KINGSTON – Child Protection Specialist with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Jamaica, Jennifer Cupidon Quallo, says the Ministry of Education is moving to mandatory development and implementation of emergency preparedness and response plans by schools.
Speaking at a grief and trauma workshop hosted by the Child Development Agency (CDA) at the Alhambra Inn, Kingston, on Thursday March 31, Mrs. Quallo said the Ministry has assured that this will be reflected in the Safe School Policy, which is expected to be finalized before the start of the 2011/12 academic in September.
This decision was influenced by concerns resonating from the findings of a project, jointly undertaken by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the Jamaica Red Cross with support from UNICEF, which revealed several anomalies pertaining to psychosocial support for children in emergencies.
These findings included: reluctance by a number of schools to develop emergency preparedness and response plans; and unavailability or low visibility of contact telephone numbers for frontline responders to emergencies at schools, some of which were unaware of local police and fire station telephone numbers.
In addition, she said children were not regularly exposed to information on how to prepare, or respond to an emergency situation “other than annual earthquake day activities or radio announcements”.
She said that the schools are poorly equipped to respond to emergencies and no emergency management or respond initiatives were in place, or standardized to care for children with disabilities and children living in child care institutions.
She added that this was compounded by inadequate availability and access to basic psychosocial support for children and caregivers, in emergencies.
Mrs. Quallo said the agencies collaborated in 2005 to put measures and mechanisms in place, to ensure that guidelines for the development of emergency preparedness and response plans were developed, led by ODPEM. She stressed that the process was “very participatory”, incorporating a number of child protection agencies and as schools.
This resulted in the Ministry consenting to mandate schools and other child care institutions to develop and implement emergency preparedness and response plans, which they will be required to update each year.
ODPEM has developed a special website tailored to provide children with information and learning opportunities regarding disasters, and the role they can play in assisting their homes and school communities to deal with such developments. This site is scheduled to be formally launched in early April.
In addition, the ability and readiness of several staff members of child care institutions, government schools and schools for children with disabilities to respond to youngsters impacted by emergencies, have been enhanced through the establishment of emergency response teams and plans, enabling them to better protect some 6,000 children in their care.
“ODPEM, Ministry of Education and the Child Development Agency plan to ensure that this will be replicated across the island, and that this will become a reality for all schools, child care institutions and agencies serving the disabled,” she assured.
Mrs. Quallo said that 76 additional persons have been equipped as master trainers, with knowledge and skills, to prepare child care professionals to provide timely, quality psychosocial support and referral of children affected by emergencies. This was done using the “Psychosocial Support for Children in Emergencies” training manual and tool kit, developed by Jamaica Red Cross Society and ODPEM.
The UNICEF Specialist disclosed that some 115 young people have been equipped as first responders in their schools and communities, providing services in first aid, damage assessment, shelter management, and basic disaster management, as a part of the preparedness emergency response corps.
As part of efforts to sensitize children in the three to five, six to 12, and 13 to 18 age groups on emergency response procedures and processes, Mrs. Quallo said ODPEM printed “thousands” of emergency contact posters, which were distributed to personnel and youngsters in schools and children’s institutions.
“It is, therefore, our duty to prepare ahead of time and to ensure that our response to the needs of children in emergencies is appropriate, sufficient and efficiently delivered in a timely fashion to prevent or mitigate the trauma that so often presents in emergencies,” Mrs. Quallo stated.
The one-day workshop, staged under the theme: “Providing Psychosocial Support for Children in Emergencies/Disasters”, formed part of efforts by the CDA, and its partners – UNICEF, ODPEM, and the ministries of Education and Health, to develop the capacity of agents of social work to provide a coordinated, child-friendly responses to disaster management.
By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter