Member of Parliament for St George South Dwight Sutherland has recommended that the Barbados Youth Service be expanded.
Addressing Parliament today, the Opposition Barbados Labour Party spokesman raised concern over the level of deviance among the island’s youth, saying steps must be taken to address the growing problem.
“We have a number of boys and girls who for some reason or the other at secondary schools, they’re expelled, they can’t stay in the school system because of misbehaviour. We have some of them on our roads, and we know where they’re heading to when this happens,” he said.
Sutherland noted that while it was mostly boys who posed such problems, there was also a lower number of girls who displayed the same type of behaviour, including some who were teenage mothers.
“When we look at what is happening today with our teen pregnancies, then we ought to be able to begin to take stock of what is happening at a ministry’s level, at a governmental level, at a home level and in the schools,” he told the Lower House.
While warning that Dodds prison or the Government Industrial School were not the answer, Sutherland called for more guidance counsellors in schools to assist the students.
However he was adamant that expanding the Youth Service would help the youngsters become productive members of society.
“I have seen a number of young men gone into the Youth Service and they have come out wonderful young men in this society, women also. I am one who believes that we need to expand the capacity of the Youth Service to take in more of the deviant children and do not see it as a punitive measure, see it as a way to bring them back into the system as decent young men and women,” he said.
Minister of Youth Stephen Lashley agreed that the Youth Service has been beneficial to the development of young people.
“The programme is so multi-dimensional that many of the young people who are exposed to that programme are exposed to a number of important disciplines. They are able to have a second chance at taking their CXCs, they are able to be involved in the job attachment programme in which many of them have been able to secure permanent jobs, both within the public and private sectors. And indeed the programme also teaches some very important life skills,” Lashley said. However Lashley pointed out that the Youth Service was currently lacking funds and therefore could only accommodate 80 young people each year.
“With the challenges faced in finding a permanent home for the Barbados Youth Service over a period of years, we’ve had to manage, based on available resources, and that residential phase was in abeyance for two years. We were only able to get that programme restarted at the Paragon base of the Defence Force last year,” Lashley said, while noting that funds had been allocated in this year’s Estimates for a permanent home for the Youth Service.