Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Hazards in Homes - Study finds more than 1,600 critical incidents in childcare facilities

Published:Friday | June 29, 2018 | 12:00 AMSyranno Baines/Gleaner Writer
Jeanelle van Glaanenweygel (left), OAS representative in Jamaica, chats with Diana Thorburn, director of research of CAPRI, during the UNICEF/JFJ/CAPRI Forum on Safety and Justice for Jamaican Children, held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston yesterday.

Human rights group Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) has reported that during the last 10 years, there have been more than 1,600 documented cases of critical incidents in residential childcare facilities, 558 occurring in the past five years.

A critical incident is regarded as a negative experience that threatens a child's rights or welfare. According to preliminary findings of a new study by JFJ focusing on children in institutional care, the critical incidents reveal serious behavioural, psychosocial, health, and safety and sexual issues affecting children in state care.

Speaking at the launch of the findings at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel yesterday, JFJ Executive Director Rodje Malcolm argued that while the annual number of incidents was trending downward, the risk of under-reporting was great.

"I want to be clear that critical incidents have multiple deter-minants: a child's pre-existing conditions, circumstances from which they are coming, their living conditions, mental health, etc. Some of those determinants include the quality of care, but they're not limited to that," said Malcolm.

"So we don't believe that the mere occurrence of a critical incident means that the State has failed and that children are living in total abuse and trauma. But we do believe that the institutional arrangements factor into the occurrence of critical incidents. We've seen it globally, and we're starting to see it locally," he said.

The research showed that males were the subject of critical incidents slightly more frequently than girls, with 53 per cent compared to 45 per cent.

With the data-gathering process ongoing, 1,175 incidents have so far been categorised across seven themes. Threats to physical safety - the largest theme - includes incident reports that show children's physical well-being at risk, whether due to hazardous conditions or violence. Malcolm noted that over 750 such incidents had been document so far.

"The most common was physical abuse/fights, showing that violence was a more frequent cause of threats to physical safety as opposed to hazardous conditions," Malcolm stated, further pointing out that roughly two-thirds of incidents that threatened physical safety involved males.

The research also indicated that physical abuse by staff was more common in private facilities, while physical abuse by wards was more common in government facilities.

Additionally, the southern region accounted for a disproportionately high number of physical altercations/fights among wards. The findings also showed that private facilities accounted for roughly two-thirds of health incidents, despite accounting for slightly over a third of all incidents.

Other themes included death, suicidal activity, and self-harm, psychosocial incidents, and incidents of a sexual nature.