Girls leaving state care to be housed in apartment complex
"As the project's principal investi-gator, it does my heart good, as they say, to see the actualisation of this phase of the Transitional Living Programme for Children in State Care in Jamaica. The beginning of the construction of Jamaica's first independent living apartment complex for our young girls who will be leaving state care at 18 years of age is the culmination of the work of many persons committed to the ... development of our young people."
Professor Julie Meeks, deputy principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Open Campus, could hardly contain her excitement at a recent ceremony to break ground for a gated apartment complex to house the pioneer group of 40 young women.
The facility, which is being constructed at 24 Lady Musgrave Road in St Andrew, will address a major area of shortcoming in the State's childcare programme.
The UWI Open Campus-based Caribbean Child Develop-ment Centre (CCDC), Meeks explained, has a mandate to care for children up to the age of 18. At this critical stage in their development, when they are still in need of guidance and protection, the law stipulates that they must venture out into the world on their own - whether or not they are prepared.
"When they are in state care, there is a lot of attention, but when they are coming out of state care, there wasn't sufficient attention," Meeks told The Gleaner.
The new project will see the UWI Open Campus undertaking a comprehensive training programme for the caregivers who will staff the facility to guide the youngsters.
"It involves preparing children in the soft skills that might not get taken care of if they are not living with family - life-skills training - things like, you shouldn't go to a job interview with your pants dropping off," Meeks added.
With some 700 children leaving state care each year, the pioneer batch of 40 young women may seem small, but it is a major development for Jamaica and a first in the Caribbean. It will provide the template for other such facilities, and with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) com-mitting to fund another complex for boys in St Elizabeth, Jamaica is well ahead of the rest of the region.
This will build on the work done with limited resources by the Child Development Agency (CDA), but as CEO Rosalee Gage-Grey disclosed, the private sector has been providing invaluable support, especially with respect to tertiary education.
She told The Gleaner: "Last year, we spent about $20 million paying tuition fees for children, and we partnered with the private sector to secure scholarships for them. This year, we were very successful because we got four scholarships from COJO (Children Of Jamaica Outreach) and we got from J. Wray & Nephew. So we have been getting scholarships to support them for university."
For its part, the CDA has been preparing the children from age 16 for their entry into the working world.
"From about two years before they transition, we have what we call transitioning expos, where we bring in the universities. We bring in the providers of, say, all the things that they need to go out into the world - NIS card, passport, birth certificate. We bring all of those stakeholders in one location, and we let them go through and check off all the things that they have. So at least they are better prepared to go.
"We also do coaching sessions in terms of preparing them for work, but this apartment complex, we believe, would be a significant contribution to their exiting care. It's a good move, and we appreciate it so much," Gage-Grey said.
The Transitional Living Programme for Children in State Care represents a multidimen-sional approach to preparing wards of the state to transition into independence.
The project, which supports citizens' safety and security, is funded by the USAID and is being implemented through the collaborative efforts of the CCDC, the UWI Open Campus, the CDA, the Social Welfare Training Centre, and the UWI Project Management Office.