Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley. (FP)

Government will be embarking on three major interventions to address and arrest the problems of poverty, violence and indiscipline in schools and the wider society.

This follows a stakeholders’ meeting on Saturday at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre with Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley; Minister of Education, Santia Bradshaw; senior education officials; representatives of teachers’ unions, police, the military and non-governmental organizations to discuss pertinent issues in the educational sector.

Speaking to the media after the marathon meeting, Prime Minister Mottley disclosed that there will be a national mission to save 500 of the most vulnerable families across Barbados, which government would embark on over the next 18 months.

This, she explained, is in an effort to break the cycle of poverty within families. Admittedly, she said it would take approximately five to seven years “to move a particular family from a point of dependence to a point of independence, to a point of giving back to the society”.

Ms. Mottley outlined the details of this intervention.

“There will be a framework determined by the social workers to allow us to identify who those most vulnerable of families are.  That audit will also be complemented by information coming from principals as well as those who are already in the criminal justice system as young people, invariably below the age of maturity. That audit of those families will then allow us to intervene across every sectoral entity… be it working with the stakeholders in the social partnership to help position them for training or jobs.”

She continued: “We’ve agreed that we will start with 30 families in each of the least populous parishes – from St. Lucy right back down for all, except Christ Church, St. James, St. Philip, where we will do 50 each and in St. Michael, where we will do 100 because of the populous nature.  That brings us to roughly 460, and then we felt that there would be others that might crop up…and hence we rounded it off for budgeting purposes at 500.”

The Prime Minister revealed that the second intervention involved providing structural activities for young people by injecting money to train them in sports and culture, with $2.5 million going to the National Cultural Foundation and the National Sports Council each.  The finances for this undertaking was set aside at the end of the last fiscal year, she noted. 

Additionally, Ms. Mottley said government would also give $1.5 million to the Barbados Defence Force to fund the sea cadets and would finance positive entities, such as the Prince’s Trust, and civic organizations, like the Nature Fun Ranch,that are making a significant difference in how they are training and keeping structured activity for young people who are not now involved in any kind of group activity”.

“This is without prejudice to us working with other private sector agencies, like Supreme Counselling [for Personal Development], who will be more working in schools, as opposed to what I call structured afterschool activity.  People must have passion beyond school and there must be something that keeps them engaged and involved, if not they will find themselves going to other activities,” Ms. Mottley emphasized.

The third intervention will be the establishment of a new day facility for at-risk youth, which will cater to those young people who cannot be intercepted by the programme currently provided by the Edna Nicholls Centre.

This day facility will eventually “morph” into a residential facility for youngsters who are deemed as disruptive influences in the schools which they attend, Prime Minister Mottley said.  

Figures provided by principals indicated that there were about 200 children from various secondary schools who exhibited this type of behaviour. However, Ms. Mottley said the situation still required urgent and critical intervention.

She emphasized that government had taken a zero tolerance approach to violence.

The new facility will be created in stages, she pointed out.  In the short term, within the next two weeks, government will establish a team to help it manage “the process of helping to stabilize, understand and educate these children who are most at risk, and who are exhibiting these difficulties in behaviour”.

The Ministry of Education is also expected to draft a policy paper that will instruct the attorney general so that the day facility could be turned into a residential facility.  

The latter will take two sets of deviants – those children whose parents request urgent intervention and give their consent, and those whom, in the absence of parental consent, the Chief Education Officer concludes, in consultation with principals, social workers and psychologists, need intervention.

In the meantime, Ms. Mottley said government would work with the Barbados Defence Force to make space and facilities available for the day facility, which would also supplement New Horizons Academy, an institution for deviant school children which is run by the Ministry of Education.

“That academy, I am instructed has in fact reached its limits, and therefore, we are going to parallel the two types of facilities – one that will have a far more rigorous, disciplined boot camp-like approach, and the other one being the continued efforts of the New Horizons Academy,” she explained.

In addition to these measures, Ms. Mottley, said there would be increased joint patrols between the Royal Barbados Police Force and the Barbados Defence Force outside of schools, along the routes where children travelled and in the bus terminals, as part of government’s zero tolerance approach to violence.

The Prime Minister noted that charging children would be a last option for law enforcement.

“There is a Juvenile Liaison Scheme which is intended for us to work with young people and give them a chance.  It is only where young people are either resistant to being talked to, or that the crime committed is so serious that there is absolutely no way to avoid public charging,” she surmised.

Ms. Mottley, who is also Minister of Finance, said her ministry had made its resources available to facilitate this core framework of actions and interventions.

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