BY Nefretery Marin
Belizeans are a very warm and resilient people. We work very hard to support our families under difficult circumstances. It is unfair to see families broken up and separated because of inefficiencies in the Ministry of Human Development. I understand the lack of resources due to the economic and political climate together with cultural norms and practices within our society. I have spent years working with in the social service and police systems, trying my best to bridge the gap. With over 16 years of observation of systems within San Ignacio; I have gained an insight in relation to the way in which services operate within Belize – an Insight that has opened many windows to peek into what is wrong, but mostly how it can be corrected.
My time serving Belize has been both rewarding and frustrating.
Despite understanding the multi-cultural aspects of our Belizean life and societal norms, constructed within a political environment that is not built on social justice; when we look at the resources available to support those individuals, families and children within the lower socio-economic structure of our society, which often perpetuates the cycle of poverty, neglect, domestic abuse, and substance misuse, we understand the breakdown we are witnessing today.
This culture can inadvertently ‘trap’ women to remain within abusive relationships; and for children to continue to be exposed to family discord, abuse and violence. The consequences to children of being raised in such an environment are well documented worldwide in respect of the impact to emotional resilience, low self-esteem, confidence and poor mental health; with the cycle often continuing to future generations as a consequence of the behavior ‘modeled’ to them by their parents; which is often internalised as children and repeated as a default response within their adult relationships.
Through my foundation we bring qualified social workers and counselors to Belize. This could be an excellent opportunity for government bodies to recognise that they have a ‘free’ resource that can be capitalised upon to support an over stretched sector. Nevertheless, Human Services would need to be inclusive and open to support. This has not been my experience. Volunteers are viewed as a hindrance, or with skepticism through fear of being criticized. However, this is not the remit of any volunteer social worker. It is simply to offer support and ‘add value’ wherever possible. Unfortunately, this support does not appear to be embraced by Human Services, which is difficult to assimilate in a profession that is led by sharing ‘best practice’ across societies and diverse cultures.
In order for volunteer social workers to be effective in Belize, Human Services needs to embrace support from other cultures and to consider working directly with volunteer social workers for the duration of their stay; as this is essentially a learning experience for both cultures who can share best practice from their respective systems.
The information and understanding I have gained in respect of the structure and current practices of social work within Belize have been largely as a consequence of assisting calls for help through our victim support unit, through working directly with the Police Department and just ‘turning up’ at Human Services as requests to become involved have been ’silently’ declined.
Working with Police Officers responsible for domestic abuse cases and those involving minors has given me a good insight into the challenges that they face, and it is apparent that resources are again limited. Consequently, Police Officers are acting over and above what may be expected of them to compensate for difficulties experienced in relation to requests for Human Services to become involved; Police Officers have been forced to send a patrol car to the ‘on call’ social workers home to request attendance at the Police Station as there has been no response after multiple attempts at telephone calls.
Observation would suggest that there are no expectations for social workers to respond in a timely manner and it is generally accepted that they may not attend when requested to do so due to ‘other priorities,’ which places unrealistic expectations upon our Police Officers. It appears that they are undertaking a social work role in addition to their tasks as Police Officers in an attempt to support families in the absence of social work support. It may be helpful to incorporate a tracking system within the social support sector of the Police, recording cases presented to them and subsequent outcomes relative to those given advice and guidance, those necessitating social work involvement at the time of a report and those passed on to Human Services for follow up. This would allow monitoring of cases and analysis of the data that will invariably highlight areas in which no follow up has been achieved; which in turn may pinpoint the use of current resource, identifying if this could be utilised more effectively; and equally to highlight additional resources that may be required.
In the face of such social challenges, and crime and mass corruption inside every single Government department, Belize Must demand legislative change that would foster a system in which Human Services is accountable and responsible to meet compliance. Annual auditing and random examination of a cross section of cases within each district of Belize would allow data to be analyzed. Sadly, our leaders have not been interested in preserving Belizean families and have instead sought to divide and destroy that sacred structure through corruption and negligence.