Touring agencies and departments that deal with family services and social problems, Premier Alden McLaughlin came face to face with the lack of resources that many of these entities are experiencing.
Premier McLaughlin, who is also minister of community affairs, visited the facilities and offices of several agencies under his portfolio last week.
He first toured the Family Resource Centre on Walkers Road, where Director of Counselling Services Judith Seymour explained that the remit of the Family Resource Centre has changed over the years, from primarily offering drug and alcohol counselling services to helping families in crises to cope and stay together.
According to a government press release, the premier was informed that the need for the Resource Centre’s services gets larger every year as more and more families seek them out.
The center’s programs focus on building family skills, domestic violence intervention, healthy relationships, fathering, child sexual abuse prevention, bullying in schools and more.
“We’re not here to tell them what to do, we’re here to support them in their needs,” said Miriam Foster, program coordinator for the Resource Centre.
At The Counselling Centre at Royal Plaza Office in George Town, he was told that therapists there were also seeing an increase in a need for their services. While there has been a reduction in the number of counsellors, the center sees between 105 and 130 new people a year.
The Counselling Centre works with the Family Resource Centre and Caribbean Haven Residential Centre and provides outpatient services for those interested in making changes and improving their lives, both on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman.
Its services include individual therapy, couples and family therapy, specialised group therapy, addiction treatment, education workshops and presentations, and a DUI program.
Donald Potkins, deputy director of the centre, said therapists deal with the underlying causes of behaviors. “If we don’t start to deal with the underlying issues, we’re always going to be putting out fires,” he said.
He said if therapists can work with families at risk before bad behaviors develop, the government could realize a cost in savings to the country. “Every government dollar put into prevention pays back 10 in costs to the medical system, hospitals, prison, police. You don’t see the effect right away. It’s a long-term process,” Mr. Potkins said.
Working with at-risk families – while the children are still young – could also help the country get rid of gang cultures, the premier was told.
“Gangs are multi-generational now and strengthening in their belief systems,” said Susanne Clements of Counselling Services. “The longer we leave this, the worse it is going to get.” Ms Seymour said one of the reasons more people are seeking the Centre’s services may be Hurricane Ivan, which devastated Grand Cayman in September 2004. “After Hurricane Ivan everyone said ‘you need to get counselling’,” she said. But people took care of basic needs first – shelter and food.
“We always said it’s going to come and it has, in combination with the financial crisis,” she said.
Staff discussed the possibility of a National Prevention Program, which was written in 2003 but has never been enacted. The program is designed for children to help build protective factors and get rid of risk factors.
“The cost to develop it isn’t huge, but the payoffs are astronomical,” said Mr. Potkins, adding that if the program had been in place, there probably wouldn’t be an overcrowded prison in the Cayman Islands now.
Premier McLaughlin said he would like to see a presentation on the program. “I’ve been concerned for many years that we’re going about this the wrong way,” he said.
At Maple House, the premier met staff and residents and toured the facility, which is home to seven male and two female disabled young people. He learned that the home, which is full to capacity, will need to expand if it intends to take on any more clients.
“We have limited resources to work with, but we do the best we can,” said Jen Dixon, director of the Department of Children and Family Services.
Social workers have hands full
While visiting Ms Dixon’s department at BritCay House, Mr. McLaughlin met the George Town staff where he was told social workers have their hands full dealing with the new Children’s Law.
The Department is responsible for the full scope of therapeutic social work interventions required to address child protective, delinquency, and family issues; residential care for children; adoption services; foster care services; services relating to the Juvenile Court and Youth Court matters; policy advice; a full range of social work services; day and residential care for indigent elderly adults; school lunch program; duties of the shelter operations sub-committee of Hazard Management Cayman Islands; needs assessments for poor relief, medical, indigent housing repairs; means Assessment for Maintenance Court; direct services to the Family Support Unit, Maintenance Court, health services, schools and other related agencies; and management of adult care facilities operated by the department.
“We’re juggling some challenges, but I have to commend the staff,” said Ms Dixon.
Mr. McLaughlin told the staff that he had a “fair grasp of the challenges out there” but felt it was important for him to see the issues and challenges first hand.
“If it wasn’t for the hard work and dedication of the staff of Children and Family Services, Cayman wouldn’t be an ideal place to live,” he said.