and perspectives of youth is vital, including the stated review of programmes and services to assess for “effective delivery.” IAC’s recent Compassionate Care research showed there are there are barriers preventing effective, compassionate and nurturing service delivery. Strengthening policy in this regard is important.

IAC recommends that the National Youth Policy must include enhanced youth worker standards and make provision for mandatory training of all adults who work with children, youth and families. These standards must address the ability of professionals to understand, identify and respond to trauma effectively. This will aid in bolstering earlier and more effective prevention and intervention.

Breaking multi-generational cycles of trauma and adversity cannot be accomplished by one social programme or intervention. It takes a comprehensive continuum of care throughout the lifecycle of those affected. Supports for young adults, in particular black young adults and young adult males, is a recognized gap in social services. The Government’s introduction of Independent Living Coordinators will assist in expanding the current continuum of care by ensuring those aging out of government care continue to receive the support they need in their path to independence. Addressing this gap is significant.

However, these services only address one segment of the young adults in need of greater support. It is also critical to implement or support interventions for young adults who were not on the caseload of the Department of Child and Families Services, but who also experience risk and require supportive services.

The replacing of the Child Care Placement Board with a Children’s Commission has potential to strengthen child safeguarding. This past year has shown there are challenges with child protection and child safeguarding in Bermuda, and thus a Commission with greater emphasis on child advocacy is positive. A Children’s Commission whose remit is to “advocate for the children in care, promoting best practice policy, programmes and service responses” is positive, but effectiveness will also depend on its level of independence. It is vital that the Children’s Commission have autonomy from Government and that it involves key Third Sector stakeholders to ensure maximum accountability of the Commission.

Our community continues to experience devastating loss and trauma due to violent crime. IAC supports the Throne Speech statement in reference to crime and policing that prioritizes “prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration.” This reflects greater emphasis on a restorative framework versus a more traditional zero-tolerance and punitive approach. This focus is welcome, and should be extended beyond the criminal justice system to schools and other social institutions.

It is our position, that focusing on prevention is not only a social and moral imperative, but it is a more cost-effective approach. Research shows that a dollar in prevention has far more return on investment than the cost of taking an individual through the criminal justice system. Allocating resources to prevention takes strong leadership because the tangible benefits take longer to realize. IAC applauds the Government for its efforts towards a strengthened prevention focus.

Education is one of the most critical prevention factors. The focus on education reform and achieving greater accountability across the education system is desperately needed. Those who choose a career serving students must be held to account for their performance. They must also be supported. Teaching is a high-stress job, with research showing that compassion fatigue and burnout serve as major barriers to performance.

The Government must hold school leadership and staff accountable but also ensure policies and practices exist to support their wellness and personal development in addition to more traditional professional development. The same applies for all youth- serving professionals.

Finally the ability for families to afford to live independently with dignity is not only a critical social prevention factor, but is a basic human right. IAC endorses the Government’s continued focus on wage and tax reform to realize minimum living wages and a more equitable financial structure.

IAC’s vision is for “a just and equitable society where children and families thrive.” We exist to strengthen the capacity of agencies to respond to the changing needs of children, families and the community. Policy change is an important component in supporting the services that social sector professionals are able to deliver. IAC hopes that the important social policy priorities identified by the Government will be pursued with the same strong leadership, accountability and transparency that our Government has shown in its response to the COVID 19 pandemic.

- Nicola Paugh, IAC Programme Coordinator

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