Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Investing in our youth

Published:Thursday | June 2, 2016 | 6:00 AM

We have been pussyfooting with the development of our children and youth for too long. Every year, the government, private sector and civil society invest billions of dollars in programmes and initiatives geared towards improving the development and well-being of children and youth, which do not seem to be yielding much result.

If you have been around long enough, you would know there have been a plethora of empowerment, skills building, entrepreneurship and other programmes which are often not evidence- and rights-based, and not multifaceted (enough?). It is often the case that they target the same few persons in the same communities, and use weak methodologies to achieve their intended purpose(s).

While there has been some progress, a number of challenges - such as violence in schools, truancy, involvement in corner crews and gangs, teen pregnancy, low literacy and numeracy, and multiple sex partnerships - still remain persistent.

 

WHO IS BENEFITING?

 

One wonders why, despite the commendable investment over the years to address these social maladies, the success of these seems sparse. Who exactly is benefiting and at whose expense?

In 2015-2016, the Government announced that it would spend around $89 billion - 14 per cent of the national Budget across eight ministries - on children and youth. This kind of budget tracking is commendable. It would be good to know if this was actually spent; what kinds of programmes were implemented and where; what percentage of it targeted those children and youth who are vulnerable and marginalised and most in need; and, most importantly, what were the results.

The vast majority of state and non-state entities have focused most of their attention and resources in Kingston & St Andrew, some to other major towns and then, hopefully, the rest of resources trickle down to young people in rural Jamaica. It is quite clear that some of these programmes and initiatives do not work. If there is even a semblance of monitoring and evaluation taking place, this would be easily identified. Regrettably, programmes that do not work are not necessarily modified or shelved for some unknown reason. In some cases, as it is with everything, when stakeholders finally accept that an initiative is not achieving its objectives, it takes 'forever' for the required changes to be done.

Last week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, during his 2016-2017 Budget Debate presentation, announced that this year, the Government will spend $300 million for young people in 18 communities across seven parishes to boost their 'employability and involvement in wealth creation through training and certification in market-driven, vocational skill areas, personal development, entrepreneurship and internship'.

Fantastic! They need more opportunities to be able to reach their fullest potential. I worry, though, that we seem to be doing the same things over and over with different names, different entities and communities, with very little success.

 

NEW APPROACH NEEDED

 

Why do we keep doing the same things, in and through different ministries and agencies, and expecting the same results? All the programmes seem to be competing for the same scarce resources to reach the same people in the same communities. If we are serious about the holistic development of our young people, we must take care to invest the scarce resources in a much more strategic, coordinated and efficient manner. How different are the programmes offered by CSJP, YUTE, JSIF, NCYD, NYS, SDC and others to children and youth?

It is important to note that these programmes are being implemented in the absence of a National Youth Policy (where are we since the Green Paper was published?). Have drafting instructions been provided for the proposed Youth Development Act which is 'to provide the legal framework for action in the sector'?

We urgently need to do an audit and impact evaluation of all the programmes and initiatives. Jamaica's economic growth and development hinge on, among other things, children and youth who are empowered to achieve their fullest potential. Let's get serious about their development.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.