BEST for Cayman's Youth
Published 21st June 2011, 6:22pm
An 11-year-old primary school student bullies schoolmates, fights with peers and siblings; constantly disrespects his mother and his teachers and frequently threatens violence. His mother, a single parent of five, is very concerned about him.
At another primary school, a 10-year-old student is also causing his parents and teachers similar distress. He's attending his third primary school in two years, and his behavioural challenges include inappropriate sexual behaviour, classroom disruption, and lying.
Without intervention these two youngsters have an extremely high chance of ending up on the wrong side of the law in just a few years.
But a new multi-agency initiative, the Behaviour and Educational Support Team (BEST) is touching young lives like these and helping steer them back in the right direction.
Introduced by the Ministry of Education, Training and Employment and the Department of Education Services, BEST is a new strategy designed to assess and address the needs of at-risk school-aged children.
Partnering agencies include the ministries of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports and Culture, and Community Affairs, Gender and Housing; the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs; the RCIPS Family Support Unit, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Counselling Services.
At a 16 June press conference formally starting the initiative, Ministry Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues referred to BEST as "the largest formal inter-agency collaboration ever achieved to help Cayman's youth."
"For many of our at-risk youth, symptoms are evident at a very early stage," Mrs. Rodrigues said. "And despite the efforts and resources of many different agencies within both present and past governments, we have not achieved effective mechanisms to help them work through their issues. Today, ladies and gentlemen, all that changes."
Continuing the presentation, Education Minister the Hon. Rolston Anglin, JP, noted, "We have long talked about the need for inter-agency cooperation. Now, with the signing of MOUs by three government ministries, the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs and four government departments, we are committing to that need at an unprecedented level."
He also explained that his ministry's new mantra is about results. He said challenges and concerns were not new to the education system, and that this approach encouraged consulting, thinking and strategically planning to find solutions to improve the life chances of Cayman's children.
Premier, the Hon. McKeeva Bush, OBE, JP, was also present at the press conference, and he affirmed both Cabinet's and the National Security Council's endorsement of the initiative:
"There can be no more important agenda for a government or a country than helping its young people to succeed, especially the most vulnerable," he said. "I encourage all participating agencies to honour the commitments made here today to work together for the benefit of our youth."
Managed at the ministry level by Programme Coordinator and Liaison Officer for At-Risk Youth, Michael Myles, BEST teams will be established at each school and will include representatives from agencies within and outside of the education system.
Thus far, teams have completed a 12-month pilot programme and have initiated intervention with several students.
Children were recommended for the programme by their schools if they met certain at-risk criteria. The team coordinator then met with school representatives and compiled a referral document, detailing all known challenges concerning each child.
Shortly thereafter case conferences with the respective BEST teams and school officials were scheduled. Once teams agreed on an outline of services, individual meetings with each child's parent(s) were scheduled to discuss both in-school and in-home treatment options.
Cases were then closely monitored. To measure results, regular audits that assessed the effectiveness of BEST recommendations, relative to the each student's home, community, and school situations, were periodically conducted.
Similar steps will be followed for new cases identified by school officials and BEST team members.
For more information on the initiative, visit www.education.gov.ky. To access BEST support, speak with the guidance counsellor or principal at your child's school.