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Don't discriminate against adoloscent moms... educate, reintegrate

Zoe SIMPSON

Wednesday, March 19, 2014    

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THE policy which speaks to the reintegration of school-age mothers into the formal school system has generated much public attention and discussion in recent times. The various viewpoints reveal general ignorance of some critical facts relative to the Government's initiative to address the needs of adolescent mothers in Jamaica since 1978. Here then, are the facts:

The Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF) is a government agency which is mandated to provide continuing education for adolescent mothers in Jamaica. The programme operates from 16 sites islandwide: seven main centres and nine outreach stations under the auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister. The programme is served by a cadre of full-time staff who are all sufficiently qualified to fill their specific area of employment. The staff complement comprises: managers, counsellors, caregivers, and watchmen.

The non-residential programme constitutes academic instructions in core subjects, group and individual counselling, and limited vocational training. Teachers employed to the Ministry of Education deliver the academic component of the intervention on a part-time basis. The counselling component is delivered by the counsellors, who are usually teachers or nurses trained in areas of counselling, social work, and psychology. Resource persons from the various agencies further augment the counselling programme with their respective areas of expertise. Individual counselling sessions address the individual needs of the young mothers, while the group counselling sessions address a wide range of topics inclusive of: adolescent developmental issues, sexual and reproductive health issues, personal development, parental skills, and career goals.

Adolescent mothers access the programme through referrals made by other agencies and by recruitment which is done by the WCJF staff periodically. Where the girls are recruited, visits are made to their homes and the programme is introduced to the parents and young mothers. Since enrolment in the programme is not mandatory, the invitation may either be accepted or rejected. Where there is acceptance, the adolescent mothers register to attend the WCJF site nearest to them. Each centre/outreach site is equipped with a day nursery where the babies receive care by trained caregivers while their mothers attend classes.

The young mothers are academically and psychologically prepared for their return to the formal school system after the birth of their babies. They are, however, monitored by the WCJF counsellors for a period of two years so as to decrease the possibility of their dropping out a second time. Financial constraints, lack of parental support, lack of inner fortitude, and inadequate coping skills are among the factors which often result in dropouts. It is encouraging to note that the majority of adolescent mothers complete their secondary education. Several of them advance to tertiary level education and are represented in wide and varied fields of occupation. To date, the WCJF programme of intervention has served 44,000 adolescent mothers.

The reintegration policy in no way circumvents the WCJF Programme for Adolescent Mothers. On the contrary, the policy extensively supports the efforts of the programme, where it formalises and simplifies the process whereby adolescent mothers are reintegrated into the formal school system; where it speaks to, and seeks to address the needs of adolescent fathers and it makes room for the implementation of strategies which will help to reduce the incidence of adolescent pregnancy in Jamaica.

Adolescent pregnancy is a reflection of our poor parenting styles; of our irresponsible adult behaviour. It is a reflection of a society that fails to render collective care and protection to our young. Adolescent motherhood is not solely the girl's problem; it is the problem of the family; it is the problem of the nation at large. We should not, as a society, impregnate these young girls, and then discriminate against them. A better response is to educate.

The reintegration policy recognises that educating adolescent mothers is a nation-building strategy which is on point with Vision 2030 Jamaica. The WCJF, therefore, commends Jamaica Teachers' Association President Dr Mark Nicely's recognition (Daily Gleaner, December 2, 2013) that the reintegration policy is an "outstanding initiative of the Ministry of Education and its partners..." The WCJF further congratulates Dr Nicely's support for the policy, and his seeking to "urge all educators to provide support and to refrain from any discrimination against

teen mothers".

Zoe Simpson, EdD, is acting executive director of the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation.

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