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Jamaica's children the definition of resilience

Published:Tuesday | March 3, 2015 | 6:29 PMDr Kim Scott and Dr Elizabeth Ward
Dr Kim Scott
Dr Elizabeth Ward

The children I see in Jamaica today are passionate, strong, lively, enthusiastic, humorous and continually striving for success but under what difficult conditions and how many obstacles must they overcome?

They prove themselves to be the definition of resilience, yet an elastic band can only be stretched and regain its shape thus far before it will break. Too many of our children are being broken. This then shows up later as teen pregnancy, drug use, suicide, violence and abuse.

In a recent Peace Management Initiative (PMI) review of 50 high-risk male community youth aged 15-27 years, 80 per cent had dropped out of school, 70 per cent had been involved in gang activity and 60 per cent incarcerated at least once.

Up to 60 per cent could not read or write well. All these youth had been to primary school and some initiated high school. (Ward, E, CSJP 2015 report)

In 2013, the Registrar General's Department (RGD) data tell us that 6,760 live births took place to children 19 and under and 1,102 births to children by age 16.

Overall, 18.4 per cent of all births were to teen mothers. The data speak to some of this brokenness. Clearly an opportunity to intervene early, offering an alternative life pathway for these children, was missed.

Maureen Samms-Vaughan et al in examining behaviour in a Jamaican urban cohort found that aggressive and delinquent behaviours were associated with underachievement. Children displaying prosocial behaviour came from stable family units that displayed affection and participated in organised activities.

The K. Scott-Fisher, J. Rosenbaum study in Clarendon of 1,000 teens looked at risk and protective factors and found that caring relationships, high expectations and meaningful participation in the home, school and community prevented adolescents from becoming involved in multiple high-risk behaviour. This was corroborated by Fox and Wilks finding similar results.

model partnership

The Child Resiliency Programme (CRP) of the Violence Prevention Alliance was designed based on this body of research. It is a model of a school, church, family, community partnership that aims to build resilience and reduce high-risk behaviour. It currently serves 200 children and their parents referred by primary schools identified as being 'at risk' after school.

Each Child Resiliency Programme is fed by four to five feeder schools and currently operates out of the YMCA, Boys' Town and Falmouth All-Age. Children identified by the guidance counsellor at grade five to be 'at risk' feed into the CRP and take part in the after school programme three afternoons/week where they are offered the following supportive interventions:

1) Building literacy via computers and chalk and talk methodology.

2) Life skills training via 'circle time'.

3) Creative arts and sports to reinforce life skills - drumming, dance, music, arts and craft, drama, karate, football, swimming, boxing.

4) Parent training, family counselling and home visits.

5) Nutritional support.

Findings after one year of intervention show a marked reduction in the number of fights by students reported by the parent, teachers and guidance counsellors. There is a dramatic increase in the literacy level of students and an increase in all pro-social behavioural measures. The five-year follow-up evaluation of students graduating from the Programme showed marked benefits. All students went on to complete high school. Parents reported increased literacy, better relationship with their children, improved ability to positively discipline their children without resorting to corporal punishment and more affection and involvement in the children's lives at home and at school.

An active programme, however, for the 8-14-year-old is needed throughout the entire educational system to offer alternative educational and behavioural strategies along with financial support for those children at risk.

This will require the support of public and private sectors and the creation of more church, school, family and community partnerships. There is no one "quick fix" but rather a long process of developmental change is required if we are to sincerely give our children a chance to thrive versus just survive.

The hopeful part of the equation is just how many "regular everyday people" are interested and willing to make a difference and really just need an avenue to be able to help participate in the process. "Hope is the passion for the possible."

Let us continue to offer hope to our nation's children in whichever sphere we find ourselves operating.

• Dr Kim Scott is adolescent health head of the Child Resilency Project and Dr Elizabeth Ward is chair of the Violence Prevention Alliance.