JIS News

For the past two years, the Family Court in Kingston and St. Andrew has been staging parenting seminars, designed primarily for its litigants and persons utilizing its services.
These come against the background of a recognition by the Court that there are serious deficiencies in parenting skills of litigants.
Rosemary Neale-Irving, Resident Magistrate and Judge at the Family Court for Kingston and St. Andrew, tells JIS News that the aim of the seminars is to further improve the litigants’ knowledge in parenting.
“Bearing in mind that part of the services that we offer at the Family Court would include counselling, we are able to identify persons who are really deficient in major areas of parenting. We in turn, invite them to come to the parenting seminar,” Mrs. Neale-Irving explains.
The format of the seminars is informal and it allows persons to relax in a group setting while recounting their experiences and the difficulties they encounter as parents. “Through group counselling we provide strategies for parents to overcome the challenges they face,” she notes.
“We have identified resource persons who come and address the participants on specific topics that we consider important. These include adolescent reproductive health, family planning, immunization, money management and financial counseling, generally,” the Resident Magistrate says.
Mrs. Neale-Irving further adds that a number of areas are covered to improve parenting skills, such as chemical dependence, anger management, nutrition, self-esteem, child abuse, social skills, discipline, child development and communication.
The Resident Magistrate points out that the staff of the Family Court has played an integral part in the formation of the parenting seminars, and noted that the members hosted the pilot seminar in November 2002, out of pocket. “This certainly reflected their commitment to improving family relations,” she says, adding that they have continued to work tirelessly in organizing the seminars on a limited budget.
“It must be noted, however, that the selfless contributions from the staff for the seminars have been replaced with funding from the budget of the Social Conflict and Legal Reform via the Coalition for Better Parenting. This assistance has allowed us to continue the programme,” the Resident Magistrate says.
She points out that there is no cost for the resource persons, as they donate their services free of cost.”We have not really advertised the seminars because of the limitation in resources, which allow us to cope with 60 persons at any given time,” Mrs. Neale-Irving says.
The seminars, which are held twice yearly, covering one and a half days (Friday and Saturday), are fast growing in popularity. The number of persons participating has grown because of the benefit derived. These persons have in turn, told other litigants and over time, the number of participants has burgeoned to 60.
“We would like to be in a position to cater to more persons because the general objective is really to improve the parenting skills, so that we will have less conflict and violence amongst our children and their parents,” Mrs. Neale-Irving points out.
Commenting on the actual impact of the parenting seminars on persons involved in law suits, the Resident Magistrate says the main method of assessment was seeing whether the persons returned to court on the same issues that brought them there in the first place.
“In many instances some problems arise from custody applications. The parties will return later on, asking for consent judgments, and this is an indication that they have solved their problems,” she notes.
The Resident Magistrate says that the Court is always interested in voluntary service. “If persons have particular skills that they feel would be of assistance to other parents, we would be quite happy if they would offer their services to us,” Mrs. Neale-Irving says.
She explains that the Court will be encouraging “friends” and “advocates” of the Family Court to help spread the message that family relations in Jamaica must improve in order to create a better society.
Family Courts were established under the Judicature (Family Court) Act of 1975, which aims to prevent family breakdown, and where this is not possible, ensure that the welfare of the children is protected.

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