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Children’s Advocate, Mary Clarke, has called for more training in psychosocial support across the island, to help children who are traumatized by violent circumstances.
Mrs. Clarke, who was speaking at the recent inaugural Caribbean Child Research Conference at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, said that, “we need early, skilled and empathetic intervention. We need to be able to identify trauma in children and the likely impact and consequences of trauma that have not been properly dealt with”.
“Our children have experienced many events which can produce stress and trauma, such as natural disasters, violence, family break-ups, loss due to death, migration and even transitioning from one grade to another or from one level to another in the education system,” she added.
She explained that trauma manifested itself in children in different ways. “We find that they become hyper-vigilant, stop trusting everybody and being suspicious of everybody, re-experiencing the nightmare and the dreams, hyper-activity, aggression, sensitivity to stress, changes in sleep and eating patterns, learning and memory problems as well as withdrawal and avoidance,” she noted.
Mrs. Clarke’s presentation drew on the experiences of a UNICEF-funded project, which was implemented through the Planning Institute of Jamaica. The project was developed to provide psychosocial care to children and their families who were severely affected by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
Under the project, sensitization workshops were held in six parishes. There were three phases to this project. The first phase included the training of persons, who in turn trained at least five persons within their communities. In phase three, the persons were responsible for training peer counsellors.
According to Mrs. Clarke, “the participants were trained to detect and assess grief and trauma response in children, and how to identify what cases they could not handle and needed to refer”.
“They were also taught how to handle uncomplicated grief in children as well as how to cope with stress themselves,” she added.
Mrs. Clarke said that based on the feedback that she received, the participants indicated that they benefited tremendously from the training. Many of them, she said, were using the skills and knowledge that they were taught, on a daily basis.
“We are proposing that this short term module for training and sensitization be replicated in all parishes in Jamaica and also that all service providers dealing with children are exposed to this training,” she said.
The Children’s Advocate also called for more long term training, which she said, should be institutionalized and mandatory for all service providers for children.
Mrs. Clarke co-presented the paper, ‘Psychosocial Support for Traumatized Children: A Case Study Approach’, with Rose Robinson-Hall, Co-ordinator of CAMP Bustamante, which is a hospital-based intervention that emphasizes enabling the Bustamante Hospital for Children and the community to identify the signs and symptoms of physical and sexual abuse or neglect.
The two-day conference, which was held under the theme: ‘Promoting Child Rights Through Research’, was the first of its kind to be held in the English speaking Caribbean.
Organizers of the conference included the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) and the Caribbean Child Development Centre (CCDC), in association with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Early Childhood Commission, the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), the Child Development Research Group and the Ministries of Education and Youth, and Health.