John Myers Jr, Gleaner Writer
Youth Minister Lisa Hanna says a large number of children with behavioural problems are afflicted by various mental conditions and the change in the legislation to decriminalise those deemed 'uncontrollable' would allow the Ministry of Youth and Culture to administer specific interventions.
Hanna, who was speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Friday, revealed that her ministry had engaged a group of psychiatrists, who will be assisting in assessing and recommending appropriate interventions for children who have been placed in state care for behavioural problems.
According to the youth minister, "over a third of juveniles in detention centres were there for uncontrollable behaviour".
With the change in legislation that is to come shortly, she said those children deemed 'uncontrollable' will be removed to a special facility that is to be established, where they would be assessed by a council of psychiatrists who would recommend the appropriate intervention.
"Child mental health in the country is not something that is given priority. When we looked at the data, there was tremendous sadness among people under 16 - many of them want to hurt themselves, a lot of them are deemed uncontrollable but they have ADHD, ADD, some of them have learning disabilities and don't know how to cope with it; some of them are bipolar; some of them are schizophrenic; some of them are sociopaths," Hanna told the forum.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) are mental conditions which sometime lead to children being labeled as troublemakers, or criticised for being lazy and undisciplined.
Hanna said many children are not getting proper psychiatrical or psychological assessment as a lot of persons were afraid to visit their community health clinics to get them done because "of the stigma that says 'your pickney is mad' and the end result is that they end up behind bars".
Sadie Keating, consultant in the Ministry of Youth and Culture and author of the Keating Report explained that legislative change by itself would not result in a change in the child's behaviour, but "what it does is put the child into a place where the child can be rehabilitated".
She added: "Remember, a lot of the things that the children do there have a cause. It could be a case where the child is abused in the home."
Take power from court
Importantly, the courts would no longer have the option to place 'uncontrollable' children in penal institutions, pointed out Huntley Medley, communication consultant in the youth and culture ministry.
"The courts have the power to remand a child brought in for 'uncontrollable behaviour' to a correctional institution. With the changes in legislation, that power will be removed so the court will no longer have it as an option for sentencing," he explained.
As a result, "what we are doing now is identifying suitable places. We have a council of psychiatrists who are helping full-time with how to retrofit that particular place and what kinds of interventions that would be needed," Hanna revealed.