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30-y-o grandmas helping to raise child criminals, says counsellor - Dozens of teens feature in serious crimes, including murder and buggery, since March

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2020 | 12:28 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter

Sharon Hollister* is thankful her 15-year-old son has completed another month without having a run-in with the law. That is to her knowledge at least.

Though still a student, the teenager has been arrested by the police at least seven times in the last four years, and on each occasion, his mother’s heart, expectations and pockets got more deflated.

It’s been months now since her son has been ‘going steady’, and although the single mother lives on edge, fearing things could change at any minute, she welcomes the break in attention from the police.

According to data released by the Court Management Services (CMS), children remained high on the list of criminal offenders over the last two months – a reality childcare experts fear will only get worse as families cope with the suspension of physical classes and job losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March, at least 68 children have either been detained or remanded in state care facilities. The Corporate Area accounted for 60 of them.

“Forty-four children were remanded for criminal offences, and 16 children were detained at places of safety in welfare matters,” offered the CMS, explaining a breakdown of the 60 children it said were ordered removed from their environments by the Corporate Area courts since March.

“Eighteen new children criminal cases have been brought before the Corporate Area courts during the period for offences such as murder [and] illegal possession of firearm and ammunition,” read the CMS response. Underage sex and buggery were among the other serious cases mentioned.

In the Corporate Area courts, “There were 100 active children criminal matters. Thirty-two accused children had their bail extended, and warrants were stayed for 25 accused children who were absent.”

The CMS said that six matters were disposed of and 37 children were remanded.

In addition to cases heard in Hanover, St James and Westmoreland, the Family Courts islandwide addressed 67 new matters and 497 matters brought forward involving juveniles during the period.

Domestic and child-related matters in the specialised Family Courts are exempt from Government’s suspension of court hearings due to COVID-19 as these are regarded as emergencies.

Court authorities say they are adhering to the strictest safety guidelines, but are plagued by several challenges, including the non-compliance by members of the public to wear masks.

From the parents’ perspective, such criminal ordeals bring heavy psychological and financial strains, argued Karl Smith, the guidance counsellor at Denham Town High School for more than 20 years.

Exactly 10 years after the West Kingston incursion that left some 70 Jamaicans dead, Smith said the event and others like it have left some children and their parents with psychological scars.

“Some of them (parents) do not know or they are in denial about what their children are involved in. So at that point in time (children’s arrest), they will go to family members, their members of parliament … . They will move mountains to get legal and financial support,” said Smith.

“These young grandmothers, who are 40 and 30 years old sometimes, they don’t have a sense of societal good. Everything they do is for their own,” posited Smith, linking the waywardness of many children to such environments.

Last week, Hollister was not quick to take the blame for her son’s acting out, however. She said that though they live alone, she works hard to provide for her son, while teaching him good manners.

The boy, however, is hell-bent on maintaining close ties and hanging out with wayward youth in her community, she said.

“I tell him to do things before I go to work and when I come home, nothing is done. He is all over the place, and when school was on, he doesn’t go to classes,” she said. “Police lock him up about six or seven times already.”

“Every time I have to leave work gone to police station … up and down with him. I just don’t know,” she lamented with a sigh, expressing fear that without professional intervention, her son could soon be trapped in a lifelong cycle of crime.

*Name changed to protect identity of minor.