Today, we gather to officially hand over The Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) Therapeutic Centre, the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean.
The project was managed by The Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) and financed by the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) through its Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) grant funding valued at approximately Two Hundred Million Jamaican Dollars (JMD$200,000,000). Eighty-Five Point Eight Million Dollars ($85.8M) was contributed by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), an Agency of the Ministry of Education and Youth.
The Therapeutic Centre will facilitate medical treatment, social intervention guidance and psychological support for victims of child abuse. The Centre will also provide programmes designed specifically to stop the cycle of abuse and violence against children across parishes as well as wholistic and comprehensive support packages for families.
Overall, the project will benefit Four Thousand Four Hundred (4,400) children in state care who are in child protection placement (that is, children’s homes, places of safety and living in a family environment) as well as those in foster care and family reintegration and those in need of psychosocial or mental health intervention. Additionally, the project will benefit Sixteen Thousand (16,000) children and their families who access the services of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) on an annual basis.
The CPFSA staff will also benefit from a series of training programmes. This includes the training of Twenty-Seven (27) Social Workers, and One Hundred and Sixty-One (161) Caregivers from Forty-Eight (48) Children’s Homes trained in skills to equip them for their workplace.
In 2021, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute estimated that of the number of Jamaican children who are able to access mental health services, only 8 percent of Jamaican children’s mental health needs are being met. Jamaica’s children are in need of more and more available, specialized, and consistent mental health services.
Most mental disorders that afflict adults have their genesis in childhood and adolescence. Directing investments and efforts towards treatment and support in the early stages of brain development will redound to enhanced educational achievements, more positive adult outcomes, and, ultimately, boost national development.
Currently, there is no facility for the delivery of effective screening, assessment, and therapeutic treatment for children who are exhibiting behavioural challenges. Thus, there was a gap in the diagnosis of children as the State was unable to effectively screen, assess and diagnose children who were displaying behavioural challenges.
This Therapeutic Centre is important, but we have far more to do, as a government and as a people. Because addressing this serious problem is a matter for both the state and the citizenry.
Among the areas that we are also working on is the legislation and legislative framework for children in need of care and protection. The review of the Child Care and Protection Act has been underway for some time, but we pulled out as a matter of urgency the amendment of Section 24. This amendment will bring an end to the practice of placing children deemed “uncontrollable” in penal institutions. Section 24 of the CCPA indicates that in a case where a parent or guardian proves to a court that he is unable to control his child, the court can make an order which could, among other things, result in the juvenile being sent to a correctional centre.
It took longer than it should have, but the amendment will be tabled in parliament on Tuesday. Following this amendment, no child charged with an offence will end up in a correctional facility. The use of the terms “uncontrollable, beyond control, and out of control” in describing children with behavioural issues will be abolished.
The revision will provide for a Therapeutic Order to be made by the Judge. That order will mean that the state must provide psychological and other services to treat and rehabilitate those children, particularly with regard to behaviour disorders. Some children require intensive residential therapy and we have constructed a specialized, purpose-built facility for them at the site of the Windsor Home. That facility is also about to come on stream and I look forward to its opening and it being put to use. Those who do not require residential treatment will be looked after right here, at this centre. This centre will thus contribute to CPFSA’s goal to protect proactively and responsively and will enable work with children in a controlled and therapeutic setting.
CPFSA Staff have benefitted from training under the BNTF 9 Youth-At-Risk Project which included:
- The training and certification of 27 Social Workers employed to the agency in Clinical Social Work, and
- The training of 161 Caregivers from 48 homes island-wide in First Aid, Fire Safety, Supervision Management, Conflict Management and Basic Counselling Skills.
We are also paying attention to ensuring that what we build can be properly maintained and sustained. Five (5) members from the CPFSA staff attended a 4-day residential training to assist in understanding how to maintain the building.
Child Abuse is a global concern and most if not all countries around the world are grappling with the issue and implementing various strategies and initiatives to focus on prevention.
During the period 2020 – 2022, The Child Protection Family Services Agency received Thirty-Five Thousand Nine Hundred and Fifty-Eight (35,958) reports of alleged cases of children being at risk of abuse, neglect or otherwise in need of care and protection, and during the period January to April 2023 the number of cases reported were Five Thousand Two hundred and Four (5,204). (It should be noted that the figures do not represent the number of children, but the number of reports received and oftentimes the CPFSA will receive more than one report about the same child.)
In their homes, schools, and communities, many Jamaican children are confronted by high levels of violence and lack the engagement and guidance that are required for optimal development. This impacts the brain leading to an increased prevalence of emotional and conduct disorders and makes children more prone to resorting to alcohol/substance abuse, high-risk sexual behaviour, suicidal ideation, or aggressive behaviour as coping mechanisms.
UNICEF reports that approximately eighty (80) percent of our children in Jamaica experience some form of psychological or physical violence in the name of discipline and that approximately Seventy-Nine (79) percent of our children will witness violence in their communities and homes.
These statistics should be of great concern to ALL of us regardless of our income group, religious beliefs or where we live, that is, in urban or rural communities. We therefore must, together, transform our culture of silence and family and community secrets to one where we care and report abuse.
We MUST as a people recognize and acknowledge the value of our children. ALL of our children, not only our biological children. Yes, we have too many dysfunctional households on our island, but a major contributor to the problem is our general culture of silence.
Each of us individually must become child protectors.
When we see our children being abused either physically, psychologically, or emotionally we must either intervene by sharing an alternative approach to discipline or make a report to the CPFSA. We must push back and cease placing more value on the status quo or fear of embarrassment rather than protecting our children from lifelong damage.
We need to pay attention to what is happening to our children in our schools, our community centres, our sports fields and playgrounds, among others. These are spaces that can have a positive impact on the development of our children, but they can also be places of danger and abuse. Childcare and the protection of our children are the business of all of us in Jamaica and we all need to step up to the plate and be counted. We need to pay attention.
Child protection starts in our communities. Yes, absolutely the Government has a responsibility but our communities and the people living within the communities are our first line of defence in the protection of our children. We each need to ask ourselves the question, “Am I a protector of the children within my community”?
There is another aspect of our communities that is relevant to why we are here today: something called toxic stress. Toxic stress is present in situations of extreme poverty, continuous family chaos, recurrent physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, severe and enduring maternal depression, or repeated exposure to violence in the community or within the family.
These are all characteristics of Jamaican children’s lives, particularly those in vulnerable communities.
The combination of such a high-stress environment and a lack of adequate attentive care impairs children’s mental health. Toxic stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain and can lead to difficulties in learning, memory, and self-regulation.
In addition to working to improve children’s lives by providing more services such as this Therapeutic Centre, moving forward with new and revised legislation and policies, and working to ensure the macroeconomic environment is one in which we have the resources to do these things, we are also working on changing the conditions that bring about the toxic stress that produces the so many children who are in need of care and protection, who suffer trauma, and who need these services.
That is, we are not only working on treating and alleviating the symptoms of children’s mental ill health, we are also tackling the root.
Communities, where toxic stress is a problem, are often communities where violent criminal gangs hold sway. We have increased resources to the country’s security complex and we have been proceeding with targeted security and social interventions to remove the criminals and gangs from vulnerable communities.
This will give the people, families, and children in those communities, an opportunity to live without fear, emerge from poverty, and be free of ongoing gang and domestic violence, all of which bring about the toxic stress that predisposes and exacerbates children’s mental ill health.
Again, the issue of the culture of silence is relevant: for as long as we allow violent criminals who perpetrate monstrous acts to be harboured in communities, we will continue to have toxic communities and traumatized, violated children in need of care, protection, and mental health treatment.
The action for the state to take is to foster an environment that is less conducive to people committing acts of violence, not just the gangsters and the contract killers, but the wicked child killers, the extortionist, the disgruntled third party in a love triangle, the men who turn on women who are physically weaker than they are, who don’t stand a chance should he use force.
We continue to do what we are doing: dismantle violent criminal gang networks, strengthen law enforcement agencies, improve and expand our capacity to incarcerate wrongdoers and work steadfastly towards a justice system that serves justice swiftly and decisively.
There is a role too for citizens, especially those who shelter violent criminals in communities. The people who hide them in their homes when they are wanted by the law. The ones who provide them with shelter, sustenance, and protection, allowing them to go back and kill again, continuing their reign of terror. The ones who will not speak up about these monsters reigning terror on the community and on the country.
For us to get to a Jamaica where our children’s lives are not defined by toxic stress, and where we do not have such a high demand for children’s mental health services, we all have to play our part in ridding our communities of violence and the people who perpetrate it.
Original text – : (Economy and fiscal management)
Ladies and gentlemen, I will take this opportunity to give some context to how it is that we are here today, opening this much-needed social services centre. In doing so I will share with you some facts that as Jamaicans we need to know, acknowledge, recognize, and be proud of.
The CAPRI report found that more resources need to be expended on child mental health. Accessible and affordable mental health services for children provide a preventative system that mitigates risk factors and provides for early diagnosis and treatment. Catching children before they fall requires far more resources, particularly directed towards expanded services and hiring and training skilled personnel. These costs might be substantial, but the money “saved” by not treating emotional, psychological, psychiatric, and behaviour problems in early childhood is modest in comparison to the greater long-term costs of serious adult mental illness and/or criminal behaviour, and the ill effects those have on the broader society, which exact both an economic and societal cost.
We have begun to do the work of expanding and increasing the provision of child mental health services, but we have only been able to do so because of the hard-won economic stability that has come about because of this administration’s economic stewardship and disciplined fiscal management.
Unlike several other countries, Jamaica is in a good place right now having come out of the overlapping global crises of the pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine War (which continues), and the impact of global inflation (which is showing some signs of abatement). The fact is we have made a very impressive recovery and we should all be proud.
- We now have economic growth, surpassing pre-pandemic levels in real output.
- Our unemployment rate is at an historic low of approximately 6-7%
- We have endured the worst global health and economic crisis in a century without triggering a debt, balance of payments, or currency crisis.
- Our exports have increased by more than 50% for January and February this year, (2023) in comparison to 2022.
- Our net International Reserves as at March 31, 2023 were $4.15 Billion United States Dollars, an increase of 38% from the pre-COVID levels
Jamaica is now being celebrated on the world stage as the “gold standard” in economic reform and management of the pandemic. If you don’t want to take my word for it, just read the report published yesterday in the Miami Herald which describes Jamaica as a “mini-superpower in the Caribbean”.
These achievements speak not only to the resilience and determination of our people but to the sound policies and bold actions taken by my administration. While Jamaica, like other countries, has suffered from high global inflation, we must take note that our inflation rate is now lower than some developed countries, like the UK.
While many countries are facing currency devaluations, the Jamaican dollar has been stable over the past year.
You may ask why I am sharing this information with you today and what is the relevance of this information to our handing over of this centre. Well, the answer is this.
I want Jamaicans to understand that there is a direct link between our economy and our debt management and our ability to spend on social services. In the 2015/2016 budget before my administration took over, 48 cents out of every dollar was budgeted to be spent on debt service. The actual turned out to be closer to 60 cents out of every dollar. In the 2023/2024 budget, debt service accounts for 28% of the budgeted expenditure. We have cut debt service costs as a percentage by more than half! As our economy grows and we reduce our debt, your government will have more resources to spend on the things that will make life better for every single Jamaican. No matter what anyone tells you, prosperity and improvements to the life of our people cannot be delivered sustainably without a robust, vibrant, and growing economy.
Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, this is why my administration places emphasis on the management of your economy, the Jamaican economy as it is crucial for the medium- and long-term prosperity of not only our country but for each one of us individually and our children. We must connect the dots. Nothing happens in isolation. It is all connected.
This is why my administration from 2016 has emphasized economic growth, job creation, and infrastructure development. We must therefore continue to pay down our debt and strengthen our buffers to respond to any future crisis while doing all we can to grow our economy which will make Jamaica stronger and more resilient than ever before.
I will close by thanking all those who care for our children and ask God to continue to bless you as you care for our future. I also once again ask all of us in this God-given beautiful island of ours, Jamaica, to step up and be caring and protectors of our beautiful children.