As the COVID–19 pandemic moves into the endemic stage, the Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs turns its focus to envisioning and creating our post-COVID norms and practices which would inform our nation’s development. Central to this visioning exercise is the Independence theme for 2022: Refocus, Redesign, Recreate! These will be our watch words and pillars upon which the Ministry will undertake to fulfill its mandate for 2023.
Mental Health and Well-being
The pandemic has highlighted the need for self-care as a critical component to happiness and fulfillment. In 2022, the Counseling Unit was rebranded as the National Counseling Center. Their mandate is to support the mental health and well-being of all citizens and residents of the Federation. In 2023, the Center, through collaborations with School Guidance Counselors and the Mental Health Association, will undertake advocacy and awareness-raising activities to promote self-care and mental wellness amongst the populace.
The many years of advocacy and awareness campaigns coupled with the effects of the pandemic have opened the consciousness and increased commitment of individuals and their employers to the value of mental wellness. The National Counseling Center understands its mandate to provide such clinical services to the poor and most vulnerable persons for a nominal fee or fully subsidized cost. The opportunity has presented itself, however, for the Center’s services to be accessible to populations with a disposable income and insurance provisions that would permit the introduction of a sliding scale fee structure. This will be fully implemented in 2023.
Finally, the National Counseling Center will further diversify its service options to include group counselling and teletherapy. These would ensure that communities of support can be established and provided based on presented issues and that service be provided regardless of where the client is in the acceptance and treatment of their mental health issues.
Child Protection and Justice Service
In 2022 the USAID-funded and OECS Commission-administered Juvenile Justice Reform Project came to an end after ten (10) years of operation. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis benefitted significantly from this project through the adoption of the model family law suite of legislations inclusive of the Child Justice Act (2013), the Child (Care) and Adoption Act (2012) and the Guardianship, Custody and Access Act (2012); technical support to the New Horizons Juvenile Rehabilitation Center and capacity building and best practice sharing exercises for the staff of the Department of Probation and Child Protection Services. The responsibility is now that of the Ministry to sustain and build upon the gains from that Project to further enhance the child care and protection services.
The focus for 2023 will be on the following areas:
- The establishment of operational guidelines and standards to support the Department’s operations in compliance with our local, regional and international commitments.
- The establishment and rebuilding of networks with stakeholders who are key to childcare, protection and justice systems. These would include, but are not limited to children, parents, School Guidance Counselors, School Administrators, Magistrates, Police Officers, Ministry of Health officials particularly community and institutional care providers.
- The provision of evidence-based, legally sound prevention, intervention and rehabilitative services to children, parents and other support systems involved in the care of children.
- The full utilization of multi-modal means of communication, information sharing and awareness raising of issues critical to the development and best interest of our children.
Gender Equality and Development
In 2022, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis presented for peer review the combined 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Periodic Reports of State Parties under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women for the period 2002-2017 in Geneva Switzerland. The report from this activity will be used to support the full implementation of the National Gender Equality Policy and Plan of Action which received Cabinet approval in March 2022.
Social Protection and Community Development
The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected key data-gathering exercises to assist with the definition of poverty and vulnerability and the classification and identification of the affected individuals and populations. These exercises include the National Population and Housing Census (2021) and the Enhanced Country Poverty Assessment (2019-2020). Despite these data collection challenges, the Ministry continues to support the poor and vulnerable populations through the provision of social protection programs that address hunger and food insecurity, education supplemental needs and medical expenses.
During the latter part of the third quarter of 2022, the Ministry formally received operational responsibility for the largest non-contributory, direct cash transfer social protection programme – the Poverty Alleviation Program.
With the transfer of responsibilities for programmes and activities for seniors and persons living with disabilities from the Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs to the newly configured Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Ageing and Disabilities, the Department of Social Services will be focused on the provision of social protection services to our poor and vulnerable populations with particular focus on the regularization of the Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP).
Regularization will include the following provisions:
- The introduction of an online application form: A digital application form allows for individuals to protect their privacy by completing the application form in their comfort as opposed to journeying to a physical space to accomplish the same. The response from the online application process for the COVID–19 Stimulus Programmes demonstrates a proliferation of devices and internet connectivity to support this exercise.
- Re-registration of all eligible households to address inclusion and exclusion errors: The Ministry received all paperwork related to the Poverty Alleviation Program on October 3rd 2022. A review of the enrolled populations highlighted extensive inclusion errors as multiple members in the same households and persons earning above the three thousand dollar ($3,000) gross income threshold were included. Conversely, there were extensive exclusion errors as households that should have been enrolled were yet to be processed.
- The introduction of case management as modelled after the M.E.N.D. Families in St. Kitts Program: Case management is a process whereby the individual and family unit identifies their gaps and issues to be addressed. The officer will work with the individual and family to connect them with services, programmes and information that are designed to address the gaps or issues. The goal of this process is to develop skills, and knowledge and improve functioning while building resiliency which can be utilized should any other challenge or issue arise.
The seven-pillar approach utilized during the M.EN.D. Families in St. Kitts Programme pilot that ended in 2017 were:
- Education and Skills Development
- Employment and Entrepreneurship
- Family Cohesion (formerly Family Dynamics)
- Health and Wellness
- Financial Literacy and Empowerment (formerly Income)
These pillars reflect areas of self-development and growth for individuals. Through this process a family can successfully graduate from the program to lead an independent life secured in the new knowledge and skills gained to address any future shock or vulnerability.
I use this opportunity to express our continued gratitude and thanks to the regional and international partners whose technical support and financing is critical to the work of the individual Departments of the Ministry. These partners include, but are not limited to UNICEF, United Nations Periodic Review (UPR) Trust Fund, Human Rights Commission, PAHO, USAID, UNWomen, UNDP, UN-ECLAC and the OECS Commission.
I also pause to place on record our profound thanks for our local partners PALS, Mickey’s Hope, A Time for Us Foundation, Garden of Rebirth, The Children’s Home, The Bar Association, The Rotary Clubs of St. Kitts and Liamuiga, The National Association for Persons with Disabilities, the St. Christopher and Nevis Social Security Board, the St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the numerous other individuals and agencies who donated their time, skills and resources to the care and support of the most vulnerable in our society.
Hon. Isalean C Phillip
Junior Minister of Social Development and Gender Affairs