'Help, I can't manage my child!' - Thousands seek State intervention in child rearing
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Nearly 25,000 persons, including parents, have sought the assistance of the State to deal with unruly children, or those in need of care and protection, over the past five and a half years.
Figures released by the Child Development Agency (CDA) through the Ministry of Youth and Culture show that 10,749 persons sought assistance for children between January 2012 and June 2014.
This was a shade below the 13,939, who accessed services in the three years prior - 2009 to 2012.
Executive director of the CDA, Rosalee Gage-Grey, said thousands of children are screened for assistance by her agency each year.
"We have 14 parish officers, and people walk in seeking services. An intake officer who is a social worker processes them before they are interviewed and a determination is made as to what services they need," said Gage-Grey in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner.
"We refer them based on the services they need, and we have a lot of persons coming in. The social workers are the first line of defence, and it is important that they are trained to make the correct determination," added Gage-Grey.
She noted that in parishes with family courts, if the CDA needs to remove the child from the home, that can be done almost immediately as the agency can request that the court make a "Fit Person Order (FPO)".
"Children taken before the courts are deemed to be in need of care and protection. They are either given an FPO, that is, made wards of the State, or a Supervisory Order (SO), where they remain in their homes but are supervised by a children's officer."
The CDA sought 1,440 FPOs between 2009 and 2014 for children to be placed under the care and/or its supervision, while 1,805 petitions were made for supervisory orders.
St Ann leads Clarendon, Kingston, St Andrew, and St James as the parish with the most children being in need of care and protection.
According to Gage-Grey, while the CDA's services are diverse, its action remains focused on the primary objective of protecting the best interests of the children.
In the meantime, youth minister Lisa Hanna says the neglect of children remains the number one issue her ministry and its agencies have encountered.
"Neglect leads, and is followed closely by, sexual abuse. That is what we are seeing. When we make interventions, sometimes we remove children, but it's a revolving system. So we remove children for various periods so we are not bursting at the seams," Hanna told The Sunday Gleaner.
She said more than 1,500 persons have been trained as parent counsellors in all 14 parishes "to assist each other in this business called parenting because the truth is there is no one guide and we all can take a little help".
- Child deportees
In the last five years, eight children were sent back to Jamaica from overseas and placed in the care of the CDA.
These children were in the care of the State in the country they lived before a decision was made to return them to their families in Jamaica.
"The CDA collects these children at the airport and delivers them to relatives. We are contacted and asked to do home studies, after which the children are sent back to Jamaica," said the agency.
The CDA notes, however, that it is not always notified in instances when children are sent home.