By Dr Wendel Abel
In 2010, after the Armadale fire, I wrote an article titled, 'Why Armadale will happen again?' Many of the recommendations made then are contained in this very article. The truth is, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Hardly a week passes by without reports of our children in crisis and we are not going to drop this issue until the matter is fully addressed.
Tired of talk, tours and press conferences
The real problem is that we have developed a very haphazard approach to crisis response. We seem to move from one crisis to another. One day it is the problem with troubled children in the education system, another day it is the children in places of safety, and yet another day it is the children in correctional facilities. In all instances what we get is talk, tour of facilities, and press conferences.
What are some of the solutions:
1. More parenting programmes needed: Put greater efforts in the development of parenting programmes. We need to have a more comprehensive programme to promote better parenting, especially among problem families.
2. Emphasis on the education system: Greater resources must be channelled into the education system in order to train teachers to detect and refer children with emotional and behavioural problems at an early age since many of these behaviours become manifest at school.
The Programme for Alternative Student Support (PASS), which is operated by the Ministry of Education, is an excellent programme, but it needs to be properly funded. This programme focuses on the early detection of children with problems and refers these children so they can receive proper therapy.
3. More child guidance clinics needed: These are specialised clinics available for problem children and their families. The reality is that we do not have enough of these clinics islandwide, and, as a result, the wait period for some of these services is very long and families have to travel far distances in order to access these services. The Ministry of Health must move to expand these clinics so that children in crisis can receive good mental-health care.
4. A specialised facility to treat children and adolescents with complex behavioural and mental-health problems is urgently needed. Because such a facility does not exist, these children often fall through the cracks. If such a facility were to be constructed, the problems we face with these children would substantially be reduced.
5. More support for the correctional services: The correctional services is woefully understaffed. They require more social workers, psychologists and other personnel to provide adequate mental-health services. Furthermore, children who have not offended should not be housed in correctional facilities. These children require therapy; they should not be locked away. Laws that allow for children who have offended to be locked away need to be reviewed and revised.
6.Consolidate services to children: Currently, the social services to children and adolescents are fragmented and delivered through too many government agencies. These services need to be consolidated to facilitate a more efficient delivery. What is needed is a comprehensive plan to be put in place for children and adolescents with complex behavioural and mental-health problems. This will prevent the current haphazard and crisis-driven approach to the problem and reduce duplication of resources to address the problem.
7. Jamaica has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and it has signed off on the Convention for Persons with Disability. The country is, therefore, obligated to ensure that the terms of these conventions be implemented. The citizens of this country must become more active and challenge the State in instances where it does not fulfil its obligations.
Dr Wendel Abel is a consultant psychiatrist and head, Section of Psychiatry, Department of Community Health and Psychiatry, University of the West Indies; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.