Minister vows to put needs of children first
Minister Glenn Blakeney has vowed to help strengthen Bermudian families by putting the needs of children first.
The Minister of Youth, Families and Sports has highlighted Throne Speech initiatives that focus on “healthy families reflecting healthy communities”.
The scope of the Bermuda Family Council, which serves in an advisory capacity to Government, is to be expanded. It is to be made into a statutory body to investigate all areas of family life, including what is happening in “dysfunctional” homes.
Mr Blakeney said the Council would also put forward solutions for areas of concern.
He said: “Good parenting skills are a cornerstone to family stability … One of the key priorities of the Council will be to develop and promote effective parenting skills as a means to help and strengthen the Bermudian family.”
The Council will be asked to recommend a way to bring in shared parenting which refers to a “collaborative arrangement in which the care of the children is equal or substantially shared between the parents”.
It has to be decided whether shared parenting is introduced under amendments to the Children Act 1998 or as stand-alone legislation.
Mr Blakeney said his Ministry was to implement shared parenting “to provide parents with mechanisms to improve their ability to enhance the welfare of their children”.
He added that the Ministry would have to “dig deep and peel off the layers” to address the “abnormalities” of situations of abuse and sexual predators as parents.
However, Mr Blakeney vowed that it would be “a thorough process where children’s rights are protected first and foremost”.
Similar legalisation is already in place in about 50 countries and The Throne Speech hinted that parents being given equal rights was “a critical component” to reduce gang membership.
Mr Blakeney also went on to praise the “proactive work” of family rights campaign group ChildWatch, which he said did “an incredible job”.
It comes just a couple of weeks after Mr Blakeney publicly apologised to the group for failing to show up as a forum panel member as it clashed with the Progressive Labour Party’s annual banquet.
Mr Blakeney also pointed out that the Department of Human Affairs would “examine the feasibility” of introducing an Equality Act to address sexual orientation discrimination.
He said Government would continue to tackle the issue in “keeping with its track record of dealing with sometimes controversial social issues”.
Mr Blakeney said he was “aware of the sensitivities in the community” and added that he did not condone sexual discrimination in employment and accommodation.
As for age discrimination, Mr Blakeney said they were reviewing how widespread the problem was and research into how it was outlawed in other countries was being carried out.
He promised that they would follow in the footsteps of the UK, US and Canada and amend the Human Rights Act 1981 to include age discrimination legalisation. Mr Blakeney said: “Age discrimination, whether purposeful or unintended, exists in Bermuda.
“The number of persons aged 65 and older in our community is projected to increase significantly in the next ten to 20 years, and therefore the potential will increase for older people to face discrimination and unfair treatment in many aspects of life.”
Mr Blakeney also revealed that Springfield, the Bermuda National Trust property in Sandys, is to be the first historic building to get a make over by unemployed young people.
The building will be used as the pilot project of the Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES), which aims to provide 17 to 25-year-olds with on-the-job training in trades such as woodwork, painting, masonry, plumbing and horticultural.
Mr Blakeney said the soon-to-be-launched scheme would start with repairing the large front veranda at Springfield, which houses the West End Community Centre.
He said: “The goal would be to repair, refresh and revitalise the interior and exterior building and surrounding grounds and gardens. Plans will soon be submitted for planning approval; interviews with interested youth are in progress, and preliminary discussions have already been held with prospective skilled tradesmen.”
Mr Blakeney also vowed to review the eligibility criteria for financial assistance so that over 65s were not automatically excluded due to property ownership. He admitted this strict eligibility criteria had been seen to be “unduly punitive” especially among those “who are unable to work and provide for themselves”.
Mr Blakeney added that his Ministry was often referred to as “the social services engine of Government” and he took his role very seriously, especially during difficult economic times.