There Are Alternatives To State Care For Children

Photo: JIS Photographer Acting CEO of the Child Development Agency (CDA), Rosalee Gage-Grey (centre) and Director of Children and Family Programmes, Audrey Budhi (right), present a gift basket to Head of the CDA’s Children and Family Support Unit, Jean Duhaney (left), for her involvement in the recent staging of the 2013 summer camp, hosted by the CDA, for some 115 youth from several inner-city communities in Kingston.

Story Highlights

  • CDA is encouraging families to explore alternatives to State care for children in need of care and protection
  • The CFSU provides intervention pertinent to the needs of vulnerable children and their families
  • The programme is also aimed at maintaining functional family units

The Child Development Agency (CDA), is encouraging families to explore alternatives to State care for children in need of care and protection, as it continues to reach out to vulnerable children who are referred to the agency as result of abuse, neglect, trauma, disability, among other factors.

The CDA, which falls under the Ministry of Youth and Culture, has been seeking to address some of the issues affecting families, through the implementation of a number of programmes, including the Children and Family Support Unit (CFSU).

Established in 2009, the CFSU provides intervention pertinent to the needs of vulnerable children and their families, and is seen as an alternative programme, which prevents children from being placed into State care.

Since 2009, a total of 2,229 cases have been received by the CDA, 58 of which were mentioned in the courts. The remaining cases were dealt with outside of the court system.

CFSU Supervisor at the CDA, Jean Duhaney, explains that the programme is also aimed at maintaining functional family units, and provides access to available social protection programmes, while seeking to engage stakeholder organizations in various sectors.

“The programme allows families to take on responsibilities, without seeing State care as the first option. It serves a valuable purpose, because sometimes there may be a breakdown in the family, and we have to intervene, and re-unite them in some cases,” Ms. Duhaney says.

She credits other social protection programmes, such as the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH), Mico Care, Child Guidance System, and the Poor Relief Department, for playing an integral role in the CFSU.

“These organizations provide continuous support to the CDA, which to a large extent, assist a lot of broken families in numerous ways,” Ms. Duhaney tells JIS News.

The programme caters to children between 5 and 17 years of age from all walks of life, and offers a wide range of benefits, including financial, social and psychological assistance.

She says that parents who wish to be a part of the programme, are required to visit the nearest CDA parish or family court office, and relate whatever challenges they are experiencing to an on duty police officer.

“At every court office, there is an intake desk for the CDA. Parents and caregivers are normally required to submit their case information through this medium. The Officer on duty will document the basic information, and a time period is normally given, as it relates to the officer who is to be assigned to the case. When the case information is sent to the CDA, within seven days we make contact with parents and child. So, based on the need and  nature of the case, we take the next appropriate action,” the CSFU Supervisor explains.

She tells JIS News that counseling is also provided by the CDA, for families who are in dire need of immediate assistance, for various reasons.

“We have our own internal psychologist, in terms of burning situations. Under normal circumstances, we make referrals to stakeholder organizations, but we recognize that referring our clients to stakeholder organizations in some cases, is sometimes drawn out, so we utilize our own forces to speed up the process, in special cases,” she says.

Ms. Duhaney adds that families also benefit from parenting seminars, which forms part of the activities for Parent Month, observed in November of each year.

“This year we want to do things differently, where we include our stakeholders from the planning to the implementation phase. At the end of day, our objective is to get them involved, so that they will be able to make presentations on the different aspects of parenting, which will be beneficial to parents and caregivers,” she says.

Special emphasis is also placed on extremely vulnerable families, who are unable to supply their basic needs, on a daily basis.

“From time to time, parents come in to our offices indicating that they have a number of challenges, for example, physical or financial, and cannot function in the day to day environment, and so we depend on the stakeholders outside of the CDA to provide assistance, depending on the nature of the situation,” Ms. Duhaney  points out.

She notes that there are instances where persons in need of immediate financial support are provided with a small subsidy, to aid with transportation or lunch.

“Each case is based on need,  so we are always exploring different avenues to assist families based on the case information presented,” she says.

Ms. Duhaney tells JIS News that counseling is also provided to families, children in particular, at all levels, with the assistance of social workers attached to the CDA, and other stakeholders, as well as guidance counselors in schools.

“We work closely with the schools to carry out our intervention. We conduct regular school visits, because we have to check the data that we get from parents at the intake desk. We interface with guidance counselors, in particular, because they are more able to identify a child in need of care and protection, and they can just call the CDA and make a report immediately,” she says.

The CFSU also hosts a number of social events, geared at engaging families in several activities. These include: a culture day, an annual Christmas treat, and a summer camp.

“We host these activities to let the children know that they are well appreciated. We not only assist them psychologically, but we also show them that there is another side to life, as it relates to social inclusion,” she tells JIS News.

She is however, encouraging parents and care givers to not always view State care as the first option when problems arise with children within the home, but to seek other alternatives, such as counselling.

Established in 2004, the CDA provides support to children in need of care and protection; carries out advocacy/public education programmes to prevent child abuse; investigates reports of child abuse, abandonment and neglect; provides quality care for children who are brought into State care; and advises government on policy and legal issues relating to children.

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