The Minister for Equality and Social Services Samantha Sacramento has told PANORAMA that there will be a complete and independent review of the workings of the Care Agency, to ensure the provision of proper and adequate care for those who need it.
She went on to say that it was her impression that the previous government was more interested in ‘brushing things under the carpet than tackling issues.’
Clear and specific comments emerged when we posed a series of questions to the Minister - she gives a detailed account on how she found the state the Care Agency, saying that she has spent most of her time in office so far ‘fire-fighting’ different problems in the department that had arisen on almost a daily basis.’
She reiterated that the government will put right whatever is identified and importantly there will an investigation and an audit with an examination on what happened under the last government.
Drug abuse appears to be high on the new minister's agenda, saying that the government would go back to the drawing board with a view of developing an effective drugs policy for Gibraltar as the current one simply does not work.
What is clear from the minister's comments is that what this newspaper has been saying for years and bringing into the public domain is true and accurate reporting on such delicate and highly important community issues.
QUESTION TIME WITH THE MINISTER
Question: During the election campaign and even in the GSLP/Liberal manifesto the government was very critical of the serious failings of social services, although you have only been the minister responsible for a relative short time - what are your first impressions and are things as bad as you thought?
Answer: There is still a lot to be done. Some of the failings are down to resource issues which were not addressed by the previous Government but a lot of these issues have now been identified and we are in the process of doing so. I do not know what the GSD Government did in relation to these issues in nearly 16 years in office. I can say that since I first set foot in the department I have spent my time “fire-fighting” different problems that have arisen on an almost daily basis where a political steer from a Minister is required. I have also seen that there are a number of very good and dedicated staff in my department and I look forward to working with them in order to bring forward the changes that we are committed to see through in our four-year programme of Government.
Question: in the light of the Panorama investigation into the care of vulnerable children which the Alliance as opposition took great interest in, even quoting these incidents in the party manifesto, do you intend to look into this issue any further?
Answer: Absolutely, although the method of how we will go about this has not yet been finalized we are very close to taking a policy decision.
OVEHAUL OF DRUGS POLICY
Question: Another serious social problem that this newspaper has heavily criticised the previous administration is ‘Substance Abuse’ what’s your initial views on this serious social problem, bearing in mind that 75% of local crime is drug related?
Answer: It is obvious that Gibraltar has a growing drug culture and it is troubling that this is prevalent among very young people. More needs to be done to address this and we are starting a complete review and overhaul of drugs policy.
Question: The Governments drug strategy ‘A Brighter Future’ was published in 2003 the implementation of the strategy has been frequently criticised by Panorama; the strategy has not been up dated since. The public have hardly been informed how the strategy has progressed or otherwise. Is it government’s intention to review the whole aspect of ‘substance abuse’ in Gibraltar with a view of launching a new and up-dated strategy?
SIMPLY DOES NOT WORK
Answer: It is clear that the drug strategy in place at the time that the new Government came into office simply does not work. For example, on the 9th December there were only 2 people admitted to Bruce’s Farm. This is a sign that the residential model of drug rehabilitation is not working as no one would accept that there were only 2 people with an addiction in Gibraltar at that time.
It is also true that drug prevention and rehabilitation in the community is not developed enough and there needs to be serious emphasis on this service if we are to start tackling the problem.
Furthermore, I understand that the Drugs Advisory Council, which is a statutory board set up under the provisions of the Drugs (Misuse) Act has not met in well over a year.
I can confirm that it is this Government’s intention to go back to the drawing board in respect of the drug strategy with a view to developing an effective policy. We have some very good people delivering the rehabilitation programme and there have been some excellent individual results. Our emphasis has to be in making this service more accessible to the community as a whole.
Question: The issues surrounding disabled people concerns many people, none more than those affected. This is an issue covered quite extensively in the Alliances manifesto. What do you think are government priorities in respect of the disabled in Gibraltar?
Answer: The priority must be to enable equal treatment of those with disability to ensure that their needs are met and they have a level playing field. Before taking office I thought that my first step would have to be to identify each individual’s disability so that their needs could be assessed. I have now realized that my task is even more fundamental than that as there is not even a central register of people with disabilities and we are in the process of compiling that.
Question: A new Ministry of Equality comes under your responsibility. There are some high-profile and important issues like the problems experienced by Moroccan workers and the recognition of civil partnerships, which were subjects that were hotly debated before and during the election campaign. Many people were happy to see these issues feature prominently in your election manifesto. Can you give any indication at this stage how you see these matters progressing?
Answer: My focus in the short time that I have been in Government has been to attempt to try and resolve the issues at social services and expedite the completion of the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Unit at RNH. The establishment and development of the Ministry of Equality is at an early stage but I hope to be able to be in a position to make significant headway on this soon.
Question: In the light of the many stories and complaints from service users and others the question of ‘service delivery and quality assurance’ has become an important issue will you be looking at existing mechanisms within the ministry aimed at ensuring that child services or out-of home care are delivered competently and with professional integrity, that should include, supervision of social workers, internal audits, informal reviews, complaint mechanisms and professional regulation? Or even introduce a ‘code of conduct’
Answer: That will form part of the review of social services that is to be undertaken as a whole and of course the ultimate aim is to offer a better service to the end user as well as investing in our own staff to ensure that they are adequately trained to deliver the job that they have to.
Question: There is a manifesto commitment by the Government to conduct a ‘review of social services’ do you see this as one of your priorities?
Answer: It is an absolute immediate priority and it is what I have dedicated the majority of my time in the past 2 months. We have a manifesto commitment, as you rightly say, to carry out a complete and independent review of the workings of the Care Agency, to ensure the provision of proper and adequate care for those who need it. We have said that we will put right whatever is identified as needing corrective action. This means that there will be two strands to the process. The first will be to investigate what has gone wrong in the past and the second to identify what is needed to prevent this from happening ever again. There were shocking stories under the previous Government. So I can confirm that there will be an inquiry and that there will be an audit. This is a good thing because it will identify where the weaknesses in the system are and what we have to do to change it. We have already established the names of several persons and organizations who will be able to conduct the review and we hope to be in a position to make an announcement very soon.
DIFFERENT IDEAS AND POLICIES
Question: Do you think we will see a marked difference from the way your predecessor carried out his role?
Answer: Most definitely. I intend to be very hands on the development of this ministry at a policy level. It is a political priority for the new Government to provide a safety net for those people who have been let down by the system or who have difficulty in coping with it. My impression is that the previous administration was more interested in brushing things under the carpet than they were in tackling the issues and finding solutions. It is almost as if the GSD were in denial while the system collapsed around them. A new Government is now in office looking at these issues afresh and with different ideas and policies regarding the way forward for our care and social services. I know that the way forward will not be easy. There will be an audit and there will be an examination of what has happened under the previous Government. However, I am confident that once we have overcome the challenges in front of us and with the assistance of the staff, the care and social services that will emerge will be in a better position to cope with these problems than at any time before.