Bad parents may be sent back to school
A contentious debate in the House of Assembly saw amendments to the Child Day Care Allowance grudgingly approved.
The amendments put forward by Community Minister Wayne Scott gives Government the power to impose parenting classes on recipients who break the rules.
It also sets a schedule for when clients whose awards have been revoked can apply for another award.
The Progressive Labour Party’s Glenn Blakeney initially told the House that he supported the motion despite some concerns, saying: “Anything we do as a stop gap measure or an intervention measure to stop this falling through the gaps is, I think, a good thing.”
However as the debate continued, Mr Blakeney said the groundswell of concerns voiced by his colleagues had swayed him, saying the loss of benefits would negatively affect the children, the parents and those who operate the day cares.
Opposition Whip Lovitta Foggo called the amendment contrary to the original intent of the initiative, which was universally supported by the House, which was to ensure that all children can receive early education regardless of their family’s economic situation.
However Deputy Speaker Suzann Holshouser said the amendment brings the legislation in line with other financial assistance programmes, and that both parents and children could both benefit from the offered parenting courses.
“There’s no shame in parenting programmes,” she said. “There’s a wealth of education available.”
Shadow Tourism Minister Wayne Furbert said the amendment was really a cost-cutting measure in disguise — a suggestion refuted by Mr Scott as “utter nonsense”.
While Mr Furbert said he supports what the Minister is trying to accomplish, but that the amendments go against the core purpose of the act and would risk leaving children behind.
Opposition Leader Marc Bean meanwhile said he had grave reservations about the amendment, saying there is no single successful strategy for parenting.
“Being a parent is part of your culture. There is no one cookie cutter approach,” he said. “The state has to be very careful when defining what a good parent is.”
He, along with several other Opposition ministers including Derrick Burgess, Kim Wilson, and Michael Scott, called on Government to hold off on the amendments until the concerns could be addressed.
Mr Scott however replied that the legislation added a degree of accountability for those who are seeking assistance from Government while giving additional assistance in the form of parenting programmes to those who needed it.
“Let’s stop this no accountability in our community because it’s killing this community,” he said. “It’s about helping our people.
“We have to put some kind of accountability in place to get the desired outcomes. This is about recommending help for people who are deemed to need help. It’s our philosophy that we need to have a social recovery in Bermuda and part of that is offering help when they need help.
“It’s not just ‘Here’s some money. Shoo, shoo. Kick the can down the road’. The no accountability approach doesn’t work.”
Attorney General Mark Pettingill told MPs: “It’s one of those situations where you have to have a bit of consequence. You can’t just hand out money.”
Mr Pettingill added that the amendment stated the Director “may” impose special conditions.
“It says ‘may’, not ‘will’ or ‘shall’,” he said.
Ultimately, the amendments went down to a vote along party lines, which fell in Government’s favour by 17 to 13. The bill was subsequently approved.