An early intervention program for children as young as 6 has been pitched as a new tool to help prevent school troublemakers in the Cayman Islands from graduating to more serious crimes.
The SNAP program, developed by Canada’s Child Development Institute, seeks to identify children with behavioral issues and help them develop self-control and conflict management skills.
Cayman Islands nonprofit Youth Anti-Crime Trust wants to make the intervention training available to Cayman families.
They funded a visit this week from the leaders of the Canadian program to pitch the concept to government leaders, police and potential private sector donors in the hope of getting support for a pilot program for at-risk youth on the island.
Leena Augimeri, scientific and program development director for the institute, said the concept of the program, which has proven successful in Canada, is to identify young offenders early and address the causes of their behavior.
Ms. Augimeri, who led a series of workshops at the Marriott resort this week, said behavioral problems in school are often the first step toward more serious criminality later in life.
“All we have to do is save one child and the program funds itself in dollars and cents saved on criminal justice and prison space,” she said.
SNAP, which stands for Stop Now and Plan, involves a 13-week behavioral modification program that teaches children with anger issues new ways of handling conflict.
The program, which also involves sessions for parents and follow-up sessions with counselors, has been shown in peer reviewed studies to reduce the risk of young offenders going on to more serious criminal behavior.
The program is based on the principle that there are many opportunities to change the lives of children before they become involved in the criminal justice system. Ms. Augimeri said research shows that children who became involved in criminal behavior at 14 had, in most cases, been displaying warning signs, such as aggressive behavior in school, since age 7.
“When you think about the kids on your island. Think about who are these children, how many people could have intervened within this seven-year incubation period?” she said in a presentation to government officials Monday.
Michael Myles, government’s at-risk youth officer and a board member of Youth ACT, said he was frequently faced with young children who were displaying “chaotic behavior” in school and at home.
He said he was constantly calling parents about their children’s behavior.
“Some have got to the point where they don’t even answer my phone calls anymore because we don’t have an answer for them.”
He said the SNAP program could provide the answer for some children. He hopes it can become part of the school curriculum or the Extended After School Program, with a full-time program coordinator overseeing a team of trained community volunteers.
Mr. Myles believes Cayman needs to start making an investment in dealing with the root causes of crime instead of just dealing with the consequences.
“Our current approach to crime is hiring more police, hiring more prosecutors, hiring more judges, building a bigger prison. The private sector is hiring more and more security guards, security systems and adding more cameras.
“We are paying out $50 million a year through the Needs Assessment Unit because more and more people need that service based on unemployment and unemployability. We can’t keep doing that. We need to deal with the causes.”
Mr. Myles, who previously ran the Bonaventure Boys Home, said it is easy to identify the next generation of criminals in the Cayman Islands. He said he had known many young men who had been in and out of trouble since they were children who had gone on to become involved in gangs and crime and ended up dead or in jail.
He sees other children and teenagers already on that same path today.
Mr. Myles believes investment in treatment and crime prevention from an early age can steer them in a different direction before it’s too late.
“I could give you the names of 600 children right now that are displaying chaotic behavior. It is one of the biggest issues in our school system,” he said. “It is not a matter of identifying the kids. There is not a teacher, guidance counselor, principal, psychologist in this country that couldn’t refer multiple children to this program.”
Governor Helen Kilpatrick, chair of the National Security Council, gave a brief speech at the opening session in support of the program.
“If it helps just a few children stay in school and out of trouble, it will really have been worth it,” she said.