We will make one thing perfectly clear: These are our children. They are not government property.
Information collected by the government about our children’s attitudes and behaviors is, more so than any other public record, the business of the people. The subjects of such studies are connected to us more intimately than any government policy.
When the government shelves, suppresses or otherwise “sits on” reports related to financial accountability or public sector performance, our emotions range anywhere from annoyance to disdain. When the government attempts to suppress reports related to our children — and, in particular, their sexual activity, substance use and mental health — that is a matter of a different magnitude.
In November 2012, our government, in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organization and funded by the European Commission, conducted a survey targeting Cayman’s adolescent population (specifically, the “1,186 school-going young persons aged 15-19”) in all of the country’s 12 public and private high schools.
The study, part of a regional project called “Strengthening the Integration of British and Dutch Overseas Caribbean Territories in the Regional Response to HIV,” examined “a number of health outcomes and behavior,” covering topics such as pregnancy and abortion, sexual behaviors, abusive experiences, drug and alcohol use by themselves or family members, diet, exercise and mental health problems.
In short, the study was “comprehensive,” both in terms of who was surveyed and what was asked.
The survey was conducted in late 2012. The report was written in 2013 and the contents “finalized” by mid-2014.
Now it is May 2015, and the government is just releasing the documents. … And that most modest and tardy action has only occurred after a copy of the report “fell from the sky,” so to speak, and a Compass reporter began posing questions to the Ministry of Health.
When, finally, officials relented and “officially” released the 112-page report, they appended to it a 2-page press release and 5-page “guidance note” that are crammed with the usual platitudes, promises and positive spin.
The report itself, however, is instructive, substantive and sobering. According to the survey (which reached more than 80 percent of the target population), Cayman’s adolescents are grappling with very real issues. Many are having sex, drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana. Many have been victims of physical violence or sexual abuse. Many experience depression and contemplate suicide. Many aren’t eating as healthily, or as regularly, as they should. Many say they are dissatisfied with their weight or appearance.
Fewer than half live with their biological fathers, and most said they had not talked to the adults they live with about serious topics such as sex, HIV or depression.
According to the report, “The picture that emerges from these results is of adolescents vulnerable to ill-health and even suicide attempts as a result of a combination of factors including violence and lack of emotional and social support from key institutions, namely the family, school and health care services.”
In other words, Cayman’s adolescents need all the support they can get. And we as a society may not be doing enough to help.
But what are we, the public, supposed to do — if we aren’t being told what’s going wrong, or even what’s going right?