Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Rigorous social interventions must start early to impact crime and violence

Published:Wednesday | October 23, 2019 | 12:09 AM

‘A so di ting set’ is a phrase most Jamaicans lean on as we bemoan the massive conundrum of unabated crime and violence. How is it that our country not only has the highest homicide rate in the region, but is ranked the fourth highest in the world as it relates to homicides?

The Violence Prevention Alliance, Jamaica (VPA) suggests that more rigorous, coordinated, resourced and sustained social interventions can impact and change those labels.

It is troubling to see that Violence Related Injuries (VRI) cost the Jamaican health care system 12 per cent of the annual budget. Direct cost of care of these VRI to the health sector is $3.6 billion. Given these statistics, it is increasingly evident that the country needs sustained strategies to address the seeming runaway train of violence.

The interventions cannot be just about law enforcement or “boots on the ground”, as in the case of the states of public emergency in St. James, Westmoreland, Hanover and Clarendon.

The VPA posits that starting early, collaborating, sharing data and resourcing sustainable social interventions are equally important. This position is supported by both local and international evidence that demonstrates that implementing psycho-social activities in communities and across the country play a critical part in stemming crime and violence.

START EARLY

We need to recalibrate our approach to include effective early intervention strategies to prevent problems of crime and violence from occurring before these problems get worse.

We should focus on reducing violence against and between children, which will cut the pipeline of recruits into criminal gangs, among other ills. The earlier that behavioural problems in children are identified and effectively treated, the greater the cost effectiveness and cost benefit of interventions. Programmes with family involvement and strengthening support services for families and communities are key components for sustained success.

COLLABORATION

Coordination of services to meet the behavioural needs of children and families delivered by teams drawn from various disciplines, ministries, departments, associations and services clubs will contribute to reducing violence.

These teams need to be able to:

– Provide the therapeutic services to build positive change in social and cultural norms.

– Understand the nature of community assets

– Increase positive community assets such as clean, green, safe recreational spaces, proper solid waste disposal and good, well-lit pedestrian pathways.

SHARING DATA

Data collection, analysis and dissemination are critical, as expounded at the VPA’s recent Violence Prevention/Peace Building Symposium in Montego Bay held in partnership with the Ministry of National Security. Analysis of data that shows where and when violent incidents occur, supported by research that highlight employment, land ownership among other relationships, should be used to modify social intervention programmes, taking into consideration the cost benefit, cost effectiveness and sustainability of the interventions.

RESOURCING SUSTAINABLE SOCIAL INTERVENTIONS

Resourcing of interventions and research are always contentious issues. Should it only be the Government that provides the financial and human resources? Too often projects are implemented that are really the proverbial ‘band-aid’ on gaping wounds. Creative resourcing strategies must be explored, as other countries have done, to ensure that those initiatives, which evidence proves are effective, can be sustained.

The VPA contends that there is the need for these programmes, even as many may question whether such programmes actually work in practice and where is the proof. There are many but VPA points to a few that have been successful and continue to be.

There is the Child Resiliency Programme, which operates from the Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College in Montego Bay, as well as centres in Falmouth and Kingston; and the Child Abuse Mitigation Project (CAMP), which is administered at the Cornwall Regional Hospital.

The Child Resilience Programme, which began in 2006, has been operating out of the VPA since 2014 and has been reporting positive successes. Students ages six to 12 years with behavioural problems are referred to the programme, where they are exposed to six areas of intervention: nutritional support; life skills training, sports and cultural arts to reinforce life skills, parenting and family support and teacher training.

The assessment data showed that children who enrolled in the programme have been involved in 75 per cent fewer fights. There has been a 75 per cent increased in literacy; 85 per cent of parents who participate in the programme now use non-violent forms of discipline; and 50 per cent of parents actively participate in the initiative.

INTERVENTIONS IN HEALTH FACILITIES ACROSS THE ISLAND

Another such social intervention programme is CAMP Cornwall, which is a child-centred initiative, which targets children from a few months to 18 years presenting with violence related injuries at the hospital. This intervention at the Cornwall Regional Hospital contributes to reducing the effects of violence on children and youth. By visiting over 75 per cent of parents within a 72-hour period of coming to the hospital, the social workers are able to quickly address issues of violence, neglect and abuse. The VPA continues to advocate for similar hospital-based interventions in health facilities across the island.

This social intervention programme is a collaborative effort of the Citizens and Justice Programme, the Ministry of National Security and the VPA. With social workers at the hospital dedicated to the programme, they are able to counsel parents to prevent repeat injuries and repeat visits to the hospital.

This programme has yielded commendations from the hospital staff, indicating that they have noticed that potential reprisals have been reduced, as the injured persons are educated on alternative methods to resolve conflicts in a non-violent manner.

Data from such interventions can inform policies as well as inform additional areas of focus for other interventions, such as more sporting activities/spaces available for young boys, for instance. For social intervention programmes to be effective, they have to be sustainable. They cannot be one-off projects. They must be designed as long term programmes with a behaviour change component that complement and support law enforcement strategies.

Start early, collaborate, share data and resource sustainable social interventions – that is how de ting mus’ set!

The Violence Prevention Alliance, Jamaica (VPA) is a network of World Health Organization member states, international agencies and civil society organisations working to prevent violence. The VPA (Jamaican Chapter) was launched in November 2004 at the University of the West Indies Medical Research Conference. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com