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Family Centre’s 25 years of caring

Milestone: Family Centre executive director Martha Dismont

A quarter-century after opening its doors for the first time, Family Centre is still working hard to support the Island’s young people and to address social concerns.

Speaking to the Hamilton Rotary Club about the charity’s 25th anniversary, Family Centre executive director Martha Dismont said: “When we began this work in the early 1990s, we saw the beginnings of the challenges that we are facing today.

“We saw children falling through the cracks of a struggling education system, we saw adults living with unaddressed trauma or unaddressed emotional neglect, and spilling all of that neglect into how they raised their children, and we saw underdeveloped social systems incapable of responding appropriately to high-risk situations.

“Today, after 20-plus years of concern about the lack of proper education for our youth, the lack of nurturance from adults in denial, the effects of the neglect, the lack of enough preventive services and the need for best practice in responding to the needs of high-risk children and families, we can say that we can see some progress.”

Family Centre initially launched in 1990 as The Learning Centre of Bermuda. At that time, the organisation was dedicated to helping students with academic and social challenges. Over the years, the organisation expanded its role to focus on counselling and social support. “We recognised that Bermuda is unique with its own challenges and strengths,” Ms Dismont said. “A great strength is the viral effect that healing can have.

“When you reach a family through their child, you can transform the lives of family members and all those they impact every day. Our focus has been on the child and the family that surrounds that child, recognising that the adults in a child’s life dictate the upbringing and the environment within which the children live.” She said that over the past 25 years, the organisation has assisted more than 3,000 families and has helped to set up the Bermuda National Standards Committee, which now accredits and certifies agencies, leading to more local organisations getting accreditation.

However, she also noticed the impact of the economic downturn, which she compared to a hurricane striking the Island while it was not properly prepared.

“As we all know, having experienced severe hurricanes in recent years, when the winds blow you must be prepared to weather the storm,” she said.

“Increased gang activity and violence, growing poverty for many families, increased domestic violence and even the high unemployment rate can be attributed to the lack of preparedness by this country to these winds of change.”

While Ms Dismont said the announcement that Bermuda will host the America’s Cup was a “gift” for the Island, she said that efforts must be made to use the event to strengthen the community or it would become an event that simply comes and goes.

“We must ask ourselves if we are investing every dollar, every resource and effort into ensuring that our able residents are trained with skills to be in a position to take the new jobs that are being developed,” she said.

“Are we improving the public education system with urgency so that we no longer have young people who are leaving school without a degree, without skills and without a sense of purpose?

“Are we instilling in adults a more nurturing sense of care and response to children and their emotional needs? Are we properly treating the parents and the adults of our children for their emotional neglect and trauma?

“Are we honouring the dignity of the individual and treating those who must seek financial assistance with care and compassion?

“Are we requiring agencies to demonstrate best practice for the public dollars received and encouraging them to ask for the help that is needed to maintain a quality standard of practice? For us, these are the measurements of success in this society, and this is the work that we have invested in for 25 years.”

Moving forward, she said all members of the community, including Government, must look at the lessons of the past and consider if they have been acted on.

Noting her time working with the SAGE Commission, she said: “[Government] had tons and tons and tons of reports they had written. Some they had put into practice, most they had not. The answers are here.

“The key is to put into practice what we already know.”

Ms Dismont said that everyone must be part of the solution to remedy the Island’s social woes, making people the priority over projects and policies.

“As we, through our services prepare families and children to participate in society in a more healthy and productive manner, we must have a society worthy of their efforts,” she added.