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MP Outerbridge wants to tackle bad parents

One month after being sworn in as one of the youngest Cabinet ministers in Bermuda's history, Nandi Outerbridge is acting on her promise to tackle the issue of delinquent parents in Bermuda. Ms Outerbridge, who turns 30 next month, told The Royal Gazette that a Cabinet Committee had been formed to find solutions to the problem of parents who refuse to support their children financially while formulating a pathway to employment for those parents who are struggling to meet their financial obligations.

It is an issue close to her heart as she raised her son Shiia while a single mother and, as she puts it, “wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth”.

In her first full-length interview since being sworn in as Minister for Social Development and Sport on February 23, Ms Outerbridge told us: “We have endeavoured to first start exploring the parents who are not working and how we as a government create a pathway to get them employed so that they can start making these payments and paying down the arrears. That ultimately benefits the child, so I am excited that we have started that.

“I have written to the AG's chambers to get an idea of the number of delinquent parents in Bermuda. It is ultimately about holding them accountable for their children and if we as a government can create some sort of pathway to get them employed, then why not help them? It is about creating the opportunity or environment.”

Her personal experiences will further influence her political direction. Ms Outerbridge, who remarried after separating from the father of her child, said while she never used Financial Assistance, she did benefit from the Child Day Care Allowance Programme. Now she is working on a joint government committee formed by Progressive Labour Party's shadow health minister Kim Wilson to address some of the issues faced by women in Bermuda.

She said: “I raised my child — I had family support with my mom and sister but I raised him on my own. I did use the Child Day Care Allowance Programme at one point when my son was in nursery school and that helped significantly, I can tell you, that $800 per month really made a big difference.

“Here I am — I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth — I have actually worked. I was part-time bar tending at one point to make ends meet. One of the biggest challenges that young mothers face is finding time to balance work and family. I don't know how you begin to address that without consulting all stakeholders. I have been involved with the government committee formed by MP Wilson and we agreed to have a joint government committee to address some of the issues that women are facing. That committee has been meeting and some recommendations will be brought forward in short order from that.”

Speaking on the $1 million cut to Financial Assistance in the last budget, Ms Outerbridge highlighted that some $850,000 was due to nursing home grants being shifted over to the Ministry of Health and Seniors coupled with some cuts to administration costs. She said that the funds available for applicants of Financial Assistance remains about the same as the previous year.

Ms Outerbridge first became involved in politics as a member of the One Bermuda Alliance's youth wing Future Bermuda Alliance in 2012 where she was deputy chairman. Becoming one of the youngest members of Parliament on the election of the OBA, she became MP for St George's West, Constituency 2, shadow for the Ministry of National Security and Government Whip in the House of Assembly.

Then in February she was sworn in as Minister for Social Development and Sport at the age of 29 though she has not been able to ascertain whether she is Bermuda's youngest cabinet minister.

Ms Outerbridge is quick to admit that she was surprised to be offered the position and said she understood there might be concerns in the community that she has a lack of experience for such a high-profile position. But she remains bullish in terms of her ability to overcome any challenges through hard work and the support of seasoned colleagues.

Speaking of her short spell in Cabinet, she said: “It is has definitely been zero to 60 but I am grateful to have been helped by the ministry and political colleagues — everyone has thrown in their assistance. I was surprised. I think there were a few people who would, honestly speaking, say they were surprised that I had even made it. I am a pretty hard worker and the one advantage that I do have is that I have such a great relationship with all of my colleagues. I am a researcher as well. I don't go into situations blind — I actually do some work — but what I don't know I lean on them for the support. This has helped not only in my cabinet position but my political career thus far.”

She she was also surprised when asked by the OBA leadership to run for Constituency 2. She said: “At first I thought ‘wow really — me?' But I got the experience of being on the doorstep, canvassing and meeting people. If anyone knows me they will know that I am 100 per cent behind whatever I do and I ended up winning the seat. That was an eye-opener. Once I started that journey I started to speak to newly appointed ministers about some initiatives that I had in mind and here we are today.”

One issue that falls under her ministry that will need considerable political acumen is the issue of violence and gang-related activity that has plagued many of the island's sporting clubs. Ms Outerbridge has been visiting the clubs to discuss some of the major issues they are facing.

“It's nice having the introductions but it is time to start building relationships to see how we can all chip in and address this. Most clubs are undergoing Scars and CPR training — they are getting their volunteers and executives to take the training. They are making the steps now and that is something that we can be proud of.”

On the issue of many clubs being mostly supported by revenues made at their drinking establishments, Ms Outerbridge added: “I would hope that clubs can start looking at other initiatives, like what sponsors to get on board or fundraisers for clubs. But when you think of the operational cost of a club and the amount of money that alcohol brings in ... everyone has to put on their thinking caps. We do youth programmes so maybe there could be an educational portion at an additional fee, but times are hard so you don't want to start increasing fees. Something does needs to be done to raise additional funds.”

Speaking on historic cases of sex abuse in football clubs and whether police checks should be in place for those working with children, she added: “I think it is a conversation that can be held but I would want to get more information behind it first before making a clear statement.”

Another area of interest for Ms Outerbridge is social programming. She prides herself on the work she does in the community including her work mentoring for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bermuda and coaching her son's under-8 football team.

The new Salvation Army facility is something she is keen to get off the ground. She aims to advocate against age discrimination and she is hosting an event in May for single parents that will include free legal advice and access to parliamentarians.

And while she may be finding her feet as a minister, her aspirations are high. “I'm excited to be involved at such a young age because it gives me the stepping stone to go far — there are endless possibilities, my focus as a young black female within government is making sure that those are the voices that are heard.”

Asked whether we could see this young female eventually run for the top political seat of the land, she added: “I'll go for it, that is not off the table to be honest. Being able to give back to your community is huge.”

Nandi Outerbridge (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 30, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated March 30, 2017 at 1:10 am)

MP Outerbridge wants to tackle bad parents

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