Published 22nd August 2013, 3:13pm
Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin put on his ministerial hat this week as he toured some of the departments and entities under the Ministry of Community Affairs.
Mr. McLaughlin advised staff members in his Ministry that the first three months have been challenging as his Administration works to get the country back on course, and while he desired to meet with them sooner, timing would not allow. He said he wanted to meet with them all to better understand their needs, challenges and desires before the budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year is finalised.
The tour started at the Family Resource Centre on Walkers Road where he learned of a dedicated staff working, in difficult environments, to assist families in the Cayman Islands.
“I really want to spend time to learn what you do and how it works,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “I want to take this opportunity for you all to talk with me about the issues.”
Director of Counselling Services Judith Seymour told the Premier that the remit of the Family Resource Centre has changed over the years to helping families experiencing a variety of crises.
To help families cope and stay together, the Resource Centre offers several programmes and monthly events.
The programmes focus on building family skills, domestic violence intervention, healthy relationships, fathering, child sexual abuse prevention, bullying in schools and more.
“We’re not here to tell them what to do, we’re here to support them in their needs,” said Miriam Foster, programme coordinator for the Resource Centre.
The Premier was informed that the need for the Resource Centre’s services gets larger every year as more and more families seek them out, with staff members working many long days to meet client service needs.
At The Counselling Centre at Royal Plaza Office in George Town, the Hon. Premier was advised that therapists are also seeing an increase in a need for their services. Despite a reduction in Counsellors, Each councillor sees 105-130 new people each year, which equates to between 700-900 clients presenting for services per year.
The Counselling Centre works in tandem with the Family Resource Centre and Caribbean Haven Residential Centre as part of the continuum of services offered by the Department and provides outpatient services to assist those interested in making changes and improving their lives both on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman.
Services include individual therapy, couples and family therapy, specialised group therapy, addiction treatment, education workshops and presentations, and a driving under the influence programme.
Donald Potkins, Deputy Director of the Centre, said therapists there don’t treat behaviours; they get to the root cause of those behaviours.
“If we don’t start to deal with the underlying issues, we’re always going to be putting out fires,” he said.
He said if therapists can work with families that are at risk before problems manifest themselves, the Government could make meaningful improvements and realise a cost in savings to the country.
“Every government dollar put into prevention pays back 10 in costs to the medical system, hospitals, prison, police. You don’t see the effect right away. It’s a long term process,” Mr. Potkins said.
Working with at-risk families - while the children are still young - could also help the country address gang cultures.
“Gangs are multi-generational now and strengthening in their belief systems,” said Susanne Clements of Counselling Services. “The longer we leave this, the worse it is going to get.”
Ms Seymour said the increase in persons presenting for services could be due to several reasons, one of which could be a combination of people who experienced significant distress post-Hurricane Ivan coupled with the additional stress brought on by the financial crisis, which followed closely.
“We always said it’s going to come and it has in combination with the financial crisis,” she said.
Staff discussed the possibility of a National Prevention Programme, which was discussed in 2003 but has never been enacted. The programme is designed for children to help build protective factors and reduce the impact of risk factors.
“The cost to develop it isn’t huge, but the payoffs are astronomical,” said Mr. Potkins, who added that if the programme had been in place, there probably wouldn’t be an overcrowded prison in the Cayman Islands now.
Ms Seymour commented that “we have to take a comprehensive approach to our services and not operate across government in silos.”
“I would like to see a presentation,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I’ve been concerned for many years that we’re going about this the wrong way.”
At Maple House, the Hon. Premier was met by a welcoming staff and residents. He toured the facility, which is home to disabled young people, and learned that more space is desired to serve more clients. There are seven males and two females at the home, which is at full capacity.
“We have limited resources to work with, but we do the best we can,” said Jen Dixon, Director of the Department of Children and Family Services.
While visiting Ms Dixon’s department at BritCay House, the Hon. Premier met the George Town staff where he was told the social workers there have their hands full dealing with the new Children’s Law.
The Department is responsible for the full scope of therapeutic social work interventions required to address the varied child protective, delinquency, and family issues; residential care for children; adoption services; foster care services; services relating to the Juvenile Court and Youth Court matters; policy advice; a full range of social work services; day and residential care for indigent elderly adults; school lunch programme; duties of the shelter operations sub-committee of Hazard Management Cayman Islands; needs assessments for poor relief, medical, indigent housing repairs; means Assessment for Maintenance Court; direct services to the Family Support Unit, Maintenance Court, health services, schools and other related agencies; and management of adult care facilities operated by the Department.
“We’re juggling some challenges, but I have to commend the staff,” said Ms Dixon.
Mr. McLaughlin told the staff that he is cognisant of his responsibilities as Community Affairs Minister.
“I do have a fair grasp of the challenges out there, but it is important for me to see the issues and challenges first hand,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the hard work and dedication of the staff of Children and Family Services, Cayman wouldn’t be an ideal place to live.”
The Hon. Premier and the Acting Chief Officer thanked all staff for their efforts.
The Hon. Premier continues his tour on Friday, 23 August, 2013.