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JTA President Warns of Barrel Children Syndrome

Published:Wednesday | September 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Jamaica Teachers' Association President, Norman Allen (left), and Jamaica College Parent -Teacher Association (PTA) vice president, Errol Holmes. Both were at a PTA meeting at Jamaica College in St Andrew on Tuesday.

President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Norman Allen has urged parents to become more involved in the academic life of their children.

Speaking at a parent-teacher association meeting at Jamaica College on Tuesday, Allen said, "Parents and guardians have an awesome responsibility, but many fail to recognise the magnitude of this responsibility. It is easy for one to believe that he or she has done enough because you have paid the school fees, all the books have been bought and the boy has never gone to school without lunch money. Those are facets of barrel children, but there are scores, probably hundreds, of students who live with parents and suffer the same experiences as barrel children."

The term 'barrel children', coined by University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Claudette Crawford-Brown, refers to children who, given that their parents have migrated, receive material resources in place of emotional support and direct care.

Dr Crawford-Brown, in her publication Who Will Save Our Children: The Plight of the Jamaican Child in the Nineties, argued that barrel children have surrogate parents who are often unable to give them the emotional support and nurture they need. The book forms the basis of a strong body of research which outlines the deleterious impacts of the barrel children syndrome.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Jamaica has sought to address the issue of barrel children through several studies and interventions.

"The so-called barrel children phenomenon, where children are left without adult supervision and care and their only support is shipping barrels of food, clothing and other material items sent by parents or guardians living overseas, is widely recognised as a major problem in Jamaica," UNICEF said in a post on its website.


Effects of migration


Dr Elsie Laurence Chounoune, deputy resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme, at the 2013 International Youth Day Public Education Forum on Migration and Youth, noted that, "Studies have shown that despite the inflow of foreign capital and the presence of relatives, barrel children in Jamaica are having a harder time coping without their parents, and often have suicidal thoughts.

"Migration has since been labelled as the single strongest factor that contributes to the breakdown of the contemporary Jamaican family, contributing to poor academic performance and delinquent behaviour. Studies have also revealed that these children are at risk for sexual abuse and prostitution."

The JTA president's call for parents to avoid treating students as barrel children by becoming more involved in their life is supported by research which shows that parental involvement improves a child's academic outcome and social and cognitive growth.