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Questions about family life in T&T

Pauline Phelps (right) and Tonia Gooding (second from right) interact with visitors to the BOMA booth.

What to do? Where do we want to go? What do we really want to achieve? These were some of the probing questions asked by Dr Innette Cambridge, senior lecturer and coordinator, Social Policy Programme, Department of Behavioural Sciences, The University of the West Indies, at the inaugural National Symposium on the Family held June 27 – 28 at University Inn and Conference Centre, St Augustine campus.

Dr Cambridge’s presentation was titled ‘Towards a National Family Policy for Trinidad and Tobago.’

“How do we help families to play their role?” was a question asked. “Families have purpose and [it] is about procreation; if we don’t procreate, families don’t come about. We have to support families to play that role. We need to promote parenting”.

She said, “Do you know [that] if you want to get married in the Roman Catholic Church, they will not marry you unless you have gone through their training programme in marriage preparation?” Yet, she highlighted the fact that “families do not come about without sex—you do not procreate without sex, you need to help married couples have healthy good sex” while providing the material resources of food and shelter. We pay a heavy price, she noted if we don’t socialise the next generation.

In terms of what’s preventing a family policy from happening, she identified the lack of an enabling environment, for example, the need for mental health services to be available after the normal working hours, as well as the closure of many supports and services.

Also, in light of our diverse society and changing attitudes and behaviours, what are our values? She questioned, “Are we in agreement on what those values are? What are the values, attitudes and behaviours (VABs) we want? What about the commitment of resources?”

Dr Cambridge indicated that we need to recognise that a family policy is a response to a crisis and problem within the family. She stated that past responses to crisis in families included the work of sociologist Dom Basil Matthews and author of the Crisis of the West Indian Family in the 1940s—one of the earliest sociological works on Caribbean family problems.

World Council of Churches (WCC) and Joan Bishop were among those mentioned for their work. From 1950s to present, the Roman Catholic Church and the Muslim faith provided responses to crisis in families.

Another element of a family policy is the need to recognise diversity of families such as multi-ethnic, multi-religious and different social classes to name a few. Families also go through different life stages and the needs of families are different.

It begged the question, “Can you get a house with more than three bedrooms?” She indicated that there was need to provide resources for current family concerns such as reproduction, violence in families, poverty, intimacy and when to get married.

The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services in collaboration with the Office of the Prime Minister, Gender and Child Affairs hosted the event. The theme was Supporting Families as the Bedrock of Society and incorporated the official launch of a National Values, Attitudes and Behaviours (VABs) campaign for Trinidad and Tobago, which is key to fostering family life and driving sustainable social development.

The objective of the National Symposium was to provide a space for stakeholders to contribute to the development of a Green Paper on the Family for Trinidad and Tobago, facilitate information sharing, and create networks in order to foster healthy family life and well-being in our county.

The Symposium focused on five major thematic areas: Understanding Family Processes and Challenges, Family Life in the New Age, Men in Families,  Supportive Family Relationships and  Promoting Resilient Families.

Representatives from government ministries, civil society and faith- based organisations, educators and other interest groups were represented.

Billings Ovulation Method Association (BOMA), a ministry of the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission (AFLC), was one of the exhibitors at the two-day symposium.

Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice Leela Ramdeen; Pauline Phelps of BOMA-TT; Tonia Gooding, President, Communities Alive Education and Training; and AFLC staff members Tricia Syms and Crystal Johnson, represented the Archdiocese. – AFLC