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Chief Education Officer, Laurie King (second from left) with newly-appointed, Deputy Chief Education Officer, Karen Best and HIV Aids Coordinator in the Ministry of Education, Reverend Hughson Inniss (at right). At the far left is Senior Attendance Officer, John Hollingsworth. (C. Pitt/BGIS)

A more integrated approach has been recommended to meet the special needs of students who have been deemed to be ???at risk’.

This was stressed yesterday by Chief Education Officer Laurie King, as he addressed the inaugural Barbados Students at Risk Conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

Mr. King said: "The costs of the risks to the student, to the family, to the school and to the society as a whole are too great to be ignored. When these risks are considered, we lament on the effects of substance abuse including mental illness and criminal behaviour; antisocial behaviours like sexual promiscuity and its

correlation to pregnancies and sexually transmitted illnesses; violence with its physical and social consequences on perpetrators and victims; the learning disabilities that result from exposure to these issues and the loss of the productive capacity of our most productive sector of our population."

Explaining the further impact, Mr. King noted: "When these issues are faced by students, they exhibit low self-esteem and as a consequence, they do not experience success in school and are potential dropouts. At-risk students tend not to participate in school activities and have minimal identification with the school. They have disciplinary and truancy problems that lead to credit problems. They exhibit impulsive behaviour and their peer relationships can be problematic. As they experience failure and fall behind their peers, school becomes a negative environment that reinforces their low self-esteem."

He noted too that as a responsible and caring government, Barbados had to minimise or eliminate the conditions that caused students to be classified as at risk. "Where that meets with limited success we must then seek to provide appropriate programmes and services to counteract the challenges presented by the issues faced by these children," Mr. King outlined, admitting that it was no easy task and that society needed to play its part.

He continued: "We have to draw on all of our resources to make sure that every affected child is afforded the opportunity to shape their lives into productive citizens.

The resources are there but what is necessary and what would make the difference is our ability to effectively coordinate programmes and services across Ministries, departments and non-governmental organisations to the benefit of students. I, too, have heard the reverb of the heavy caseloads of social service practitioners.

"But, I also know that many of the same families whose children are classified as students at risk are clients of the Welfare Department and are known by the Child Care Board. The adolescents may have had interventions from the Probation Department or the Juvenile Liaison Scheme; they might be beneficiaries of services from the Ministry of Housing and the Rural or Urban Development Commissions; their grandparents receive services from the National Assistance Board; [or] the Community Development Department may be active in their area and the Ministry of Health expends significant resources in their households."

The Chief Education Officer contended that the answer was in finding the right balance. And, he pointed out that there was already a cadre of administrators including Guidance Counsellors within the schools that was supported by the Student Support Services Unit of the Ministry and its complement of social workers, psychologists and special needs educators.??

He said: "Together, they grapple daily with the myriad of challenges presented by the excess of 50,000 students. The tasks they face are daunting at times especially when there is heavy reliance on support from external agencies that have

their own priorities. I believe the time has come for the intensification of the Identification, Stabilisation, Enablement and Empowerment (ISEE) Bridge Concept as a coordinating mechanism to address social ills in Barbados. We can no longer afford to neglect the hardships, of which at risk students are only symptoms, experienced by families across Barbados," Mr. King maintained.

joy-ann.gill@barbados.gov.bb

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