More vulnerable children are benefiting from mental health support being provided by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) with the recent expansion of the agency’s fleet of mobile mental health units dubbed ‘Smiles Mobile’.
Chief Executive Officer of the CPFSA, Rosalee Gage-Grey, tells JIS News that the recent donation of a retrofitted 35-seater bus valued at $14.9 million by the Transformation Implementation Unit (TIU), under the Public Sector Transformation Programme, has enhanced the entity’s capacity to deliver mental health services to children in State care.
“This volume of support has significantly strengthened our overall capacity to effectively respond to the needs,” she says.
The donation of the bus forms part of the support being provided by the TIU to modernise the operations of the CPFSA.
Executive Director of the TIU, Maria Thompson Walters, says that the organisation is supporting an information and communications technology (ICT) expansion project at the CPFSA to enable the entity to make “better use of technology in key areas [in order] to have a greater impact on the children served and the society in general”.
“This includes creating an enhanced therapeutic environment for children, especially those with special needs and to increase the reach of psychology screening and intervention programmes,” she tells JIS News.
The donation from the TIU brings to three, the number of units in the Smiles Mobile fleet, making it easier for the CPFSA to meet the mental health needs of the more than 1,500 wards at residential childcare facilities across all four health regions of the island.
Each unit is equipped with two counselling areas, Wi-Fi service, air conditioning, a refrigerator, sink and cabinets.
Smiles Mobile is operated by members of the CPFSA Psychology Unit, which comprises two social workers and four clinical psychologists.
It was created in 2013 as a joint project between the CPFSA, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Ministry of Justice, and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) within the Ministry of National Security.
Children’s Officer at the CPFSA, Octavia Spencer, tells JIS News that the children love the buses.
“When we visit the facilities, they are very excited. [The buses] are very colourful, child-friendly, air-conditioned, and so it’s a lot of comfort for them,” she says
“We provide this safe space for them, so they can come in and express themselves, and we provide the necessary interventions as well,” Ms. Spencer adds.
She says that the CPFSA is seeing positive results from the intervention.
“We have seen a lot of positive [outcomes] when we do the screening and identify the issues. When we provide the interventions, we see where it has helped them greatly, where children have gotten better grades in school [and] there are less issues within the facilities in terms of behavioural challenges and mental health issues,” Ms. Spencer shares.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Gage-Grey tells JIS News that the agency, through the Mental Health Unit, continues to provide more efficient therapeutic services to assist children who have suffered trauma from abuse.
“We have seen significant improvements in the outcomes of our children, so far, and will continue to work with our partners to provide the appropriate intervention to aid in their rehabilitation,” she says.
A total of 562 children in State care were screened between July 2018 and May 2021.
Behavioural problems, depression, stress, and trauma relating to abuse and neglect were among the most prevalent issues that emerged from the screening conducted.
Children’s Officer in the Mental Health Unit at the CPFSA, Sassah-Gaye McPherson, tells JIS News that the objective is to screen all children who fall within the child-protection system.
“All children within State care should be screened on an ongoing basis… . We have our regular screening at selected facilities based on presenting issues, and we also, from time to time, have to respond to matters that are current in the news,” she notes.
Visits to these facilities are done based on a screening schedule that is developed after a referral is received from the regional clinical psychologists.
Ms. McPherson further explains that several screening tools, including the ‘Strengths and Difficulties’ questionnaire and an internally developed screening mental-health tool, are used to screen for anxiety, depression and several other mental-health issues.
“Our interventions are informed by screening results, and so, from time to time, we may need to have interventions with the staff,” Ms. McPherson points out.
“We have psycho-educational interventions with staff to enhance their capacity to deal with the children, and sometimes we have individual interventions with the children onboard [the bus], and we also have group modality intervention,” she adds.
The CPFSA was formed out of a merger of the Child Development Agency and the Office of the Children’s Registry. It is charged with providing support for children in need of care and protection, including those who have been abused, abandoned, neglected or are vulnerable due to disability.
The agency is under the purview of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and works collaboratively with the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA), the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and other government agencies.