THE EDITOR, Sir:
I would like to support youth advocate Jaevion Nelson for his article in last Thursday's Gleaner, September 5, 2013. I would like to make a correction and take the discussion a little further. First of all we must get it right, it is not children who are uncontrollable, it is their behaviour that is.
Like Mr Nelson I commend the Government for some of its recent initiatives and I am cautiously optimistic that it is indeed intent on pursuing a more enlightened approach and will implement the legislative and systemic changes needed to respond appropriately to children whose behaviours are labelled uncontrollable.
Annual reports from the Child Development Agency between April 2005 to March 2008 show that approximately 50 per cent of the agency's annual intake of cases in the period comprised children with behaviour problems (accessed at http://www.cda.gov.jm/annualreports).
We must ask why this is so Persistent disobedience, hyper- activity, getting into fights, repeatedly getting into trouble and not seeming to care about the consequences, are some of the behaviours which lead parents and other caregivers to reach for the uncontrollable label.
We have to accept that many of the usual methods of trying to get children to behave, such as administering corporal punishment or sending them out of the classroom are not likely to work. Even when people recognise that the behaviour could be as a result of trauma caused by abuse or loss, we must understand that they will not just "grow out" of it.
A child's uncontrollable behaviour is a health problem. It has roots in emotional and neurological turmoil. Many of these problems arise out of suffering from trauma and stress of child abuse, witnessing violence in the home or community, the loss of loved ones, tragic road accidents, flooding, fires and natural disasters. Such children need to be carefully examined by competent professionals in order to find the causes of the problems and work out sustainable solutions.
I would like to offer the following 10 'Things to Do' for consideration by the authorities and child advocacy groups. Hopefully we could start a national conversation about what a healthy Jamaican childhood should be like.
1. Do more research on so-called 'uncontrollable' children so resources can be deployed based on evidence.
2. Let the children know that they are valued.
3. Expand in-home family therapy services using the Roving Caregiver model pioneered by the Rural Family Support Organisation in Clarendon.
4. Strengthen the child-guidance clinic system.
5. Strengthen the learning assessment system for early detection of learning problems.
6. Provide child mental health professionals with the necessary clinical assessment tools.
7. Train mental health para-professionals to recognise and respond to the signs and symptoms of uncontrollable behaviour.
8. Support the use of the arts as an aspect of therapeutic intervention.
9. Support structured out-of-school activities.
10. Increase the number of recreational spaces for children and families.
Health and Psychiatry
University of the West Indies, Mona.