The upcoming details of the 2013/2014 budget will reflect to some extent whether any credence was given to the Ryan report titled “No Time To Quit: Engaging Youth at Risk” 2013.
The report was commissioned by the Prime Minister, the Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and the committee was asked to enquire into the causes of criminality among the male youth in Trinidad and Tobago and to propose possible solutions to the challenges (p.15). The committee felt the current crisis reflected a complex web of historical and social problems that have festered for decades.
The following quotation aptly sums up the comprehensive, holistic and practical solutions offered in the 432-page document:
“The solutions require a commitment to short-term actions coupled with sustained long-term programmes. They speak to the need for integrated governance, community empowerment, a comprehensive youth development policy and a social contract that espouses poverty eradication, adequate housing, an improved education system, family support, health and wellness, drug-free learning environments and enriching leisure and creative activities.
“The recommendations address the need for greater equity, differentiated curricula, the importance of basic life skills and the holistic development of the individual. It calls, in particular, for a continuation of the work that was initiated by the Ministry of Justice that seeks to liberalise the prison system to make it more humane.
“The committee presents a comprehensive model of educational reform that features national service and service learning, along with parent and community involvement in schooling. Along with the formal system of education, a more imaginative and socially relevant effort in non-formal and informal education is needed. We position the media and those involved in popular culture as partners in this struggle to reclaim the lives of young men.” (p.10)
Of the 200 recommendations,it is hoped the following short-term solutions would gain some recognition in the budget:
1. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago should recognise the special circumstances faced by working single parents and introduce a new financial benefit for them;
2. Single parents with mentally or physically challenged children face unique obstacles. Increased funding is needed;
3. The Servol Adolescent Development Programme should be a core unit in most of the skills training programmes in Trinidad and Tobago;
4. Establish/refurbish/upgrade sport facilities beginning with the 23 “high needs” pilot communities and many other communities. Some require upgrade of sports fields, refurbishment of basketball courts including lighting systems, the establishment of multipurpose indoor courts and access to major sport equipment for bodybuilding, weightlifting and boxing;
5. There are currently only two Student Development Centres to cater for pupils suspended from secondary schools because of “bad behaviour”. The Ministry of Education should move swiftly to establish Student Development Centres in all educational districts in Trinidad and in Tobago;
6. The Trinidad and Tobago Violence Prevention Academy (VPA) should be revisited and expanded to more schools;
7. The Government should engage post haste in public education campaigns and media blitz on responsible parenting; pamphlets, brochures, CDs, DVDs and websites should be available to parents at hospitals, health centres, Government offices and at popular locations on promenades, in banks, shopping areas and malls throughout the country;
8. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago should establish Child Parent Centres (CPCs), which would provide comprehensive educational support and family support to poor children and their parents;
9. Because of the grave importance of ECCE, child care loans should be granted to impoverished parents (after applying a means test) to a maximum sum of $50,000 payable after ten years at an interest rate of no more than six per cent per annum;
10. A Workplace Child Care Tax Incentive should be established whereby businesses are given a 30% tax deduction to create on-site child care facilities or to improve existing community child care facilities for children of working parents.
11. The development of an Electronic Child Health Network (ECHN) to link hospitals, health care professionals and other organisations providing maternal, newborn, child and adolescent services should be considered;
12. Every child deserves a good start in an environment that is safe, healthy, emotionally supportive and cognitively stimulating. In that regard a child with a learning disability or with social and emotional needs should be screened by age five for remedial intervention;
13. A National Service Scheme including in-service learning in the formal system should be established in the shortest possible time;
14. Resources should be provided to facilitate the establishment of the 20 mediation centres approved by Cabinet in 2004. To date only nine are in existence;
15. Legislation should be enacted to make mediation a mandatory first recourse for offences (other than capital offences and other serious crimes) committed by first-time juvenile offenders;
16. The Pan in School Coordinating Council should be encouraged to pursue the use of pan-yards as extension of schools and community-based centres of learning in the music of the pan, especially in disadvantaged communities;
17. The St Michael’s School for Boys should be refurbished in the shortest possible time and should take into account the erection of a manager’s house, dormitories, a classroom bloc and library, a multipurpose indoor court, a space for worship. Secure fencing and well-kept playing fields should be included. An eclectic approach to curriculum design and delivery should be implemented. The institution should be conceived as a model secure environment for young offenders and staffed accordingly;
18. A similar institution should be established for young female offenders who are currently housed at the Women’s prison at Golden Grove. The secure environment should be located at a site away from Golden Grove;
19. Government should increase their subventions to young offenders’ institutions for girls such as St Jude’s and St Dominic’s schools and assist in their upgrade;
20. An integrated approach to curriculum development that includes key developers as YTEPP, SERVOL and ALTA should assist in reducing recidivism and increase opportunities for young offenders.
Many of these recommendations do not require large capital expenditure and will ultimately make a significant difference in reducing crime, especially among our youth.
• Lennox Bernard PhD was a member
of the Ryan Committee.