An after-school programme that caters to 1,400 children, five-days-a-week is under threat unless new funding can be found.
The programme was an overnight success when it launched in 2011 and has grown to provide activities, from archery and flight training to skateboarding and drama, to children in the public school system between 3 and 5.30pm every day.
Set up in response to concerns that many potentially-vulnerable children were roaming the streets unsupervised after school, the programme has been credited with reducing petty crime.
But as the project has expanded, so have the costs. And with a change of government and budget talks looming, its founders are seeking private sector funding to ensure its long-term viability.
Michael Myles, the government’s at-risk youth officer, said the take up of the programme showed there was a significant need in the community. He said the Extended After School Programme had begun as a pilot project offering mostly sports-based activities to about 60 children with just ten staff.
Now there are 160 staff providing activities for about 1,400 children. The estimated cost of running the programme beyond this September at existing participation levels is $560,000 per year.
Mr. Myles said: “If we don’t get more funding before September, there won’t be a programme. We are looking for the corporate community to get involved, either by sending volunteers or by providing funding.”
Government has committed to funding 85 per cent of the costs of the programme, though that could change after the election.
Mr. Myles said funds went toward paying a small stipend to staff, providing transport and snacks for children and training staff.
There are 6,000 children in the public school system and he would like the programme to be able to cater to all of them. He said the mentoring aspect was more important than the activities. Some of the most vulnerable children in the public school system attend after-school activities and staff are being trained to spot signs of abuse or neglect.
Mr. Myles said the programme had started as a part of a national crime-fighting strategy. He said it was a proactive step to prevent children from being drawn into crime.
“You can have serious problems when a child has nothing structured or productive to do,” he said. “Research shows that is when kids get drawn into drugs or petty crime or start to become involved in gangs.
“Single parent homes are perhaps the most common social structure in the Cayman Islands,” he added. “There are a lot of kids left home alone or out in the community with very little activity or supervision.”
Mr. Myles, who used to run children’s homes in Grand Cayman, added: “I would say 99 per cent of children that ended up at these homes were there because their parents were not able to guide and protect them.
“By the time they came to me they had serious academic problems, they had behavioural problems, multiple criminal offences or they had dropped out of school. We need to get to them earlier.”
Private sector funding for the Extended After School Programme is administered through its partners in the charitable sector, Cayman Outreach and George Town Sports Club.
Several private companies already contribute funds. BAF insurance company was the latest to join a list of sponsors that includes PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Dart and Kirk’s Supermarket.
Announcing a $5,500 grant to the programme last month, BAF General Manager Terence Spencer said: “We at BAF believe that everyone has a responsibility to ensure the overall success of our children and it absolutely takes a village to bring that to fruition.”
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service also provides support to the programme through its funding of the skateboarding club.
Speaking at the launch of the club in February, Police Commissioner David Baines said it was a great way to keep youngsters from being drawn into crime by giving them a positive outlet.