Probation pioneers honoured

The function at Pedro Castle last Friday night was billed as a reception in honour of the pioneers of probation services in the Cayman Islands.

Those pioneers, four of whom attended personally, were part of a comparatively young service of government and each one made a significant impact on the way it has developed.

Also significant was the way each honouree in turn paid tribute to her co-workers and predecessors. The ceremony became not just recognition of individuals but a collective reminiscence on Cayman history.

Manager of the Probation Aftercare Unit, Mrs. Teresa Echinique-Bowen presented a plaque and a hug to each honouree after Master of Ceremonies Mr. Loxley Banks listed that person’s contributions to the way the probation service has evolved.

First on everyone’s list, of course, was Mrs. Joyce Hylton.

The history from which Mr. Banks read was published in the Caymanian Compass of Friday, 28 July. But certain highlights bear repeating.

Miss Joyce, for example, was not the only person doing volunteer social work in the community during the late 1950s/early ’60s. But she was the only one who approached the Government of the day as an advocate for juveniles in trouble.

The immediate impetus for her action was a court session in which she observed a juvenile being treated like an adult offender on trial in open court. As a result of her advocacy, the Probation of Offenders Law was passed in 1963 and Miss Joyce was given the responsibility to establish the first probation service.

Passage of The Juvenile Offenders Law and Poor Persons (Relief) Law extended her duties to include dealing with children in need of care and protection as well as persons seeking public assistance – or needing it but not seeking it.

Miss Joyce did not attend the reception because of poor health. But as many times as her name was invoked, her ears had to be burning, as Caymanians say.

Mrs. Gay Jackson joined Miss Joyce in 1968 in what was then called the Probation and Welfare Office. She later served as the first Director of Social Services.

In accepting her award, Mrs. Jackson commented that the typical juvenile offences of the day were not going to school or riding bicycles without lights. The scourge of drugs had not yet made its mark.

Mrs. Jackson said she was proud of the way successive Governments have taken on responsibility for helping offenders become a positive part of the community again.

Mr. Steve Smith was honoured as the longest serving probation officer: 32 years. An American, he quickly responded to Miss Joyce’s subtle and thorough indoctrination.

Mr. Smith was the first probation officer seconded to the Judicial Department, where his role was to be in court every day to assist with pre-sentence investigations, legal aid assessments and supervision of offenders on conditional release.

His wife, Mrs. Ruby Smith, accepted his award because he was off-island.

Mrs. Angela Martins was saluted for her introduction of the case management system, which enabled officers to spend more time with their clients. The audience later heard this system described as the best in the region, with another territory using it and the University of West Indies adapting it for teaching purposes.

Mrs. Martins first joined the service in 1976 and then came back in 1983, when she succeeded Miss Gay.

In accepting her award, she paid tribute to the probation workers who stayed with the commitment that they could make a difference, whatever the community felt about their clients. She also praised those who were willing to say that child abuse was happening when it was not popular to say so.

Mrs. Debra Powell Prendergast was transferred from Social Services in 1985 to work with Mr. Smith in the courts. She worked as a probation officer until 1999.

Her remarks on Friday night were brief. She acknowledged Miss Joyce and Miss Gay, both of whom had been instrumental in her decision to do this kind of work. She also thanked Mrs. Echenique-Bowen for organising the function.

Mrs. Deanna Look Loy succeeded Mrs. Martins as Director of Social Services, which resumed responsibility for probation matters in 1996 and later became Children and Family Services.

Mrs. Look Loy said she was able to build on the foundation of her three predecessors, bring back Mr. Steve and Miss Debra, plus recruit Mr. John Retson from a small island off the coast of Scotland.

Mr. Retson, another honouree, was cited for his managerial skills and the establishment of programmes to deal with anger management and domestic violence. He left Cayman in 2003; his award is to be forwarded to him.

It was during his time that Probation/Aftercare became a separate unit again. He was succeeded as its head by Mrs. Teresa Echenique-Bowen.

Miss Alicia ‘Jen’ Dixon was cited for the value of her organisational skills through the various restructurings over the years.

She started as a clerical worker in 1978 and completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work in 1985. The following year she was appointed Deputy Director of Social Services.

Mrs. Echenique-Bowen also announced an award for the Cayman Brac Children and Family Services. Until just last September, when a full-time probation officer was appointed for the Brac, it was this unit that dealt probation matters on the Sister Island.

Pre-programme entertainment was provided by the North Side Kitchen Band. Later the audience was treated to a presentation by Aunt Sookie and Friends: Mrs. Daphne Orrett, Mr. Carlyle Ebanks and Mr. Reginald Delapenha as Sookie, Ezekiel and Sam-Sam.

Senior Probation Officer Cleviston Hunte had just enough time to shout a thank you to all in attendance before a sudden squall ended the evening.

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