Barbados Dealing With Violence In Schools By Adding More Safety Officers.

Photo by Tom Jur on Unsplash A student walks to school in Barbados.
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Over the last three years, the Barbados Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training (METVT) has increased the number of officers offering psycho-social support in both primary and secondary schools across the island so as to address the problem of violence in schools.

The increase in staff was a direct response to the many challenges students face which impact on their ability to function effectively in school, says the Ministry.

As such, the staff complement of the Ministry’s Student Support Services Unit increased from 12 to 33 persons between November 2020 and present day.  Included in the increase are seven primary school Social Workers, seven Secondary School Counsellors and six school Safety Officers, who work assiduously alongside other school personnel to deal with the social, emotional, behavioural and, or mental health concerns that identified students may face.

In total, there are 33 Student Support Officers attached to the Ministry, six Primary School Counsellors (provided through partnership with Sandy Lane Charitable Trust) and 26 Guidance Counsellors at secondary schools in Barbados.

The Secondary School Counsellors and the Safety Officers specifically are assigned primarily to the seven schools identified in the stakeholder consultation on Violence in School as posing the most problems with school violence.

These officers provide individual and group counselling support to students referred by teachers and school administrators for challenging behaviours.

They also work closely with Guidance Counsellors to provide case management services, facilitate external referrals to agencies like the Child Care Board, the Juvenile Liaison Scheme, the National Council on Substance Abuse, the Welfare Department, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health clinic, and other public sector and NGOs that specialise in the many variables with which a student with such challenges may present.

Parents and guardians are vital partners in the engagement process, and as such, PAREDOS is one of the NGOs with which the Ministry’s support personnel engage.

Over the last two years, all of the officers in METVT’s Student Support Services Unit were provided with training in several areas, including Restorative Justice techniques by Impact Justice Caribbean, the Response to the Intervention Model of Behaviour Management, Crisis Intervention and Facilitating Behaviour Modification, and Anger Management groups.  All of these methodologies are utilised in the ongoing programming facilitated for at-risk students who are referred in both primary and secondary schools.

In 2023, 3,891 students received counselling interventions from Student Support Officers (2,523 primary school students and 1,368 secondary school students).  Additionally, 497 Social and Emotional Skills groups were facilitated (349 in primary schools and 148 in secondary schools).

Some of the areas addressed include: Anger Management, Dealing with Emotions, Problem Solving, Goal Setting, and Conflict Resolution.  A Summer Programme (Project Reach) was also facilitated for 10 secondary schools in August 2023 with similar goals and objectives.

The Ministry of Education engages in several partnerships that buttress the work of the Guidance Counsellors and Student Support Services Officers in an attempt to stamp out the scourge of violence in our schools.  These include but are not limited to the Peace Ambassador Programme in conjunction with UNICEF, the Sandy Lane Charitable Trust Primary School Counselling Programme, the Life Skills and Bullying Prevention Programmes with Supreme Counselling for Personal Development and the Maria Holder Charitable Trust and the preventative programme against cyber bullying in conjunction with EKCO Nation.

The Ministry of Education recognises that student violence, in and out of schools, is a reflection of violence in homes and in the community and is indicative of a lack of social and emotional skills in both the adults and children involved. As a result, the Ministry continues to engage parents in programming to sensitise them to effective parenting skills.

As recently as February 24, 2024, 225 parents and students participated in a Ministry-led initiative that sought to enhance parenting skills.  Additionally, the Ministry has engaged in preventative approaches to the issue through directing schools to expose ALL students to anger management, problem solving, coping and conflict resolution skills in Health and Family Life Education classes.

While the Ministry of Education has been proactive in addressing the issue of violence in our schools, it continues to employ a responsive approach to students that school officials refer to our Student Support Services as a result of at-risk behaviours.

Multi-sectoral interventions are employed, and other social, mental health, and juvenile justice stakeholders are engaged to assist in the creation of the kinds of behaviour modification programming that these students usually require.

Success of these programmes is dependent on students and parents’ commitment, effective interagency collaborations, community support and the access to the resources needed to be impactful.

The Ministry will continue to work with all of the relevant stakeholders to ameliorate the challenge of violence in and around our schools.

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