CDA wants psychologists, sociologists, psychiatrists; signs MOU to provide counselling to children, staff
As an increasing number of the nation's children come in conflict with the law, displaying signs of mental illness in addition to those suffering abuse, the Child Development Agency (CDA) is noting that the fast pace and frequency of reports have put the professionals in their employ under pressure.
As a result, there is need for a cadre of professionals, including psychiatrists, sociologists and psychologists.
Last week, the chief executive officer of the CDA, Rosalee Gage-Grey, said the agency was stretched thin, but not broken.
"We are really stretched, but we are not broken. We are coping despite the fast and furious numbers of cases reported to the agency on a weekly basis," she told The Gleaner in a post Editors' Forum interview on Friday.
In the case of children needing psychiatric care, there is often a very long waiting period after they are referred to the child guidance clinics because of the heavy workload of the professionals, said the CDA boss.
Late last year, Sunday Gleaner tested the waiting time at one child guidance clinic and observed that parents and their children went home without seeing the psychiatrist after waiting all day.
It is that wait that Gage-Grey wants to eliminate.
"Whenever one of our children say they are going to kill themselves, that is an emergency for the hospital. Sometimes when we take the children to the University hospital all the beds are occupied with our (CDA) children. That is the reality we face," she told the Gleaner.
In emergency situations private professional care is sought, she said.
Two mobile units currently operate in the South East Region, and the units respond to emergencies, including home visits.
But the psychologists need supervision from a clinical psychologist with a doctorate. The ideal is to have at least one PhD trained psychologist in each region, said Gage-Grey.
"That comes with a heavy cost, but we can't afford not to pay," she said.
Previously, the wife of a diplomat who was a trained psychologist provided supervision for two years.
"Crisis cases can't wait. Serious cases have to be referred to the PhD clinician. But sometimes we have to take cases to professionals in the private medical practice. And we have been accommodated, especially in crisis situations," she explained.
Youth and culture minister, Lisa Hanna, who was also a participant at the forum, said the magnitude of problems facing the children was traumatic for both the professionals working in the system and the children they care for.
Hanna, who last week also made her presentation in the State of the Nation debate, said saving the children must become a community effort.
"The nightmares are the cases we haven't seen. At least there is hope for those where we intervene. But in some instances, the suffering is prolonged because we are the last to know. That is why the effort has to be a community one. The entire nation has to make it its business to report cases of abuse against children," Hanna bemoaned.
Meanwhile, Gage-Grey said in the case of those professionals working with the agency, care has to be taken so they do not become burned out.
"We make sure they take their vacation when it becomes due, because the reports they get can begin to wear them down and affect them badly. When they go off we get temporary staff to replace them," she said.
In April the CDA signed an agreement with the Mico University College Youth Counselling, Research and Development Centre (MYCRDC) for that institution to provide free counselling intervention to children in state care and those who access the CDA's services through its intake desk and other avenues.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will also facilitate CDA officers (primarily field officers who work with children) and their families accessing counselling services at discounted rates.
Gage-Grey said the MOU was important, given the high level of violence being meted out against the nation's children and the resultant trauma they experience, and by extension the workers with whom they interface.
The agreement will see MYCRDC assisting CDA officers to provide counselling, primarily to children and their families who come to CDA's Children and Family Support Unit for help as well as those in residential child care facilities and Living Family Environment Programmes such as foster care.