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You can't give up on them

Published:Friday | July 28, 2017 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
A participant in the Children's Drug Treatment Programme shakes the hand of Chief Justice Zaila McCalla after his performance at the graduation ceremony held at the Institute of Jamaica downtown Kingston on Friday. Looking on is Paula A. Blake-Powell, Senior Parish Court Judge, Kingston and St Andrew Family court and ACP Bishop Dr Gary Welsh who was the guest speaker at the function.

She is not a dentist, but senior Parish Court judge Paula Blake-Powell has likened the process of reforming children with substance-abuse problems to pulling teeth.

The Kingston and St Andrew Family Court, where Blake-Powell presides, embarked on an initiative in 2014 to launch a pilot Children Drug Treatment Programme (CDTP) that would provide an alternative to incarceration for youngsters who abuse drugs.

Five of those students graduated from the programme on Friday during a ceremony which was attended by family and resource personnel from varying sectors who contributed to their rehabilitation.

"At this time, we have more than 30 children continuing even after the five have taken their walk; and every single day I get a potential participant," Blake-Powell told those who attended at the ceremony at the Institute of Jamaica, East Street, Kingston.

"It involves tears, screaming, shouting, begging and pleading; but they are here, they have made it," said the judge, who referred to the five boys as her children.

While drug treatment courts have existed in Jamaica since 2001, there was an obvious need for a similar programme for children.

These children are supervised by a team which includes a judge, probation aftercare officers and treatment providers who specialise in substance-abuse counselling, drug detoxification and rehabilitation.




"My first encounter with a child who was dependent on drugs was a care and protection matter, where this child was under the age of 10 and he had slept more than four weeks in a residential drug rehabilitation facility," she said.

The CDTP is supported by other partners, including RISE Life Management Services, the National Council on Drug Abuse and the Child Development Agency.

It has received financial and other types of assistance from local as well as international organisations such as the

OAS and the USAID's Community Empowerment and Transformation Project.

Solution is not always to lock up children abusing drugs - judge

Senior judge Paula Blake-Powell has said that the Children Drug Treatment Programme has highlighted the fact that the solution was not always to lock up people and throw away the keys. She finds that the focus should also be on "trying to give them hope in the midst of their adversity, in the midst of their circumstances.

"It takes something extra from you, and many people don't realise that there is a softer face to the justice system," she said.

The judge found herself on several occasions pleading with parents to give their children a second chance and was extremely pleased that they had listened to her advice.

"Parents, you have come and sometimes you have told me that you give up, you are not taking them home, I must take them; but thank God, you took them back home," she said.

"You can't give up on them. Please, you need to give them a second chance and a third chance," she pleaded.

To ensure that the boys stuck with the programme, both incentives and sanctions were offered accordingly. Although they have graduated, the teenage boys will continue to be monitored, as some of them still have a probation order.

"In order to successfully navigate their probation order, they have to leave ganja alone, they have to leave the alcohol alone. No more rum and Boom, no more sending out on Facebook what your combination is," Blake-Powell warned.