Saint Lucia
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Government seeks to Strengthen Legislation for Public Assistance and Juvenile Rehabilitation Programmes

Equity Minister, Joachim Henry
Equity Minister, Joachim Henry

Social Affairs and Equity Minister Joachim Henry has stated that government intends to strengthen the Public Assistance Program to provide a Safety Net, especially targeting indigent and vulnerable citizens. 

He disclosed that the Safety Net for “our Social Responsibilities” has received nearly $26 million and the department is looking to ensure that more effective coverage is provided in that sphere.

Henry says there is a criteria to determine the persons that qualify for public assistance and not everyone can fall within that ambit of support.

The minister disclosed that cabinet was due to meet to approve a Graduation Strategy to get persons who are not so economically depraved, off the public assistance process.

“We are proving support to households that ranges from $200 to $400, depending on the size of the households and the issues surrounding the households and their vulnerability,” said Minister Henry.

He said it was quite commendable that government can increase the public assistance quota, at this time, “so that we can better take care of our vulnerable population”.

Henry noted that people are trying to move away from the ‘Dependency Syndrome’ and are looking for ways and means to do better and the “numbers are encouraging”.

The minister added that an assessment of the situation deduced that “people are very complex in how they see their problems and how they see solutions to their problems”. He said, for instance, some people would rather choose to migrate overseas in an effort to seek better economic fortunes.

Henry explained that the Graduation Strategy would involve “using some of the windows of support, like the Micro Enterprise, the BELFUND, and using TVET, where we can provide people with training”.

“People are asking to be trained …so that they can seek employment,” he added. “In some households the older ones that are now at the A ‘Level College can find a job. That too, would qualify them to get out there and be able to take care of some of the bills …so they are discussing things in a very positive way that’s encouraging for Saint Lucia.”

Noting the Covid-19 pandemic displaced several persons and livelihoods , Henry said , a current poverty assessment would determine that “more than 25% of our population are (identified as )  poor under the Poverty Line …so if we have 3,600 persons on the Poverty Assistance receiving Public Assistance …we should not feel that these numbers are out of this world and it’s scary.”

Nevertheless, the minister stated, he is pleased that government “can find the space to provide these ‘extra money space’ to allow for more persons to be on it, as we at the ministry look to graduate persons out of Public Assistance and bring on board persons who are extremely in need of Public Assistance.”

Minister Henry is also very passionate about the welfare of the wards at the island’s Boys’ Training Centre (BCF), particularly, at this time, as the institution has recently been beset with some disturbing issues. He said there are plans in place to deal with juvenile delinquency and for a complete overhaul and development of the “juvenile environment” to assist young persons on island.

“The new Child Justice Act allows for persons who are in conflict with the law to be at the Boys Training Centre,” he explained. “However, currently we do not have the space to accommodate them and so probations and people at the prison would tell us …there are some young men that ought to be with us (BTC) at this time, we do not have the space to accommodate them.”

Henry said the department is bent on addressing this problem “and we need to decide as to what extent that we have a proper detention centre, as part of our Juvenile Rehabilitation Centre. To what extent that we bring together both what is happening at Uptown Girls, because we have a unit that is governed separately to the Transit Home, at Cas en Bas and you have the Boys Training Centre”.

In that context, he said, “We have three different units catering for juveniles, both boys and girls. We are looking to harmonize, rationalize and bring all of that together and to provide the best training for our wards and our young leaders.”

The minister referred to gender neutral professions such as sewing for seamstresses and tailors, auto mechanics, music, TVET and other fields that training can be provided for these young persons. He informed that the authorities have allocated the former George Charles Secondary School “as a place to provide us with an opportunity to provide a lot more for our young people who are in conflict with the law.”

Added Henry: “We will also be able to separate those who are in conflict with the law and those who are there for care and protection. At the moment we are not effective in doing this. So, the separation is not just in terms of the physical space, but in terms of who are serving. We want persons who are serving those who are there for care and protection and those serving those who are in conflict with the law, so that their attention, the focus on their rehabilitation efforts and process is successful.”

Consequently, he said, training will be provided for social welfare officers to be better able to undertake their duties.

“So, we have the support of USAID …and the OASIS, a programme that was launched in the region through the OECS, to provide us with support to develop those programmes. And to do the capacity building and training of those persons who would be working there. We’re looking at making changes within the management structure of the current organization.”

Summing up, Henry noted: “We have somebody in- house who is currently leading in putting the various elements of that together. We are looking at the legislation, the programme, the rebranding …so the name – Boys Training Centre would disappear and may just be a Caring Centre, to remove the stigma associated with what it has been referred to in the past.”

He asserted: “And that would happen by having various professionals coming together, approved by Cabinet that would guide and provide oversight for the complete process where we interface with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) which would be providing funding for this initiative.

“So, I’m excited about what the government is doing for this whole issue of juvenile issues…and so , expect there to be one institution and hopefully (establishing ) a Statutory Organization as opposed to having three government entities doing similar things.”