Minister of Health and Human Services Anthony Eden looks forward to changing the way disadvantaged youth who wind up in detention or custody are dealt with.
He said the Ministry will do its best to bring children’s services under a common umbrella, promoting seamless collaboration that will focus on the interests of the children.
Mr. Eden said children’s issues are something that he has been involved in since the 1970s, and which have been priorities since first being elected in 1988.
He said the need for improved child services in the Cayman Islands is driving him to look for innovative solutions to forging beneficial relationships among the many local children’s organizations and agencies.
‘By working with different agencies we will make them all work better,’ he said. ‘Naturally, Children and Family Services, as well as CAYS foundation, which operates the Bonaventure and Frances Bodden Homes, will be integral to this initiative.’
In coming back as Minister of health, a role he previously held from 1994 to 2004, Mr. Eden said he wants more than ever to bring health and human services together with counselling for children and families.
‘When one agency identifies a client in need of more than one particular service, the system will be there for us to have seamless links,’ he said.
Mr. Eden said he is working with Health and Human Services Permanent Secretary Dianne Montoya and Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports and Culture Permanent Secretary Angela Martins, to streamline services assisting children.
Mr. Eden said the Ministry is reviewing its commitment to younger children in recognition of the reality that many problems begin at the primary school level.
‘It is a result of the family background at that stage,’ he said. ‘If we take action at that point, any progress we make with them needs to be supported by a positive family situation,’ he said.
He hopes that a renewed focus on parenting programs will provide helpful information for parents who may be young and inexperienced.
‘Learning about finances and discipline are vital steps to good parenting, and we will be there to help,’ he said.
Good parenting also means good nutrition. He reassures the school lunch program run by Children and Family Services will continue.
‘Some parents are unable to provide their children with healthy nutritious food,’ he said. ‘We need to address this because our country’s future is relying on healthy, bright children and learning suffers when children are hungry.’
Mr. Eden is confident things are going to change significantly in the health authority with the appointment of the new CEO.
‘With our new strategic plan, we hope that there is mutual understanding throughout the health system of what is going on and what our priorities are,’ he said.
Health care is one of the most expensive services and the hardest hit by inflation, but Mr. Eden said the Ministry will do everything in its power to make children’s health services as accessible as possible, and is happy to work with the private sector to achieve this goal.
Mr. Eden said social services and health are not the only areas that will see significant changes. In an effort to harmonize these services with serving problem youth, justice programs will also be revamped to provide a more proactive approach.
Mr. Eden is particularly concerned that Eagle House, the detention facility for boys and youth under 21, is on the same grounds as the adult prison in Northward.
‘That is just wrong,’ he said.
He said that during his previous term as Minister, his Ministry had undertaken extensive work on building a state of the art treatment centre on-Island for those youth needing expanded behaviour training and therapy.
‘We brought in experts, we had the consultants, and had plans for a $10 million facility that met all international standards,’ he said.
‘However, the time was just not right for such a facility at that juncture, even though we had the support of most of the justices of the peace. This time, things are different. We will be doing what we can to make sure a new centre is built as soon as possible.
‘The Ministry is currently working with the Chief Secretary’s Office on preparing a holistic recommendation on addressing the needs of these young people,’ he said.
‘The solution is a multi-faced one and involves both residential and non-residential treatment rehabilitative programmes,’ he said Friday.
He anticipates the upcoming National Assessment of Living Conditions, slated to commence in October will shed light on the circumstances the country’s most vulnerable children find themselves in.
‘There are a lot of people out there who need help. Despite our wealthy image, we need this information to help us find out more detailed information on all members of Caymanian society. It will be extremely helpful to the many people working in the various children’s agencies to find out what is really going on,’ he said.
‘Working with the Caribbean Development Bank, this study will be developed and published with the intent that we, as well as other countries, will be able to genuinely benefit from its findings,’ he said.
Minister Eden was confident the project will meet with the approval of the Caymanian public once the objectives are made clear.
‘Once people realize you are doing it for the right reason, and trying to help our children reach their fullest potential, people will stick with you,’ he said.