‘Take my child!’ - Desperate mothers beg State for help with wayward youths
Sheron Showers* is one of hundreds of desperate Jamaican mothers who fear that their children are headed down a wrong path and destined for a short, brutal life of crime if they do not get help very soon.
According to Showers, her 17-year-old son has been acting up since he was just nine.
Last year, he was expelled from high school after he was identified as the head of a gang of 20 students who beat and extort younger students at knifepoint.
Showers told The Gleaner that teachers at his former high school in east Kingston described him as unruly and disrespectful.
She added that he now spends his days at home, is without qualification to get a meaningful job, and has little interest in going back to school.
"Me need him to leave me house. The Government need to take him. Next year, he is going to be 18, but he needs to leave now, because he is going to mad me. I had it all for 17 years. I can't take anymore," said Showers as she charged that her her son has started "knocking heads" with gunmen in their rough central Kingston community.
She noted that at age nine, after countless counselling sessions and minor run-ins with the law, a judge ordered that he be taken into state care.
He spent three years under less-than-pleasant conditions as Showers described them, and made an effort to behave when he returned home. But that was short-lived, she said.
"He is smoking ganja all day, and the other day, a little thing go on in the place between two sides that a war, and I hear is him go down there go talk to man from the other side. When I hear, I nearly drop down," said the mother, adding that her teenager's name has already come up on police blotters for gun-related incidents.
Showers is among hundreds of Jamaicans who have pleaded with entities such as the Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) and the former Child Development Agency to remove their children from their homes.
Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison said calls from distressed parents at their wits' end to deal with unruly children are made regularly to her office.
"A lot of the parents will tell you to come for them because they really can't manage. Some of them will decide to take them to the police themselves, while others will ask us to ask the police to come and get them," Gordon Harrison told The Gleaner.
But she noted that it is not her office's mandate to remove children from parents.
In the meantime, head of the police Community Safety and Security Branch, Senior Superintendent Steve McGregor, said distressed parents have carried their children to him personally, after growing fed up with their behaviour.
"I have gone to meetings where the parents want to hand over their kids to me and ask me if I can take them. That is the reason why we are trying to get into the family," said McGregor.
"I think this generation of children are the worst that we have ever had. They are forming their own culture. They are doing some things that we wouldn't even think of doing when we were growing up," added McGregor.
The police reported 1,616 murders in Jamaica last year, and McGregor said the statistics will show that most of the persons murdered are teenagers and persons in their early 20s. Quite often, their killers are in the same age range.
"That's where our problems lie, right at the feet of the young people. Parenting is at a critical weak point. I think this generation of parents just cannot manage," said McGregor.
He added that his team has devised a safe-community plan that will engage potentially problematic children and their parents.
McGregor said the plan has six pillars, including a community curfew initiative that will seek to have all children off the streets by 9 p.m.
Karen Dexter*, a downtown Kingston resident, believes her son would have benefitted from such a curfew initiative during his last term in high school one year ago.
She said despite her beatings and warnings, she could not get the teenage boy into the house before predawn hours as he would stay out and gamble all night with older men.
"I don't know what I didn't do to him. Me beat him, him brother beat him. Is not little talk we talk to him, him just would not hear," said Dexter.