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Protect our children and youth

Published:Thursday | May 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Georgia Lewis Scott, Contributor

IN THE arsenal of tools available to help children recover from abuse and neglect, mentoring is but one that can contribute to the healing of this segment of the population.

As we observe Child Month, Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) and other non-governmental organisations are reminding Jamaicans that we must protect our children and youth. We must provide a solid social safety net, should they require help. All of Jamaica must step up its support of civil-society organisations, which supplement the important work done by Jamaica's governmental organisations. At YOU, which is among the largest mentoring agencies in the developing world, we provide a portion of this social safety net. This includes numerous aspects for youth and parent development, as well as strengthening the capacity of our teachers and community leaders.

In addition to the awareness created by Child Month, the spotlight continues to shine on the plight of Jamaica's most vulnerable persons as a result of some troubling media reports about abuse and neglect. This rightly leaves some people with a feeling of outrage, and YOU is a venue through which people can take immediate action.

Thousands impacted

At any given time on an annual basis, YOU has between 250 and 350 active mentoring relationships, thus positively impacting the lives of thousands of youth over the years. While preventing child abuse and neglect remains a goal to be achieved, we can intervene now in the lives of those who may have suffered as well as those who have been deemed 'at risk'. YOU has also amplified its message within other organisations, having trained 44 companies to provide mentoring.

During Child Month, we urge Jamaicans to become a mentor, a proven means of increasing self-esteem, self-efficacy and giving youth the ability to make positive decisions for themselves in the face of life-altering challenges. The end result, ideally, is a youth who is equipped to complete his or her education and enter the workforce as a competent, creative individual who can contribute to our nation. If we do not stand up for our children, the very survival of our youth and future leaders is at stake.

However, supporting our children and youth is not restricted to the act of mentoring. We urge all Jamaicans to simply love our children, to teach them they are valued, and to let them feel, without question, that they are loved.

So, what can you do? Give them a hug every day. Spend an hour reading to them. Help them find their special talent. Play football with them. And this goes for all children and youth, not just those making the newspaper headlines.

For we are talking not just about the tragedy of abused children, but of neglected children and youth - those who are left to languish as uneducated citizens, not only academically, but emotionally and socially as well.

As a nation, we must invest as much time in our children as we would in our occupation, or our church, or our recreational activities. Mentoring is just one way to achieve this. There are countless other ways to let our children and youth know they are loved and valued. During this Child Month, take a minute to think about your next action to convey this crucial message to a child or youth near you.

Georgia Lewis Scott is executive director of Youth Opportunities Unlimited.