Family secretary-designate quizzed on gender perspective, gender violence issues at Senate hearing

By John McPhaul

Dr. Carmen Ana González Magaz, appointed by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to direct the island Family Department, appeared before the Senate Appointments Committee on Monday.

During the public hearing, the Family secretary-designate addressed issues of vital interest such as the eradication of gender violence, education with a gender perspective, early childhood care and budgetary matters of the agency.

“There are many issues that must be addressed in the Department of the Family, such as adoption processes, to see if the legislative agenda can include any suggestion that it can give us, based on the experience of the department,” said Sen. Gretchen M. Hau, who presided over the hearing. “We must also attend to the cases of children undergoing abuse.

Studies by various organizations have shown that after the events of [hurricanes] Irma and Maria, and the coronavirus pandemic, those cases have increased. So today is an opportunity that we have to confront the designated person to see if, from the Department of the Family, we can address these ills that affect the Puerto Rican family so much.”

González Magaz stated during her presentation that “before my appointment as secretary of the Family, my vocation for public service led me to direct the Office for the Integration of the Family and the Community of the Department of Education of Puerto Rico.”

“This unit emphasizes the importance of collaborative relationships between parents and the school community for the socio-emotional development and academic achievement of our students,” she said.

During the hearing, committee chairwoman Hau asked the nominee what the agency plans for early childhood care and whether the Family Department is working in coordination with the Education Department to establish the curriculum [from a gender perspective] and eradicate gender violence.

“We have certainly experienced difficult and extremely harrowing days as a people,” the nominee replied. “In terms of primary prevention, we agree that primary prevention and education is vital. We provide a range of training, because it is extremely important and we recognize [the importance of] integrating the family and that they are well trained so that they recognize and know what the support measures are, what the services are, how the government entity and others sectors are being integrated and what services can be provided. … This training will continue to be given and promoted through Head Start and Early Head Start in ACUDEN [Children and Families Administration], in addition to protection measures for victims and their families.”

During his question time, Popular Democratic Party Sen. Juan Zaragoza Gómez put into context that the agency that González Magaz will be directing has a budget of $4 billion, more than the budgets of the Treasury, Health and Education departments, adding that “what we can expect of you is that you recognize that, because I see that you have a certain level of managerial experience and that you establish a governance structure of managerial support that helps you in that challenge and that allows you to give direction and establish the public policy of the government of Puerto Rico.”

Citizen Victory Movement Sen. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, meanwhile, asked what has happened to the objective that appears in the report of the Committee for Gender Violence Prevention, Support, Rescue and Education [PARE Committee] that was delivered in March to the governor and of which she as chair of the committee has knowledge.

González Magaz responded that in “terms of the PARE project with a gender perspective, if it is under Executive Order 2021-13, that by August 2021 that will be implemented.”

“We know that, as a result of the pandemic, how difficult this implementation is; we need a little more creativity,” she said. “But given the plan that is being established so far, we are on time. And if the materials from last year have already been evaluated, we are already on track to have the meetings with the governor to evaluate what we have and the training sessions with the Department of Education.”

Independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot noted that the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board made a substantial cut to the budget of the PARE Committee, for which he asked what strategy or what management will the nominee be assuming “in the face of this new outrage by the federal entity.”

“Yes, 97% of the budget was reduced by the fiscal oversight board; we will be working on reviews of those funds or a reorganization through the governor of the funds that are approved,” González Magaz said. “But certainly, we also need and will be working with other representatives of agencies and of organizations that make up the PARE Committee to seek additional alternatives to this.”

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