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Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox

The Social Development Ministry is launching a community First Responders’ system to ensure communities have dedicated groups of people taking care of each other in emergencies from natural disasters and bereavement to retrenchment.

And the ministry’s also providing services to assist grandparents raising grandchildren alone.

Social Development Minister Donna Cox revealed this yesterday during her contribution to the Senate’s 2021 Budget debate.

Cox said resilient communities form the bedrock of T&T.

“A key component of a strong, resilient community is stable relationships among residents. Residents of such communities, much like what existed before, invest their time, talent and treasure to protect and support each other so the community thrives.”

The Ministry proposes to lead the thrust towards establishing the Community First Responders System.

“This is particularly true of communities where there may be senior citizens, pregnant or nursing mothers, single parents, abused persons and persons with disabilities, who will require immediate attention.”

Cox said the system will be a family support, community-based system, consisting of a network of public, private, NGOs, civil society organisations and individual volunteers, who come together to protect and support families, including single adults, during times of crises.

“Crises may be unexpected events such as natural or manmade disasters, bereavement, critical illness or family disputes that have a physical, psychological or emotional impact on families within that community.”

The system will be activated for any family within a community upon the occurrence of:

• Referral by a Division or Unit within the Ministry, partner Ministry or agency;

• A public expression of assistance for families/individuals due to losses resulting in homelessness, need for counselling or other services provided by the Ministry;

• A critical incident that would affect families/individuals that is brought to the attention of the Head Office and the District Offices of the Ministry;

• A review of statistical reports indicating a family is or will be in crisis;

• Retrenchment and/or closing down of businesses due to structural adjustments in the economy, which affects the family.

The system will be led by the Ministry’s National Family Services Division.

“Once alerted, relevant members of the ministry will be activated, briefed and, utilising the case management approach, deliver the appropriate team response, with critical designated roles for each team member.”

Standard Operating Procedures and individual and group protocols will be established to govern the seamless functioning of the team. Training will be provided for all members of the system.

Cox said the ministry has identified the broad framework for such collaboration and has begun reaching out to MPs, partner Ministries and other individuals and groups.

She also said the ministry will assist grandparents raising grandchildren. “Many of us were raised by our grandparents, due to the absence of our parents. Today, grandparents continue to provide invaluable social support to their families, particularly in these times of socio-economic constraints. Grandparents raising grandchildren is a common feature of T&T life. However, when that care involves full-time responsibility, when biological parents are absent, then the picture changes significantly.”

She said evidence shows grandparents become very vulnerable and can suffer from many challenges, some very severe, including financial hardship, physical, emotional and psychological stress, isolation and poverty.

Some grandparents have difficulty accessing services for their grandchildren as they don’t have legal custody and may have to undergo extensive legal battles to secure these rights.”

Cox added, “In some situations, because of issues with parents, grandchildren themselves suffer from a variety of developmental, behavioural, emotional and other challenges such as depression, ADHD, learning disabilities and may display feelings of resentment, frustration, rejection and anger.”

“Parenting in these circumstances, pose added difficulties for grandparents whose already limited resources may be diverted to psychological /medical support, to overcome the adverse mental and physical consequences of these challenges.”

“In this regard, we’re working on a package of services for grandparents who are taking care of grandchildren. These will include parenting skills, psychological support for themselves and their grandchildren through our National Family Services Division. Our Division of Ageing will provide assistance with respect to social isolation and loneliness; and through our enhanced communication efforts we’ll make sure they are aware of all the Ministry’s services available to them.”

She also noted the age of becoming a grandparent has been decreasing as the cycle of teenage pregnancy continues in many households and there are many grandparents who are limited in their ability to provide care and support for younger loved ones.

Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox says between normal ministry programmes and COVID-19 relief programmes, as at September 30, Government had provided food, income and other support to more than one-quarter of the entire T&T population costing approximately $5.1 billion.

But she added the ministry had to reject almost 5,000 applicants for COVID relief.

“For various reasons, including double-dipping and attempts at fraud, not all those who applied for COVID relief assistance were able to receive such.”

Some reasons for rejection included that some applicants were

non-nationals, some were students; others lacked required documentation —in some cases, unwillingness to supply the necessary documentation —and some applicants had income exceeding the qualifying limit.”

“Some applications were blatant attempts to mislead and defraud the Government. All these things made them ineligible for the grant. More importantly, they clogged the system and stopped genuine applicants from accessing support quicker.”