With its many challenges emanating from the Covid-19 Pandemic, the year 2020 has proven to be a litmus test for the effectiveness, efficiency and resilience of the Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs. While the pandemic has impacted the entire community, poor and other vulnerable groups are most likely to experience more negative and severe consequences. Social Safety Net Programmes such as those provided by the Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs are therefore intended to aid in the recovery of vulnerable households and by extension, the entire community. In 2021, the Ministry’s vision includes working towards improving the overall effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of our programmes as well as forging strategic partnerships to better respond to the needs of our vulnerable populations, our families and our communities.
Development of National Social Protection Strategy
The Ministry has requested and received support from UNICEF for the review of our National Social Protection Strategy and the development of a National Social Protection Policy and Action Plan. The main objective of this new policy is to steer the creation of an enabling environment for the delivery of equitable, inclusive and integrated social protection interventions in alignment with national priorities. The policy will outline actions for building an effective social protection system that is shock-responsive and easily activated in the event of external shocks such as pandemics and disasters.
Enhanced Psycho-Social Support
Our Counselling Department continues to record increases in requests from institutions and the general public for a variety of services related to mental health treatment initiatives, prevention and intervention work, training and psycho-educational activities, and request for specialized services. Such increases stem from the following:
1) The increasing de-stigmatization of mental health treatment/counselling intervention as a viable course of action to address mental health needs;
2) Increasing cross-cutting initiatives that require the issue of mental health to be considered in most areas;
3) Increased awareness of the benefits of mental health initiatives in all areas of human development.
With the onset of the global COVID pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that mental health needs will significantly increase in the immediate and long-term trends. Accordingly, the WHO has advised countries to assess their response capability expeditiously.
It is envisioned that the response required will include, inter alia, (a) substance use treatment; (b) mental health services for children and adolescents; (c) the ability to respond to increased manifestations of the most common mental health disorders – depression and anxiety. Ideally, with the increased demand for mental health services, it is envisaged that the Counselling Department will be further strengthened during 2021 with a full complement of competent clinical staff in order to increase the Department’s overall capacity to provide effective psycho-social support to its valued clients.
Support for Families
Critical to executing the nation’s social development agenda is reinforcing the Ministry’s commitment towards the strengthening of families as a vital agent of societal transformation. In this regard, the Ministry partnered with USAID/CFYR during 2018 to pilot a family intervention programme in St. Kitts called the Prevention and Intervention Family Systems Model (PIFSM) which was geared towards using a specific and validated model of family intervention. The Family Matters counsellors assigned to execute this Programme has benefited meaningfully from training in areas specific to youth, family development, and family dynamics using effective tools in non-clinical ways to strengthen the functionality of families.
Data analysis, as well as anecdotal feedback from families and Family Matters Counselors, indicates that families felt that the Programme provided them with a life changing experience which is anticipated to be instrumental in charting a positive way forward for many other families. Now that the Project phase with USAID is completed and being implemented solely by Government, the Ministry intends to utilize it to further enhance its support to families pragmatically. One such proposed use of Family Matters Counsellors under the Programme is to facilitate the mentorship of parents who have graduated from the Programme as well as families in communities who may need the parental support but may not meet the criteria for full enrolment in the Programme. Additionally, some families may meet the requirements but may not wish to engage in the Programme at a time fully.
The Counselling Department envisions that the Family Matters Intervention model will continue to be utilized as a useful tool to help families address youth-related issues in the normalcy of a family setting without the need for specialized clinical intervention. It is also the intention that this Programme be complementary to other executed child/family directed services within the Ministry, namely: (1) in probation and child welfare matters where at-risk youths are concerned, (2) the New Horizons Rehabilitation Centre (NHRC) service provided to transform the lives of youths who come into conflict with the law, facilitate their seamless return to their families, and their reintegration into mainstream of society and, (3) social assistance services (like Food voucher programme) which seek to address socio-economic vulnerabilities that impact the ability of parents and households to perform their respective role effectively.
Support for Children
The Ministry believes that a safer stronger future would be best secured by ensuring that children of today are guaranteed the inalienable right to enjoy the one opportunity to live and grow as children, protected from all forms of abuse and neglect. However, associated with the socio-economic impact of the COVID19 pandemic alongside other critical factors is the Federation’s increasing numbers of cases of child abuse and neglect. Research continues to indicate a direct correlation between child abuse and neglect and crime. Neglected children find streets to be safer than the family home, with the streets becoming fertile ground for the proliferation of street children, growth of gang culture, delinquency, and crime.
Established in 1998, the foster care program continues to be the best available option for out of home placements and has been found to be more effective and far less costly than institutionalization. Contrary to the practice in other jurisdictions in which paid professional foster parenting is the norm, in St Kitts Nevis, the emphasis is on finding, recruiting, and building the parental capacity of individuals who are willing and able to provide love, care and protection.
This is far removed from adoption in which parental rights are terminated by a court, and adoptive parents are legally obliged to provide for the needs of the adoptive child throughout childhood. A home with sufficient income to provide for its family, if found to have a safe and nurturing environment, would be deemed suitable to provide foster support as long as it is guaranteed that foster children will be raised no differently to one’s own child/children. In an effort to ascertain the efficacy of the Programme, the Probation and Child Welfare Board reviewed the Foster Care Programme in 2020 and plans have been established for its rebranding and re-launch in 2021.
The Child Justice Committee is a facility mandated by law for the insulation of juvenile offenders from the taint and criminalization of children from the formal court procedures. The Act mandates the way the committee is to be appointed and outlines its primary function which is “preventing crime before it starts” through effective use of diversion efforts for juveniles who are arrested by police and acknowledge guilt. The Child Justice Committee hears these matters and with the support of a wide array of professionals, seeks to address the behaviour, through restorative justice repair harm to the victim, and the community by a range of interventions for the family, the offender and the victim.
In 2021, the Ministry and Probation and Child Welfare Board will seek to enhance further support for children at risk or those in conflict with the law through:
a. The establishment of a register of diversion programmes both pre-charge and post-charge
b. Development of a National Diversion, Rehabilitation and Reintegration Strategy
c. Provision of a more suitable location for the hearings by the Child Justice Committee
In closing, other projected activities for the Ministry in 2021 include:
i. The completion of the National Gender Equality Policy and Action Plan
ii. The establishment and operationalization of the Adoption Committee
iii. The review of Family Laws
iv. Approval of Cabinet of the Special Needs Policy
v. The Development of a Community Based Rehabilitation Draft Plan of Action
The Ministry is tremendously grateful to its social partners who have willingly collaborated over the years towards the achievement of the Government’s social development agenda. These include not only regional and international partners such as PAHO, UNICEF, OECS Commission etc. but also invaluable local partners such as Mickey’s Hope, A Time For Us Foundation, The Rotary Club, The Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the numerous members of the business community who continue to either sponsor our activities and programmes but also provide internships and second chances for young persons. We also commend our members of staff who continue to work diligently and remain committed to the goal of improving the social well-being of our most vulnerable citizens and residents.
Hon. Eugene Hamilton
Minister of Social Development and Gender Affairs