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Clinical Psychologist and Manager, Psychology Unit of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency,Cherena Forbes.
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The Psychology Unit of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) has ramped up its psychosocial and mental health intervention strategies for children living in residential childcare facilities and those in alternative care programmes.

Head of the CPFSA’s Psychology Unit, Clinical Psychologist, Cherena Forbes, tells JIS News that due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic restrictions, creative and new methods are being pursued to reach the children that the CPFSA serves.

The Unit caters to children in children’s homes, places of safety, foster care, adoption placements, family reintegration, and those on Supervision Order, where the Court mandates that supervision is provided for a period time.

Miss Forbes points out that most of their services are done virtually, utilising zoom for teletherapy, and tele-psychology. However, children who are in situations where it is safe for them to come into office, face-to-face sessions are facilitated, while maintaining the COVID-19 protocol – the wearing of masks, sanitisation and physical distancing.

“We also have to bear in mind that some of these children live in multigenerational households with persons who have comorbidities and the children themselves may have comorbidities. We will want to maintain the contact with the child, but not in a physical way,” she says.

“We have done sessions with children using the virtual format, especially when it was time for them to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) tests and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) to help them temper their expectations and manage their anxieties. These sessions help them to cope with the new realities that come from rules and regulations, given that we are living with the coronavirus, so in practical ways that is how we have switched our service delivery,” Miss Forbes explains.

The CPFSA has a mobile unit that is retrofitted with an office space that the Psychology Unit uses to conduct sessions with the children across the island.

The unit is also used to conduct training sessions for staff. However, because of the pandemic, sessions are mostly online and this allows the CPFSA to target staff members from different facilities at the same time.

According to Miss Forbes, the Psychology Unit also does a good portion of the mental health intervention; however, they tend to see the most serious cases. Children’s Officers also do similar work in terms of the counselling and especially the social part of the psychosocial.

She points out that good mental health is critical to the well-being of the children, and commends the Ministry of Health and Wellness for the emphasis that it places on mental health during the COVID-19 response.

“We see the gamut of issues. Children come into care where they are in need of care and protection or they are having issues in controlling and managing their behaviour. So, we see behavioural issues, such as oppositional defiant disorders, or conduct disorders, post-traumatic stress orders, and depressive disorders. Nowadays, we are seeing a lot of children presenting anxiety disorders, the whole raft of learning disorders and on the extreme end we have those who present with psychiatric issues, such as psychosis and schizophrenia,” Miss Forbes notes.

“Because there are only four psychologists assigned, one per region, and we have several thousands of children in care, how the referral system works, the psychologist gets the most serious cases or the ones who need clinical attention,” she adds.

The Head Psychologist discloses that her unit also conducts a lot of training.

“We do presentations and workshops internally and externally. We have been engaging international partners to conduct a series of workshops across the island over the years,” she says.

According to her, staff and stakeholders are regularly exposed to training in intervention techniques to deal with children who have more of the behavioural issues.

“The best results are when you have collaboration – the child, the parents, the facilities and the service partners,” she says.

The CPFSA’s Psychology Unit was established in 2007 to provide the appropriate psychosocial and mental health care for children in State care.

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