WEDNESDAY, DEC. 5: This year, 2012, has seen more of Bermuda’s children and their families sink further below the poverty line.

With more parents unemployed and more still underemployed, the stresses faced have deeply impacted the wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of our community.

This economic situation is made worse by the continued threat of violence in the neighborhoods where most of these children live.

It is with these dual issues of poverty and safety at the forefront, that the Coalition for the Protection of Children presents its list of recommendations for all of the aspiring political candidates:


Education and Youth Development

A very significant portion of the young men involved in gang related or violent activity have been suspended or expelled from the mainstream education system.

Many of those young men begin exhibiting problematic behaviour from a very early age.

Early intervention is essential, coupled with considerably more learning support, behaviour management, counselling and outreach programmes to embrace struggling parents.

We need to increase the focus on the early identification of children who display the propensity for anti-social behaviour and provide outreach assistance to the parents of those children.

This should include parenting classes, housing and financial assistance and family to family mentoring programs. Identify and test children who show signs of learning difficulties in the first two to three years of school and provide intervention and learning support necessary to help them keep pace with their peers.

Stop the practice of expelling students in their early teens and provide therapeutic intervention for students with psychological or behavioural problems. The Department of Education needs to honor their legal obligation to provide an appropriate educational setting for children up to school leaving age.

Establish an alternative school for at-risk or troubled youth with a focus on the talents and gifts of these young people.

The purpose for this is not punishment but to provide a stable, nourishing, safe and drug free environment that has strong programs including music, the arts and a range of athletic pursuits.

Criminal behaviour, gang related relationships, and illicit drug use all begin at the middle school level and it is critical that strong and consistent prevention and intervention must be firmly in place at this stage.

This will require the doubling of counselling resources as well as much more intense and widespread conflict resolution training in middle schools.

Non-academic students, particularly young boys, should be provided the option of technical training beginning as early as middle school.

It is inexcusable that we are still importing car and motorcycle mechanics, many types of skilled construction workers, body and repair workers and the like. Technical and trades training must begin in middle schools.

Reinstitute free tuition for the Bermuda College for those who cannot afford the cost, including the ancillary costs such as books in order to ensure individuals who to receive further education are able to do so.

Professional Development, Adult Education and Training

Individuals should be encouraged and supported to develop their skills in order to increase their ability to earn a better wage through improved vocational training.

The provision of financial assistance for those wishing to return to school is essential.

Employment, Wages and Cost of Living

In recognition of the direct link between the growing income inequity and violent and predatory crime, steps must be taken to address the extreme poverty in the bottom quartile of the income scale. This means taking a serious look at what would be a living wage for people in unskilled or semi-skilled sectors of the community. This involves the establishment of wage guidelines which reflect the actual cost of living for a family supporting a child or children.

Reduce the mandatory wage deductions for individuals at the lowest end of the income scale.

Increase the duty on alcohol, cigarettes and luxury items.

Cap the interest and associated fees that credit collection firms are allowed to charge.

Housing

Recognize that adequate, affordable housing is a basic human right. Increase the use of rent-geared-to-income housing and stop the practice of evicting families from BHC properties because they have fallen behind on their rent due to their inability to afford that rent.

• Sheelagh Cooper is head of the Coalition for the Protection of Children.

Part II of this column, which will appear in Friday’s Bermuda Sun, will look at family support, prison reform and law enforcement.