Neglected - Children in state care too far from home
Nedburn Thaffe, Gleaner Writer
Sixteen-year-old Markhas been living in state care since age six.
In 2001, he was transferred from The Salvation Army Children's Home in St Elizabeth to the Jamaica Christian Boys' Home in New Kingston.
The year 2006 was the last time he saw or heard anything from his mother, with whom he lived in St Elizabeth, before being thrust into the system.
"The only thing me can remember now is that she name June and she short - nothing else," he told The Gleaner recently, adding that he had never met his father.
"Mi have a auntie that used to come look fi me but me nuh know what happen to her," the robust teenager recalled, as he tried to mask his tears.
Mark, who is a fourth-form student at a Corporate Area high school, has ambitions of becoming a soldier after leaving school.
"Mi like everything about them ... how them discipline and thing," he said, referring to the school's administrative clout.
Mark believes the chances of realising his dreams would have been much greater if he had the support of his mother and relatives.
"It probably would make me a better person and help me get where I want to if dem did come visit mi," he said.
From children homes to places of safety, across the length and breadth of Jamaica, the story of gross neglect by parents is a common cry.
However, Children's Advocate Mary Clarke told The Gleaner that while there were parents who turned a blind eye to the concerns of their children in state care, there were others who just could not afford to visit.
"This is an issue that we have been asking to be addressed ... . When you take a child from Kingston to as far as Armadale (the destroyed girls' facility in St Ann), how must the parents find the bus fare," she said, adding that most of these parents were low-income earners.
The children's advocate said there seemed to be an umbilical link between displayed interest and regular visits from parents and the likelihood of state wards conquering behavioural challenges and becoming productive citizens.
Clarke said the distance of state facilities from children's original homes should be carefully weighed by government authorities to mitigate the psychosocial repercussions of dislocation.
She urged parents, however, to seek help in easing transport costs, as interaction with state wards was critical to their sociability.
"Many of these children who rebel do so because they feel they don't have anyone who cares for them ... . When parents visit, that feeling of belonging, that somebody cares for them, makes a whole lot of difference," she said.
Child psychologist Gemma Gibbons agreed with Clarke's assessment about the domino effect of relocating children very far from their homes, saying that those wards might have adjustment problems.
Gibbons said it was unfortunate that some children's relationship with their families was being jeopardised by resource constraints, but acknowledged that lack of government funding often made close relocation unviable.
Name withheld to protect privacy.