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Dismont departs Family Centre with a warning

A wave of mental health problems in families will sink Bermuda if action is not taken, the freshly retired head of a major charity warned yesterday.

Martha Dismont, who stepped down as executive director of Family Centre on Tuesday after 30 years, said families across the island had undergone trauma — but had not been given enough help.

Ms Dismont said: “The majority of the families we see — and the majority of families who are still out there, but will not come in for services — are traumatised people.

“They will sink this island if the emotional wellbeing of these people are not tended to.

“We need to find ways to bring them in, find ways to make them feel comfortable so they can say they need help.”

Ms Dismont said the Covid-19 crisis had highlighted the number of vulnerable people. She added: “If we take care of the Bermudian people, this island will be OK.

“Family Centre is a vital organisation, along with others like the Centre Against Abuse, the Women's Resource Centre and the Coalition for the Protection of Children, working to address these mental health problems that are rampant in this country.

“I just pray that there is more attention given to that. And resources, because we are going to need a lot of that.”

Ms Dismont said her successor, Sandy De Silva, was the right person to tackle the problems faced by families.

She said: “Dr De Silva is a psychologist, she is very nurturing and very intelligent. To take Family Centre to the next level, we need to put to the forefront the importance of providing the proper resources to mental health agencies.”

Ms Dismont added she moved to Bermuda from the United States in 1986 and started work in the school system as a counsellor.

She said: “I could see children that were struggling to keep up as a result of needing extra help, so I took a little boy in, to do some tutoring, because he was being teased so terribly. I wasn't even charging his mother, I felt so bad. I could see the change immediately.

“Within a month, his mother came to me and said she had a friend whose son needed some help, so I started tutoring a second boy from my home.

“After a while, about six months or so, it just kept on growing, so I had to figure out what to do.”

Ms Dismont added the after-school tutoring programme evolved into The Learning Centre, founded in 1990.

But said: “We could see the behaviour of children changing and we knew we could no longer just be a tutoring programme.”

Ms Dismont said she later met Peter Carey — who would become the charity's community programme director — and they realised they had both noticed the risks to Bermuda's young people.

She added: “We decided that what we would do is create an organisation that would address the behaviour problems of children, but we knew we couldn't work with these children unless the entire family came.”

Ms Dismont said they hired several people to provide a “wraparound” programme, but let them go inside a year and started from scratch.

She said: “They were social workers, but we needed psychologists and counsellors. We revamped the programme in 1996 and 1997 with the goal to wrap around the entire family.”

Ms Dismont said the charity at first concentrated on children aged between 4 and 10, but the whole-family approach led them to expand to include youngsters aged up to 18.

She said the charity grew to help more than 150 families a year, but had to expand to meet demand and now assisted about 400 families a year.

Ms Dismont said: “The highest risk are not the type to go walking into an agency, so we felt we had to develop outreach programmes for them.

“We have the Beyond Rugby programme, which reaches out to children in the public schools who may never have heard of rugby before, and we have the youth leadership programme which was a partnership formed with the Bermuda Police Service to match children and police so they can understand each other.”

Ms Dismont said: “The beauty of these community programmes is when you start with the children and figure out what their issues are, the parents can see the progress and they come forward.”

Stepping down: Martha Dismont, the former executive director of Family Centre (File photograph)

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Published July 02, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 02, 2020 at 7:14 am)

Dismont departs Family Centre with a warning

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