Serious and violent crime remains a major concern in Belize City. Recent research conducted by Dr. Herbert Gayle and Nelma Mortis on behalf of the Government of Belize, could hold the key to combating this growing trend. Diana Pook, coordinator of the Belizean Roving Caregivers Programme (RCP) in an interview at the annual coordinators’ meeting at the Savannah Hotel in Barbados, outlined the progress based on the research to date.

“The new research that has been done (“Male Social Participation and Violence in Urban Belize: An Examination of Their Experience with Goals, Guns, Gangs, Gender, God, and Governance”), concerning the levels of violence in Belize City and the recommendations that have been outlined, have shown the pressing need for early childhood development programmes, such as the Roving Caregivers Programme.”

Ms. Pook further stated, “The government has started to look at early childhood development and parenting as two of the important things that can help combat the spread of crime within Belize City. More focus is being given to that at the moment and for 2011 we plan to expand our geographical reach, which is really positive because it means that we get more support for a programme that can really address some of the problems that we currently face with criminality.”

As 60 percent of the Belizean population is under the age of 29, crime is rapidly becoming a youth problem. In 2010 half the murder victims were 30 and under, who in turn were also the most frequent victims of gun violence.

Government’s Support

Suggesting that parenting initiatives such as Roving Caregivers Programme (RCP) can directly address these issues Ms. Pook said, “Dr. Herbert Gayle’s report that we just received last year shows the level of different things that Belizeans are taking action on to reduce the crime levels and we don’t want the whole country to be like what Belize City is becoming. We have the full support of our government when it comes to what we are doing so I think that is a plus. We are linking with other ministries who have understood the importance of RCP as well as education and early childhood development. The Ministry of Health is coming together to work with us and I think hopefully in the future, RCP will expand in Belize and become something more than just RCP.”

Impact of the RCP

Findings collated from the 2010 analysis of the Roving Caregivers Programme, highlights the integral role that early childhood development programmes play in providing an in-depth range of emotional, informational and educational support to families with infant and preschool aged children, which can tackle some of the risk factors that can result in negative behaviours, which if left unaddressed can lead to adolescent delinquency. Although the RCP programme has only been running in Belize for the last two years, there is an increasing recognition from the government of the benefits it brings towards tackling the issues of crime and delinquency in a holistic manner.

Noting the positive reception and the tangible results that the programme has offered she said, “It has been very well received in Belize and so far we started in Toledo and what we have noticed, especially with the teachers who are teaching the children, they have told us that these children are the brighter ones in the classroom and they can see which ones have been in RCP in relation to their levels of socialisation. They speak more English in comparison to other children their age who speak more Mayan, and the RCP children are not scared to go to school.”

Ms. Pook further reported that, “The parents of RCP children have also been mentioning that for them they can see the difference and it helps them, the parents, to speak more English at home. The children develop a lot more skills and at a lot faster pace than children who have not entered the programme. There have been benefits to the parents and guardians also, especially with the literacy programme that we started. The parents are starting to read more and before they did not sing or interact with their children, now they are doing it a lot more. They learn different things when it comes to the children’s health, and how to discipline their children so it is having an all round positive effect.”

Diana Pook
Civic Education Co-ordinator
COMPAR
Department of Human Services
Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation
40 Regent Street
Belize City