Call for Mirrors to focus on younger children
The Mirrors programme needs to focus its efforts on working with younger children to prevent them getting involved in Bermuda’s gang warfare.
This is the view of Minister Glenn Blakeney, who wants Mirrors to target at-risk children before they make “destructive lifestyle choices” that could ruin their lives.
The Minister of Youth, Families and Sport told the House of Assembly yesterday that the programme should concentrate on helping students at all middle schools and some primary schools.
Mr Blakeney also said in his Ministerial Statement that the cash-strapped programme wasn’t in danger, as Government remained committed to providing funding.
But he said “special emphasis” should be placed on youngsters “to help strengthen their resistance skills to gang-related activity and other antisocial behaviours”.
Mr Blakeney said the way Mirrors could “build upon their success” was to focus on preventive action and influence children before they faced “the wave of challenges” at high school.
Mirrors has previously encouraged young people aged 15 to 24-years-old to work one-on-one with adult mentors from the community to help them achieve their goals and have direction in their lives. Its motto is “to transform our community one person at a time”.
It has been repeatedly heralded for turning around the lives of 406 young men and women since its launch in 2007.
However, Mirrors became one of the victims of sweeping Budget cuts in February and was allocated $1.7 million for this fiscal year, a drop of 34 percent on last year. The June overnight residential programme was called off as a result.
Then the Ministry of Youth, Families and Sports pulled the plug on last month’s residential at Willowbank conference centre at the last-minute by announcing a “more cost-effective facility” was needed.
The only programme currently being run by Mirrors is Coaching For Success for middle school children aged 11 to 14-year-olds.
Mr Blakeney said although the work of Mirrors had been “very encouraging” he believed the programme could achieve “even greater success” by engaging youth at an earlier age.
He sang the praises of its Coaching For Success programme introduced to Sandys Secondary and Whitney Institute Middle Schools.
Mr Blakeney said last year’s pilot programme saw 94 percent of 111 students passing the fourth quarter school exams and two of them going on to become head pupils.
He said he hoped to “allow more youth to participate at an earlier age in order to prevent or divert potential inclinations towards dysfunctional behaviour by encouraging and fuelling a refocus on education, and thus increase the potential outcomes at the High School level and beyond”.
However, Mr Blakeney said his Ministry still had to “determine what level of effort” to place on the Coaching For Success programme in the 2012/2013 budget.
Mr Blakeney said: “This Government is fully aware of the significant positive impact that the Mirrors programme has had, and continues to have, on youth in our community.
“For this reason, the Ministry of Youth, Families and Sports remains committed to the Mirrors programme which we see as important to our objective of empowering youth and strengthening families.”
It comes after Mr Blakeney announced the deferred six-day residential event for 15 to 18-year-olds would be rescheduled in the next fiscal year. He said he wanted to clarify the Government’s position that the residential had been “deferred and not cancelled”.
Mr Blakeney said Mirrors would need to collaborate with other Government and community initiatives for those who were teenagers and above. He said managers at Mirrors had already been engaged in “promising discussions” with the private sector.
The Minister said: “We believe that with strong input from the private sector, we can deliver and sustain the desired level of programming.”
Mr Blakeney added that problems such as delinquency, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, teenage and school dropouts “are costly to our society, both economically and socially”.
However, Mr Blakeney faced about ten questions from Opposition politicians who sought clarification on what he had said.
UBP MP Charlie Swan wanted to know why the Mirrors residential programme was deferred if Government remained committed and if there were any penalties for the last-minute change-of-plan.
Shadow Families Minister Donte Hunt asked several questions about when the next residential course would be held and Shadow Education Grant Gibbons questioned how the middle school children had been selected for the pilot programme and what their previous school results had been.
Mr Blakeney said no date had been set for the next residential, but stressed that there was a difference in dictionary definitions of deferred and cancelled.
He added that “yes, there is a plan in place” and said budgetary funds would be made available if the private sector did not step forward to help.