Group targets at risk youth

Several high ranking government officials covering a spectrum of agencies, along with members of the media gathered at the Public Library on 16 June to sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will create the Behaviour Educational Support Team or BEST. 

The plan of the initiative is a multi-agency approach to intervention in the lives of at risk youth at the earliest stages of development. 

According to Chief Officer for Education in the Ministry of Education Mary Rodriguez, symptoms of at risk youth are there early. However, they tend to pass through the system with few successes, often leading to a life of crime. She added that the multi-agency approach has been identified as a solution to the issue. “We now have that ideal being practiced across ministries and agencies,” she exclaimed. 

The programme was started by the Ministry of Education in partnership with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Community, as well as the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, the RCIPS Family Support Unit, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Counselling Services. 

Members jointly share resources and responsibilities and work together to assess needs, as well as to plan and implement interventions to support school-aged children at risk of developing emotional, behavioural and/or social difficulties and their families. The members of group also think that by working in partnership, there will be better outcomes for agencies and for children and families than is possible when working from a lone perspective or method. 

The BEST approach is also committed to working with the at risk children and their families in a holistic manner, appreciating that performing poorly in school is not always an educational or skill issue, as these can often be symptoms of diverse and farther reaching issues that need to be tackled in the context of the children and their families. 

In addition, the group will work with parents as partners, building their strengths, demonstrating empathy and respect and providing support to address challenges that might otherwise prevent their successful participation in interventions. 

Permanent Members of the group include the Programme Coordinator-Liaison Officer-At Risk Youth; an Education Ministry behaviour and learning policy adviser; a truancy officer; a family support unit representative; a Youth Department representative; a school counsellor; an educational psychologist; a Department of Children and Family Services representative; a RCIPS community police officer; a Cayman Counselling Services representatives; a special education needs coordinator; a principal or designate from the student’s school; a speech and language therapist; and a learning behavioural specialist. 

Also, invited members, who will assist as needed, include an alternative education centre representative; a Cadet Corps representative; a Department of Employment Relations officer; a Sports Department representative; a Community Development representative; a Department of Mental Health representative; and a Public Health Department representative.  

The intended purpose of the group is to help with identifying and supporting those with, or at risk of developing, emotional and behavioural problems, by providing multi-agency support in target schools and for individual families. In addition, the programme will promote well-being, positive mental health, positive behaviour and school attendance among children and young people, both collectively and individually, as well as foster cooperation and empathy between students, and support anti-bullying work within the student body, promote classroom management techniques with school staff and promote extracurricular activities and community involvement. 

A group team will be established in each primary and secondary schools, with an emphasis on the primary level and will. The teams will have a designated full-time coordinator, responsible for day-to-day team management and for ensuring that it operates within the multi-agency framework. The team agrees to a set of common goals and directions and shares the responsibility for achieving goals.  

Students who meet the at-risk criteria are identified by the schools. Once a referral is complete a case conference is scheduled, at which time an outline of services are suggested. The parents then meet with officials to discuss in and out of school recommendations. 

At risk youth are defined by the group as those who perform below their grade level, are rebellious and argumentative with parents, steal from family, are subject to abuse and neglect and poor parenting skills. They may also be loiterers, and associated with negative individuals or groups, breach curfews, disengage from family activities and display other negative symptoms. 

Programme Coordinator for at Risk Youth Michael Myles has been working with children who require special attention for many years, with the Bonaventure Boys Home and the Marine Institute. He said by the time many of the children he saw made it to him, “it was too late”. He said this approach was the best he had seen in his time working with at risk youth and urged those involved to not let this initiative fall by the wayside. 

“I am urging you all today to truly embrace BEST and to see this through, as it is a true beacon of hope for our young people.”