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Published child abuse figures were off by 179

Child abuse figures reported in Government’s Budget for the coming fiscal year contained a glitch, showing 179 less cases for 2010 than the actual figure.

Families Minister

Glenn Blakeney revealed the error as MPs studied his Ministry’s spending, during a four-hour Committee of Supply.

The House of Assembly also heard numbers of suspected abuse or neglect cases referred to Child and Family Services over the past four years, which show a steady climb.

There were 556 referrals in 2008, 597 in 2009, 637 in 2010, and 646 for 2011.

However, the latest Budget Book gives a figure of 458 for 2009/10, which the Minister said “is a misprint and is incorrect”, and should have read 637.

The Minister also gave the top reasons for the 2011 referrals: 120 for physical abuse, 132 for sexual abuse, 80 for behavioural problems and 281 for neglect, accounting for 613 out of the 646 reported.

Calling Youth, Families and Sports a vital Ministry, Shadow Minister

Donte Hunt clashed with Mr Blakeney over Budget figures, with each accusing the other of attempting to mislead.

“Bermuda is facing an epidemic of massive proportions,” Mr Hunt said. “It’s centred on families, centred on our youth, the future of this country. The cause of this epidemic comes down to the huge increase in dysfunctional families.”

Charging that “we need more money, more funds to assist in the increase of social challenges”, Mr Hunt said Youth and Families was “reliant almost 100 percent on the coffers of Government” and told the House: “We don’t have enough to support this Ministry as much as it needs.”

“That’s inaccurate and it’s supposition,” Mr Blakeney shot back. “Our projection for 2012/13 says we are right where we’re supposed to be. We’re fully subscribed with regard to the level of funding.”

The Ministry has $75.4 million budgeted for the year coming, which is up 21 percent, or $13 million on last year’s allocation an assertion which Mr Hunt repeatedly challenged, using the revised figure of $74.3 million given for 2011/12.

“That’s not much of an increase,” the One Bermuda Alliance MP said.

Mr Blakeney told the House that as of February, 1,375 people are on Financial Assistance 136 of whom are able-bodied and unemployed, and who must sign on with Labour and Training and show a form indicating weekly job searches.

Mr Hunt questioned why Labour and Training didn’t provide them with better support.

Business owners, he said, are being visited by poorly-dressed and poorly-spoken “individuals who have no clue about the interview process as a matter of fact, I think some of these guys don’t even care; they just want to signature on that paper”.

Mr Blakeney responded: “He’s misleading again. We have investigating officers and we follow up with Financial Assistance.”

But Mr Hunt said Bermuda has “an epidemic of young guys and young girls who aren’t trying and don’t want to work they want to mooch off Government”.

He also took issue with the numbers for Financial Assistance, charging that with 3,000 to 6,000 people out of work, the figure of 136 able-bodied people signed on for assistance seemed “drastically low”.

Mr Hunt also questioned how salaries for Financial Assistance dropped seven percent, but employee numbers remained level.

“This may create an issue with performance,” he said. “As human, we can handle but so much.”

Expenditure at Family Service for service to individuals and families is down $75,000 to $2.7 million, the Shadow Minister also noted. In the context of increasing numbers of referrals for child abuse and neglect, “that’s obviously a red flag”, he said.

He suggested the drop in the number of foster parents recruited for 2010/11, down to 16 from the previous year’s 28, indicated the poor state of the economy. Mr Blakeney responded that “tough cases” in the 15 to 18 age range accounted for much of the drop, and sparred with Mr Hunt over the root cause.

The Minister said he failed to see how behavioural issues could be linked to economic struggles.

United Bermuda Party MP

Charlie Swan weighed in next, noting the climb in Financial Assistance’s average award from $1,750 in 2009/10 to $1,800 a month for the present fiscal year.

“I imagine that’s going to jump up significantly,” he said.

Mr Swan also questioned how the misprinted child referral figures had come about.

“What happened?” he asked. Mr Swan also noted that of the 646 referrals for the present year, the number of children whose risk was reduced during the year was reportedly 93.

He asked the Minister: “What happens to the hundreds of others?”

OBA seniors spokeswoman

Louise Jackson said: “I’m pleased to see that Government has finally recognised that seniors who own property but are impoverished still need Financial Assistance.” She asked why Government had not done away with amendments restricting the assistance sooner.

And Ms Jackson said the $5,000 to $13,000 a month for a rest home was unaffordable for most people, imploring Government to do more to support at-home care.

Predicting a “tsunami of seniors” by 2020, Ms Jackson asked when more facilities to care for the elderly would be built.

The UBP’s

Kim Swan praised the achievements of the Happy Valley Child Care Centre, but blasted Government for not building more such facilities during years of economic plenty. Mr Blakeney had reported spending for the centre as unchanged, at just over $1 million.

OBA Shadow Education Minister

Grant Gibbons, meanwhile, questioned how the Centre’s achievements could be replicated, without resorting to such high spending. Dr Gibbons said Happy Valley Child Care Centre’s annual expenditure worked out at roughly $25,000 per child, compared to about $13,000 per year for a Government preschool.

Thanking participants at the close of the Committee of Supply, Mr Blakeney said he had too many questions to answer at once.

“I will get my answers typed up and presented to the individuals who asked,” the Minister said.

First town hall budget meeting to discuss the upcoming National Budget.The Hon. Glenn Blakeney, JP, MP, Minister of Youth, Families, and Sports(Photo by Akil Simmons) January 18,2012

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Published March 06, 2012 at 8:54 am (Updated March 06, 2012 at 8:53 am)

Published child abuse figures were off by 179

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