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Absence of funds leaves child therapy programme in limbo

Published:Tuesday | January 13, 2015 | 12:00 AM

A psychotherapeutic intervention that was conceptualised to help maladjusted children improve their behaviour and academic performance has been left in limbo because of the unavailability of money from central government.

With some $15 million needed to roll out the 'Dream A World Cultural Therapy Programme' in 35 primary schools, from five eastern parishes, Professor Fred Hickling, who is to spearhead the initiative, said it was unfortunate that it has not been given the attention it deserves.

"Almost all of these children have had some sort of psychological trauma in their parent interaction or their social environment. A large number of them have witnessed some violent crime and so we have a lot of work to do," Hickling said.

"It's incredible how people cannot recognise the crisis that we are in, or maybe they just don't care. The problem for us is that we have become used to bad, abnormal behaviour, which is very unfortunate."

Hickling said the programme will go a far way in producing wholesome citizens within a society in which children are facing a psychological crisis.

"The team is ready and raring to go. Everything is in place and we are just waiting patiently. However, we have been waiting on the funding, which has not come, and from my point of view, it's just a comedy of errors," Hickling told The Gleaner yesterday.

Under the therapy programme, children will engage in cultural resilience therapy for one year. This would involve the creation of a separate grade for classroom for specially identified children who would receive attention, thereby allowing for their transition to grade six.


Although disappointed at the snail's pace at which things are progressing, Hickling said he was prepared to take everything in stride even as he expressed confidence that it could be a game-changer for behaviour in Jamaica.

"I've been around too long to get angry and frustrated at these things, so I won't fuss and complain. We are certain that this programme will address the psychological inversion phase that the society is now experiencing, especially among our children," said Hickling, who, during the 1970s helped to establish a unique community psychiatric service and to pioneer cultural therapy at Bellevue Hospital.

The programme began in 2006 with a pilot, and has been lauded with achieving positive behaviour change among a group of children who were considered the worst behaving, characterised by severe disruptive disorders and academic underachievement.

"It is already reaping success, as a lot of teachers are using the methods we introduced during the pilot project, so no cold vibe won't stop dis yah boogie," Hickling told The Gleaner.

"I'm just worried about the people who have started to benefit and are waiting for us to continue, and so I know there is a lot of frustration and anger on the ground," he said.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Elaine Foster-Allen, however, pointed out that proper checks have to be done, as it was not budgeted for initially.

"You can't just roll out a project without the ministry knowing that sufficient funds budgeted are in place. We have started the work, but in terms of rolling out, we are talking about an item that was not initially budgeted for and we have had to find the resources, and we are still in that process," Foster-Allen told The Gleaner.

"We think it's a fantastic programme, so it's not a matter of priority or not placing value on it. We are trying to ensure that it runs smoothly and that everything is in place for a proper roll-out," she declared.