Jodi Gilpin, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Abandoned, frustrated and undereducated, some children with mental problems have resorted to violent acts which have led to them being placed in state-operated penal institutions. These facilities were not built with mentally or physically disabled persons in mind.
Ruthlyn James, special educator and founder of the Adonijah Group of Schools for Intellectual Disabilities, says many times parents and teachers are not able to diagnose special illnesses, which results in children with disabilities lashing out violently.
"There is heightened frustration among these children who are placed in the school system where there is the stigma, and some teachers alienate them because they (the teachers) do not have the skills or training to detect certain behaviour.
"So what happens is that these children act out of their frustration and become aggressive and eventually become perpetrators of crime," James told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week.
"I know of a case where a boy was at a prominent high school and he experienced heights of frustrations, and guidance counsellors weren't able to figure out what happened. He eventually had to leave the school because he took up a desk and injured another child. ... People might think that he is violent but all he needed ... was help and the right persons to be around him," James continued.
problem in penal system
The educator argued that there is a huge problem in the penal system, which does not have enough trained persons to deal with children with special needs.
According to James, children in the penal system experience severe cases of autism, social deficit, bipolar disorders and other mental challenges, but the workers in the system are not able to detect the dysfunctional behaviour.
Consultant child psychiatrist Dr Ganesh Shetty agreed, as he called for urgent action to address the situation.
"These children are neglected many times, especially in the classroom because people do not want any problem in their classes. So they send them (the children) outside and what happens is that the gang leaders take them in hand, and so these children often fall through the cracks with little or no assistance," said Shetty, as he also addressed the Editors' Forum.
"Myself, along with two of my co-workers, have been making regular visits to these (state institutions) to see how best we can assist these children along with working with persons in charge, but a lot more needs to be done because that's like few of us and there are quite a lot of these children in the system," added Shetty.
The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has long accepted that there is a problem, but says it is working to improve the situation as quickly as possible.
"We have quite a few trained psychiatrists and psychologists on staff, so I think it's incorrect to say that they don't get treatment," Lieutenant Colonel Sean Prendergast, head of the DCS, told The Sunday Gleaner.
"But we don't have enough, and what we are embarking on as a department is to get more trained persons employed and trying as best as possible to build our capacity, but we just have to make do with what we have," added Prendergast.