An emergency helpline will soon be established at the Welfare Department to better assist persons seeking assistance through Barbados’ social services.
Once implemented, that system will see all calls for help being addressed by giving persons the ability to leave a message in situations when there is no one to physically answer the telephone.
Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Kirk Humphrey, said the telephone number for this service would soon be announced, but in the interim, persons in need of assistance could contact the department at 535-4673 or 535-HOPE.
Speaking during a tour of the Soroptimist Senior Citizens’ Village in Eden Lodge, St. Michael, recently, the Minister noted that the Welfare Department received over 30, 000 calls for assistance per month.
“Most of our agencies are oversubscribed,” he stated, adding there was also a need to allow more people to access social services and to highlight what was on offer.
At the same time, Mr. Humphrey stressed that there was a need to understand “in real terms” how many people were poor; the standard for poverty; how many people were indigent, and how many were vulnerable.
“That is why it is going be important to do another poverty assessment to get it in real scientific terms, so that I am not just giving you numbers as to what the poverty line is, and who falls below the poverty line, or who falls below the indigent line and the vulnerability line,” he outlined.
He explained that a basic model for social services was identification. That, he said, involved identifying who the persons were; stabilising them through various interventions, and enablement to train and empower them to do work.
“Our model is like a prism. And at the end, the prism is identification and stabilisation, and at the top, the very narrow top, is enablement and empowerment,” he said.
But, the Minister outlined the need for social services to “flip” and expand its programming for enablement and empowerment to move people off welfare and out of contact with the social services sector. “It is a whole paradigm shift, a mindset shift,” he said.
He also underscored the need for training for social workers and other officers working within the social services to ensure that people are treated with respect when they try to access the services.
“One concern that a lot of the public has had over time is that they do not get treated with respect when engaging the Social Services Department. And this is something that we really have to be able to work on,” he noted.
However, Mr. Humphrey acknowledged that “the pressure is just unreal” with one welfare officer having 500 cases. As a result, he stated that it was important to address the issues at all levels.