Minister’s Message – 2020
The core mandate of the Ministry of Community Development, Gender Affairs and Social Services is ensuring that the people of St. Kitts and Nevis can live their lives with dignity, and in a manner that protects their rights as human beings. As such, one of the Ministry’s largest stakeholder groups is constituted by vulnerable individuals who are unable to defend and care for themselves without the State’s intervention. Naturally, this special group of people include the poor, the elderly, persons with disabilities, children, victims of discrimination and gender-based violence, and those who live an otherwise marginalised existence. It is the Ministry’s responsibility to, therefore, do everything possible to address issues of abuse, destitution and neglect.
Poverty reduction will continue to be a major focus of the Ministry in 2020, as Government builds on the innovative and life-enhancing Poverty Alleviation Programme that was introduced in December 2018. The introduction of this compassionate, novel and impactful $500 per month support for households earning a combined income of less than EC $3,000 has made a tremendous difference in the lives of the programme’s beneficiaries. The initiative has also allowed the Federation to make considerable strides in our attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular, Goals number one (1), number two (2) and number ten (10) which are “No Poverty”, “Zero Hunger” and “Reduced Inequalities”, respectively. By the end of January 2020, the Ministry expects to have fully transitioned to a debit card system of monthly disbursements which can be used for authorised expenditure only, including electricity and water bills, groceries (excluding alcohol and tobacco products), and mortgage payments for housing provided by the National Housing Corporation (NHC). It should be noted that the debit card system is subject to tendering and should have the benefit of several debit card service providers partnering with the Ministry.
In 2020, it is expected that a case management system would be completed for beneficiaries of the Poverty Alleviation Programme. The intention is to track the progress of beneficiaries along the path to self-sustainability through technical assistance with continuing education, skills training, job preparation and even entrepreneurial development so that families can graduate out of the programme over time. In this way, the success of the Poverty Alleviation Programme would be measured – to a large extent – by beneficiaries’ ability to transition from poverty to self sufficiency. The impact would also be seen in the data emerging from respected socio-economic evaluations such as the Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) Country Poverty Assessment, and the World Bank’s recently launched Human Capital Project which, among other matters, seeks to (a) identify gaps while tracking imperatives and improvements in developing countries through the amount and quality of investments being made to boost human capital through the pillars of Health and Education; and (b) identify the likely national consequences for ignoring human capital investments. As can be expected, quality of life improvement for our people calls for inter-agency and inter-ministerial collaboration. The key Ministries, in this regard, are Health, Education, Labour and Sustainable Development.
With support from UNICEF, the Ministry will, in 2020, be conducting a review of the Social Protection Strategy (2013-2017) and also the drafting of a new, revised strategy to guide social protection programming over the next five (5) years. To formally establish national provisions for the social protection of our people, the Government has already introduced into Parliament the Social Protection Bill. This was done in March 2019.
The Bill should shortly be the subject of a final national consultation before debate and passage in Parliament. Of course, the core mandate of the Bill is that of establishing a social protection floor while maintaining a minimum standard of living that guarantees each citizen a life that respects his or her dignity as a human. The legislation also includes assessment tools and systems to build in monitoring and evaluation, spending habits, financial audits, reporting obligations, an appeals process and the creation of an Inter-Agency Commission for Social Protection.
To ensure that our vulnerable populations are properly covered by the Government’s social safety net programmes, every effort will be made in 2020 to ensure that the National Household Registry (NHR) is continuously updated and that new beneficiaries of social assistance are properly registered in the database. This data, which is meant to drive policy formulation and assist in the design of meaningful social care plans/interventions, is also intended as a tracking system to assess how well vulnerable persons are progressing out of their lives of poverty and need. Thereafter the assessment will allow the Ministry to make necessary adjustments to its programming and outreach to these vulnerable groups. It should be noted that the care plans/ interventions will be utilizing an inter-ministerial approach with key stakeholder ministries (such as Health and Education) to ensure that Social Services’ clients benefit from a holistic approach in meeting their needs and those of their families.
Outreach to Older Persons
A key stakeholder group for the Ministry is our Nation’s senior citizens. In 2020, every effort will be made to ensure that quality programming and outreach is sustained for this demographic. The Ministry prides itself on annual development and execution of an elder care programme that is spread throughout the entire calendar year, although the bulk of the activities are concentrated in October, which is celebrated as the Month of Older Persons. The Ministry continues to execute the Senior Care programme through a relatively small, dedicated staff complement of Home Care Officers and Social Assistance Officers who are led by the Director and Deputy Director of Social Services. The programme has been developed to ensure that senior citizens can remain active in the life of the Country; benefit from excursions and other forms of social engagement, and be educated on the imperative of practising a holistic existence inclusive of healthy diets and lifestyles.
In 2020, the Ministry intends to continue its management and operation of the Saddlers Home for the elderly. The facility is designed for a maximum capacity of eight persons, with care being provided to residents by certified Home Care Officers. The medical needs of the residents are routinely covered by the Government’s community-based health services provided by the Saddlers Health Centre and the District Medical Officer (DMO).
It is expected that the National Ageing Policy and Action Plan would be finally launched early in 2020. This project was started around 2009 but had long lost momentum. The document is currently under final review by the Ministries of Health and Social Services, et al., with invaluable support from renown Canadian Specialist on Geriatrics, Dr. Samir Sinha. Dr. Sinha is Director of Geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network in Toronto. He also serves as the Peter and Shelagh Godsoe Chair in Geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital. It must be noted that Dr. Sinha’s voluntary assistance with this project was ably facilitated by Kittitian national, Dr. Winston Isaac, who passed in 2019.
Child Probation & Protection Services
By the first quarter of 2020, the Ministry should have completed the restructuring of the Department of Probation and Child Protection Services, which should be operated under the management of the Probation and Child Welfare Board. The Ministry has been ably assisted in this exercise by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) through the provision of technical assistance in the following areas: (a) proper set-up of the Board’s Child Justice Committee which is a requirement of the Child Justice Act (2013); (b) review of the draft Child Protection Protocol; 2 and (c) knowledge transfer and capacity building through a recently concluded study tour to the United Kingdom (UK) to observe and evaluate that their child justice and child mechanisms, including the management of cases re: juveniles in conflict with the law. Another study tour is planned for 2020 and should include missions to Boston, Massachusetts and Trinidad and Tobago.
Further work is expected to be done by the Board insofar as an improvement to the Foster Care Programme is concerned. This exercise is specially intended to reduce over time the number of children in foster care by the encouragement of their adoption: there is compelling data which illustrate that children thrive far better within a more permanent family structure than in the often tentative and short term arrangement of foster care for their urgent care and protection. Improvements to the Foster Care Programme – through enhanced policy formulation – are meant to close the gaps that prevent the Board’s Adoption Committee from effectively executing its mandate. A key indicator of this objective is the drafting and gazetting of regulations for the Children (Care and Adoption) Act.
It is expected that in 2020, the Ministry would have completed and adopted The Child Protection Protocol, as well as a code of procedure for the handling of children in times of emergencies. Among other matters, the core Protocol addresses the care and protection of children who may have been abused. This is expected to work in tandem with the Amber Alert System that should shortly be introduced to bring public awareness and solicit support regarding children who are missing. The Alert System will create an avenue for the public to share information with law enforcement agencies regarding the location of missing children.
A major project of the Children Probation and Welfare Board in 2020 would be the full roll-out of the E-case Management System that was developed in 2019. Procurement of the necessary equipment will be done early in 2020, followed by full operationalisation. This development is long in coming, as is a first in the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean State (OECS). It is the result of generous support from United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and was designed locally by the firm Open Interactive. Once the system is fully operational, it should lead to great improvement in the management and tracking of cases with reference to minors who are served by the Board, including those with cases relating to care and protection orders; children in conflict with the law; adoption and foster care cases; and other matters.
The New Horizons Rehabilitation Centre (NHRC) continues to respond to the needs of children in conflict with the law, and those in need of care and protection. Under the direction of the Probation and Child Welfare Board, the operations of the NHRC have been subjected to review, with the support of UNICEF. Among other matters, in 2019, the Standard Operating Procedures of the Centre have been assessed by UK-based UNICEF consultant, Ms Lucy Dawes. Recommendations have recently been presented to the Board and the Ministry on areas of improvement in the management of the facility. Early in the fiscal year 2020, it is expected that these recommendations, once assessed at the highest level will be rolled out to improve the operations at the NHRC for the benefit of all concerned.
In 2019, a total of 12 children were in residence at the NHRC – six (6) males and six (6) females. The highest residency count at the Centre in 2019 has been 17. As has been the case in recent years, several residents sat examinations for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC). Also, there was a 100% pass rate among the residents: three (3) students passed English; one (1) student passed Electronic Document Preparation and Management (EDPM), and three (3) students passed Social Studies. The Ministry is proud of this commendable record of achievement by the residents who are now being prepared for the world of work and further education – once their mandated residency periods are over. Apart from the ability to study for and pass overseas examinations, the residents of the NHRC continue to benefit from life skills’ development and training in preparation for their re-integration into their family and community lives.
Their families are also encouraged to participate in the rehabilitation process. These efforts are being made to increase the residents’ self-sufficiency and reduce the likelihood of recidivism upon release from the Centre.
Support for Persons with Disabilities
Strong support for persons with disabilities will be sustained by the Ministry in 2020. A major milestone would have been attained in September 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) when final ratification documents of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) were signed by the Honourable Prime Minister, Dr the Hon. Timothy Harris. This was a journey that began in April 2016 when Cabinet would have initially approved ratification of this important convention which, among other matters, seeks to ensure that persons with disabilities (a) receive every opportunity to fully participate in the life of the Country; (b) are not marginalised; and (c) do not suffer from discrimination due to their disabilities. Access to public buildings through wheelchair ramps and elevators will be a focus of Government in 2020. Government has taken a lead role in this regard with the installation and commissioning of the first elevator at Government Headquarters. Similar provisions are expected at other Government facilities, particularly those providing direct services to the public. The Ministry continues to provide free accommodation at the McKnight Community Centre for the St. Kitts and Nevis Association of Persons with Disabilities. The salary of the driver of the special purpose “Dial-a-Ride Bus” continues to be paid by the Ministry. Fully equipped with wheelchair lift, and other equipment, the bus purchase was funded by a grant from the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation.
The Ministry also covers the rental costs for Ade’s Place at Greenlands where young persons with developmental disabilities receive occupational therapy and are taught skills in areas such as plant propagation, furniture repair, and arts and crafts which are sold to earn income for the centre. The Government of the Republic of China on Taiwan continues to partner with the Ministry and Ade’s Place with the provision of plant stocks, gardening supplies and guidance relating to plant care and so on.
In 2020, the Department of Gender Affairs will continue the implementation of its core mandate, inclusive of (a) the full implementation of the Domestic and Sexual Violence Complaints and Response Protocol; (b) the completion of the National Gender Policy and Action Plan; (c) the expansion of the Boys’ Mentorship Programme; and (d) planning and execution of activities for International Women’s Day (March 8, 2020) and International Men’s Day (November 19, 2020). The Boys’ Mentorship Programme should be introduced in two additional high schools in 2020, namely Washington Archibald High School and Cayon High School. The programme started in 2016 at Charles E. Mills Secondary School and, in 2018 was replicated at Basseterre High School. The programme will eventually be fully implemented in each public high school on St. Kitts, in the hope that at-risk young men will benefit from mentoring, guidance and counselling by Ministry-approved mentors.
Young men who are identified for eligibility to the programme normally lack the presence and discipline of fathers and other positive male role models in the home and community. Therefore, the mentorship programme is designed to bridge that gap, in the hope that better futures will be secured for these vulnerable young men. Thus far, the Boys’ Mentorship Programme has begun to show results, especially as it is also meant to divert young men away from induction into criminal gangs. Of course, the programme’s success is dependent on the support and cooperation of the affected families. It should be noted that in 2020, one can expect to see strong interface and synergies between the children covered by the mentorship programme and the membership of the Ministry of National Security’s Explorers Youth Groups that have already been launched in a number of communities, including Molineux-Phillips’, Old Road, Trinity, Shadwell, St. Paul’s and Cayon.
Project Viola, the teen mothers’ programme, will continue to benefit from support from the Department in 2020. The programme is meant to give teen mothers the opportunity to return to school and complete their education after the disruption in their studies due to an unplanned pregnancy. The programme’s beneficiaries receive assistance in entrepreneurship, job skills’ training, career planning and life skills. Given that teen mothers are considered to be a vulnerable group, the programme’s beneficiaries also receive regular support with food vouchers to assist with the care of their infant. A total of seven (7) young women are currently in the programme.
The Department of Gender Affairs would have endeavoured in 2019 to be compliant with the Federation’s treaty obligations under Article 18 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As such, the Department has completed the combined fifth (5th), sixth (6th), seventh (7th) and eight (8th) National Periodic Reports, covering the period 2002-2018. These Reports will be the subject of official United Nations’ review shortly, for which the Department is awaiting word for the scheduling of the exercise. St. Kitts and Nevis acceded to the CEDAW in 1985 and the last examination would have been done in 2002 with the combined initial (1st), second (2nd), third (3rd) and fourth (4th) periodic reports. These compulsory CEDAW Reports are meant to assess how the Federation has responded to the challenges, obstacles and discrimination experienced by our womenfolk – in areas such as politics, economic development, career opportunities and in public and private sector leadership. The Reports also should seek to elucidate the reasons for discrimination against women and measures that must be implemented to eliminate such inequalities.
The Department of Community Development has already planned for 2020 what can best be described as a more robust programme to maximise the Department’s support to the communities in which they service. Previous editions of this publication would have noted that the Department had commenced a process of decentralisation of key government services at several Community Centres on St. Kitts. This is an ongoing process that will be rolled out to additional community centres in 2020, to bring Government services closer to the persons in need of such support. Moreover, it is also meant to strengthen the relationships between the community workers, residents and service organisations in the joint effort of improving the lives of all of the residents who are served by these Community Centres. The Ministry has already begun to see positive results from the decentralisation of these services. Also evident is greater usage of the Community Centres by residents in the area, which was a major goal of the Ministry. An improved standard of care for the Community Centres has also been attained in the past year.
Undoubtedly, the weekly presence of the Department’s staff at the centres has helped in this regard. This is an important development, given the fact that most of these community centres also function as official hurricane shelters and should always be ready in the event of an emergency.
Continued repairs and upgrades to Community Centres will be executed in 2020. A major development in 2020 will also be the construction of a brand new multi-purpose centre for the residents of the Lodge-Ottleys communities. Construction would have started on this facility in November 2019 and should be completed by year-end 2020.
Strategic Relationships with International Agencies
Strong relationships and partnerships are imperative to the execution of the Ministry’s work programme. As such, the Ministry continues to strengthen collaboration with several international agencies such as UN Women, the Pan American Health Organisations (PAHO) and United Nation Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). These partnerships make it possible for the Ministry to meet its obligations under key International agreements and conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Belem Do Para); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The 2020 Estimates provisions for the Ministry reflect, in monetary terms, Government’s sustained commitment to meeting the needs of the most vulnerable of our people. The budgetary allocations for this fiscal year should do much to protect the dignity of our people as human beings, safeguard their rights, reduce discrimination, and ensure that they live meaningful lives in which they can actively participate in the life of the Country. In this way, no one will be left behind in the socio-economic development of the Federation and the gains of our Nation’s advancement are shared by all.
Hon. Wendy C Phipps
Minister of State with Responsibility for Community Development, Gender Affairs and Social Services