Jamaica Observer:- Jamaica is currently experiencing a mental health crisis among adolescents aged 14 to 17 and the problem is further compounded by a shortage of mental health specialists in the public sector to deal with the affected children.
Chief executive officer of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency Rosalee Gage-Grey made the revelation yesterday at a forum titled ‘Safety and Justice For Jamaica’s Children’ co-hosted by Jamaicans For Justice, Caribbean Policy Research Institute, and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston
“I think I have to emphasise this. There is a serious mental health crisis with our adolescents in the country and there are not sufficient resources in the public health sector to attend to these issues that the children present,” she said.
According to Gage-Grey, the problem affects both children in residential care and non-residential care across the island.
Gage-Grey said that community interventions by field officers within her organisation have revealed the pressing problem among children who are not in the system, while a fairly recent study conducted by UNICEF, using 400 children in residential care in St Catherine, and Kingston and St Andrew, revealed that more than half of the children in State care had mental health issues.
“The project we had with UNICEF found that over 60 per cent of children were screened for further assessment, meaning that there was an indicator that something was wrong and that they might have a disorder,” she explained. “We have children with multiple disorders, so the intervention, which is critical, is where we are having a little difficulty in terms of having the personnel to do it in the number of sessions they need and the time of intervention.”
Gage-Grey, however, explained that a significant number of the children exhibit behavioural issues resulting from traumatic experiences such as abuse or other adverse ordeals. These issues, she said, would have remained untreated for a significant number of years before cascading into psycho-social and mental health problems that are currently being manifested in the children.
She said that currently the State places as many as 60 children with severe behavioural problems in one facility. However, they are moving to have smaller homes. “No homes will be approved now with more than 30, 40. The Government homes have a threshold of 60, but we want to reduce those spaces to more manageable numbers, because it is very difficult, under any circumstance, to manage facilities with that [number],” she stated.
Gage-Grey said that, going forward, behaviour modification, as well as capacity-building of people within residential facilities are going to be very critical.
“The issues that the children are presenting, the psycho-social demands, require a lot of special persons. Even within our category of social workers we need more clinical social workers, because the issues that the children are presenting with require staff of a certain level of capacity to be able to address them in that manner,” she explained.
“We have flagged mental health issues among our adolescents as a critical issue,” she said. “We have also flagged sexual and reproductive health, based on the issues we have seen in the studies that were conducted, and just in our general interaction with children that we have in State care. There is a serious need for additional clinical psychologists and psychiatrists and social workers to treat with the issues. We work closely with the Ministry of Health and their resources; the resources through their child guidance clinic are stretched, and so we have had to be seeking ways in which we can do that preliminary work with them.”