Tue | Apr 7, 2020

Tormented minds - Depression and other mental disorders afflicting children and staff at state-care facilities

Published:Sunday | February 23, 2020 | 12:28 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter

Most of the approximately 5,000 children living in state care across Jamaica are suffering from serious mental disorders, which often worsen after they are removed from their homes or other places deemed unsafe.

Representatives from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency’s (CPFSA) Psychology Unit say depression caused by the murder of a parent, abuse, and the separation from familiar environments weigh most heavily on the minds of children who enter the system.

“We are seeing issues of bereavement, grief and loss. Some of the children are dealing with becoming orphans, whether through natural or unnatural circumstances, including the murder-suicide that is affecting our society,” explained Cherena Forbes, head of the Psychology Unit at the CPFSA.

“Several of the children have suffered abuse – sexual and physical – and neglect. We also have children who engage in self-injury, cutting themselves, which we are seeing a lot of.”


Noting that state-care workers are often the subject of the children’s aggression, she added, “The reality is that once you have a separation from a familiar environment, even if that environment is an abusive one, you will have negative effects. That is why putting a child in state care is really a last resort.”

Speaking at a CPFSA mental health lecture at the Medallion Hall Hotel in St Andrew last Wednesday, Forbes explained that there are only four child psychologists assigned to the CPFSA, hence, most children are sent to contracted psychologists across the island.

She also revealed that some children have had to be medicated for depression.

Experts at the lecture noted a correlation between an increase in the number of neglect, sexual and physical abuse cases in particular, and an escalation in behavioural issues from the children who ultimately enter the system.

Those in children’s home – approximately 1,389 as at December 2019 – tend to act out worse, the experts noted.

The others, 1,037 in foster care, and approximately 2,000 who were ultimately reintegrated with family members or returned home under supervision, tend to cope relatively better, they explained.

At the workshop, more than 30 officers were exposed to capacity-building initiative aimed at bolstering their ability to diagnose and treat children with complex behavioural issues.

Renowned child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Ganesh Shetty, emphasised the psychological implications of adjusting to life inside children’s homes. He said that this transition is often riddled with distrust for adult supervision by the children.

Shetty also recalled a case where a girl was reportedly sexually assaulted by a don in her community. The child’s mother reported the incident to the police but no witnesses came forward and the charges were subsequently dropped.

The don returned to the community, and the child and her mother had to flee the area out of fear.

“That ordeal has left the child feeling neglected, dejected, and as if the whole system has failed her,” he said.

“What should happen typically is that the perpetrator is removed from the community; not the child being moved from her own house. As bad as things may be at times, the connection between the children, their home, and some family members is important to the child’s well-being.”


- As at the end of December 2019, there was a total of 4,764 children in state care. This represents a decrease of 140 or three per cent when compared to the period ending September 2019.

- A total of 2,836 or 59 per cent of the children in state care are living in familial environments.

- A total of 1,928 or 41 per cent are living in children’s homes and places safety.