The evening of 6 July saw dozens of West Bay residents gather to talk about Cayman’s problems with gun crime.
Instead, those who met with Royal Cayman Islands Police officers learned some surprising details regarding how many youngsters in the country are believed to be at-risk of criminal behaviour.
Ministry of Education officials said 150 primary school students in Cayman had been identified as being at potential risk of not making it through high school unless they received some intervention and care along the way.
“Many of the inmates that are [in Northward], I dealt with many of them either at Bonaventure or at the Marine Institute,” Ministry of Education Programme Coordinator Michael Myles says. “We’re now dealing with their children.
“Why are we going to wait 10 years to address a problem we know that’s there at five [years old]?”
Myles says the ministry has sought to identify at-risk youth prior to the start of the 2011/12 school year in both primary and secondary school classes. Seven different categories were used to identify school kids as “at risk”.
Those include: poor performance, truancy or conflict at school; poor parenting issues or supervision at home; youth court or criminal issues; signs of mental health disorders; dishonesty; and even problems with sexuality.
Myles says the latter issue was one of the more surprising matters education officials have encountered.
“We have an increasing problem amongst young people in our school system with inappropriate sexual behaviour,” he says. “Out of the 150 primary school youngsters that have been identified, probably 10 per cent struggle with inappropriate sexual behaviour. A lot of this stems from them being exposed to pornographic stuff or to their parents having sexual intercourse, and they don’t how to process that … we’re talking about five, six, seven-year olds and they come to school and they imitate that behaviour.”
Troubled youth identified through the programme being implemented at public schools likely won’t require help with all of these types of problems, Myles says. The challenge is identifying what services they need and organising the agencies responsible for providing them.
“Not every child needs counselling, not every child needs police involvement, not every child needs a social worker,” he says. “Fifty per cent of the kids, I would say, just need supervision.
“Many of the 150 [at-risk primary school kids] meet at least five of the categories; is that a bad thing? No, because now we know where we are and we know we need to treat them.”
A small, but feisty crowd in Bodden Town a few days later largely blamed parents for the “foolishness” taking place with youth crime.
One older resident said she refused to blame the RCIPS for criminal activity.
“Parents need to be in more control of their children,” she told the handful of people gathered for the meeting. “Some of these youths are coming from dysfunctional homes and are being raised by single parents – they need father figures. Some parents even freely hand out money so they can buy whatever they need. When they don’t get it, they go out and rob.
“These parents need to teach their children to go out and find work and be more responsible in the community and have manners. The police needs to get involved in the community families.”
She added: “Parents must suspect something is wrong when a child’s demeanour changes when they come home. They go out at night wearing hoodies, long sleeve shirts and masks and the police can only report they were so tall, wearing long sleeve and mask and so forth, which does not help. People need to look for distinguishing marks on individuals and parents need to take more responsibility in what their children are doing.”
Another resident questioned what was happening with children who were not attending school. She said these children were stealing from other people’s homes, adding that Children and Family Services were providing for the families who sit around and do nothing about making sure their children attend school.
Myles, who also attended the Bodden Town meeting, responded that there currently was a shortage of truancy officers, but that the Department of Education needed to know the names of children not attending school on a regular basis. He added that programmes were in place to deal with such situations and promised to look into the issue.
Youth issues also took a prominent place in East End, as RCIPS officers met with residents there.
“Truancy is a contributing factor … it is also a warning that something is going wrong in that young person’s life,” said one resident, who wondered why there was only one truancy officer responsible for every student in Grand Cayman.
While Myles agreed with her, he did point out that responsibility ultimately rested on the shoulders of the children’s parents.
“Parents are going to have to start going before the court and explaining to the court why their kids are truant,” he says. “People are saying that it’s the police’s responsibility, or it’s the government’s responsibility, it’s the community development officer’s responsibility, it’s the social services’ responsibility, instead of saying it is [their own] responsibility.”
Myles also expressed his hope that the Prison Me! No Way! programme would soon be implemented within schools on Island to discourage youngsters from embarking down paths of disobedience, drugs and violence.
The Prison programme would replace the Drug Abuse Resistance Education programme which Myles says had been proven ineffective.
Ultimately, Myles says the situation with local youths would not improve until the community took responsibility and parents became role models.
“Everyone must have a stake in this,” he says, “because it is costing us.”
A recent report compiled by the National Security Council with assistance from Cayman’s private sector came up with a National Crime Reduction Strategy.
One of its key findings was that efforts aimed at helping at-risk youth and other adult criminal offenders were disorganized and were not producing any measurable results.
“Most agencies have not supplied the performance indicators of their various programmes or their success rate,” the report found. “To be more effective, we need to better understand what we have and why we have it… do we really need 15 similar screwdrivers all belonging to different people?”
For instance, an organisation like the CAYS Foundation is separate from the government Department of Children and Family Services, but there may be no rationale for such a split, the report found.
“Why is the Youth Services Unit in a separate ministry from the Department of Children and Family Services?” the report asked. “Why is the Department of Counselling Services running programmes that were previously run by the Department of Children and Family Services and not providing essential services they receive budget dollars for – like drug and alcohol counselling for prisoners?”
A Cabinet Office coordinator [or tsar] is expected to be hired in government’s upcoming budget to assist in coordinating the various programmes.
The crime strategy report also noted that too many of Cayman’s young people were becoming trapped in the criminal justice system. In early 2009, there were 14 young offenders in the Eagle House facility, but because of overcrowding at Northward Prison there were 18 adult offenders residing at Eagle House at the same time.
“Eagle House does not begin to meet the needs of boys, and for young girls there is no facility between home and prison,” the report noted. “It was alarming to note the statistics of how the vast majority of boys released from Bonaventure and other care programmes had ended up in the criminal justice system.”
The report recommended that a main thrust of government’s crime strategy should be the reduction of instances of re-offending or recidivism, particularly among youth offenders.
“There is currently no drug and alcohol counselling being offered to prison inmates,” the study reported. “This is shocking as over 70 per cent of those incarcerated have a drug and or alcohol problem.”
Consistency in drug education was also recommended, starting early at the primary and secondary school levels. The report found young people have a lack of knowledge about the medical and psychological consequences of drug or alcohol abuse.
One of the models with which the National Security Council members were most impressed was the BEST, or the behavioural and educational support team. The programme focuses on crime education targeting at-risk students at the primary school level, but the crime reduction strategy report noted it lacked funding at the moment. Myles’ 150 at-risk elementary school students were identified as part of the evaluation done through the BEST programme.