Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Kirk Humphrey, (FP)

Social protection agencies, like the Welfare Department, provide more than “handouts” to the public, but the true extent of their reach and contribution is often misunderstood.

That was the assessment of Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Kirk Humphrey, following tours to state agencies in the social services sector on Monday.

He was joined by Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry, Corey Lane; Permanent Secretary, Gabrielle Springer; Deputy Permanent Secretary, Mark Franklin, and department heads.

After touring and interacting with staff at the Welfare Department’s headquarters on Roebuck Street, St. Michael, the Minister lamented the fact that most people see it as an agency for only providing national assistance, and do not recognise the work it does in family or counselling services.

“I want the public to understand that over the next few weeks, months, years, what social services are in Barbados; what they do, and the reason why we have to move from the fragmented delivery of social services to a unified delivery of social services through the Department of Family Services,” the Minister said.

He added that the time had come for Barbados to implement its social protection policy and programme to the fullest as the current capacity contained gaps that needed to be filled.

“There are gaps in terms of our policy implementation, but there are [also] gaps in our physical restrictions as well.  We have to be able to fill those gaps,” Mr. Humphrey stated.

He further noted that while there are “very serious issues” in Barbados, the social services sector does not get the level of recognition that it deserves, despite the yeomen service of staff.

Mr. Humphrey commended the staff in the social services sector who were on the frontline during the pandemic.

“The Welfare Department was active all through the pandemic and the Child Care Board staff have been dealing with the nation’s children even as schools were closed. In many ways the social services staff have been the quiet unsung heroes of this pandemic,” he stated.

Chief Welfare Officer, Deborah Norville, echoed the Minister’s sentiments, stating that her department was responsible for more than handouts, in terms of cash grants, food and rent payments.

“A lot of our work is trying to keep families together, whether it is trying to address a situation of violence in the household, whether it is addressing a situation of custody, dispute, or even maintenance for children,” she said, adding that she was looking forward to the pending changes.

She was joined by Acting Director of the Child Care Board, Roseanne Richards, who noted that the amalgamation of social services would be to the benefit of all, with services being accessed from one location, thereby reducing duplication.

I hope that at the end of the day, we can become the best social protection agency, not just in Barbados, but across the region,” she said.

The touring party also visited the Child Care Board, National Disabilities Unit (NDU) headquarters, the Barbados Council for the Disabled, the NDU’s Mangrove Agricultural project and the Sterling Children’s Home.

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