The ignored crisis facing children
Hyacinth Samuels, the regional coordinator for the North-East Regional Health Authority's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, believes a lack of financial and employment opportunities is helping to create a new generation of unstable young people.
According to Samuels, who works with dozens of children and their parents each month, poverty is the biggest issue facing the families she works with in St Mary, St Ann, and Portland.
Speaking last week with Family and Religion, she said: "In my region, many parents have to leave for farm work programmes and other work abroad, and for that reason, the whole fabric of the family is breaking down. I really think something needs to be done to raise the social-security net so parents do not have to leave their children in order to find work.
"From our perspective, we see the effects through counselling, and sometimes we have to put the children on medication. Many, many children in Jamaica are extremely depressed, which is something that is not widely recognised because we have the attitude, 'wha pickney 'av fi be depressed 'bout?'
"And many of them have gone through abuse, but have not reported it as yet. Through our clinic, we aim to empower them to tell us what is going on and report it because that is how, with everybody working together, we'll be able to protect the children."
If the family networks are to be strengthened, Samuels contends that parents and adults must first recognise the psychological turmoil countless young children are forced to endure each day.
LIVING BELOW THE POVERTY LINE
She explained: "Jamaican children get a lot of 'disses' because both parents and teachers will accuse them of being disruptive, disobedient, disgusting, etc. So we go into schools and work with teachers to highlight that this child is coming to school every day and not having anything to eat.
"Even things like the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education is inadequate because it's just not enough. Many children do not get breakfast before they go to school, and then they are told they are not performing. But you cannot perform if you're hungry.
"Many of the children we see live below the poverty line. We have families with eight people living in one board shack. There is a lot of stuff going on in communities that the Government knows nothing about, such as children being left on their own because their parents will tell them: 'I'll murder you if you tell anybody that I'm not here', which leaves the farm work or barrel children feeling threatened.
"In St Mary alone, we can see up to 100 children in one month. I'm not sure if the Government realises what we are doing because the funding we receive is very poor. Nobody comes and speaks to us. They will go to other agencies, but they don't come and speak to us, even though our numbers are getting bigger and bigger."