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Collective Knowledge to the Rescue!

Census data will definitely enable us to stay ahead of the game when managing national crises, says Department of Children and Family Services Director Deanna Look Loy.

The notion that knowledge is half the battle also applies when it comes to national social planning and crisis management.

That is why Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Director Deanna Look Loy looks forward to the collective demographic data reports that will be compiled once Census 2010 is over. They will help fill some gaps in knowledge that currently exist.

Mrs. Look Loy explained that census data is tops when it comes to information gathering. "Counting every household in Cayman and gathering relevant demographics is crucial when it comes to effective social planning and organising crisis aid," she said.

Other studies such as surveys normally use representative samples, as Mrs. Look Loy noted: "They do indicate trends and of course the samples are studied and deductions made from the data. Many times however we just lack the full picture and that can be a problem."

Cayman was brought face-to-face with the consequences of incomplete information in the aftermath of both hurricanes Ivan and Paloma.

"The post-Ivan situation saw us scrambling for facts. We particularly lacked data on housing and occupants. For example, we didn't know who was insured and who was not. We likewise didn't know the number of persons in households, their makeup or their needs.

"International agencies require such data to use in dispatching aid. If it's readily available we can also assess more quickly who needs what," the DCFS Director said.

And as the hurricanes proved, data collection becomes even more challenging after storms because things are so much more chaotic. "Following Paloma for instance, we had to send staff over to the Brac every day to collect needed information. The infrastructure was so devastated they couldn't stay over, a drain on both funds and staff resources."

Mrs. Look Loy added that census housing questions will also suggest the numbers of persons who are likely to seek public shelter when flooding occurs. "We will know how many persons live in a particular district or even in smaller geographical areas as well as what their amenities are like. That will enable our shelter managers to more effectively plan." she said.

"In short, census data will definitely enable us to stay ahead of the game when managing national crises."

Crises apart, other aspects of national development and planning also rely on correct information. At the broadest level, government will be able to proportionally allocate social welfare resources, for example to older persons or to other programmes.

Mrs. Look Loy noted too, that operational levels will also benefit from census data: "Being armed with the right information, such as up-to-date poverty indicators will allow us to finetune our departmental budget, especially with regard to programming."

She explained that while the DCFS does maintain an indigent/disabled data base, that information was developed mostly through family, self, community and social worker referrals and therefore does not cover the entire population. "But the census data will give us specifics regarding the numbers who will likely need our assistance, enabling us to be more proactive," she said.

By extension, census data will ultimately mean that local service clubs and charities will also become better-positioned to help the community.

"Many of these stalwart organisations rely on us to guide them to areas that most need their funding. With the kind of collective information that is generated through census responses, we will be better able to point them to those who will most benefit from their assistance," Mrs. Look Loy concluded.

(GIS)

For further information contact: Prudence Barnes