'Dream A World Project' to be expanded to 35 primary schools

'Dream A World Project' to be expanded to 35 primary schools

Thursday, September 25, 2014

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THE award-winning 'Dream A World Cultural Therapy Programme' — a pilot psychotherapeutic intervention of creative art and remedial academic support for high-risk primary school children -- is to be replicated in 35 primary schools across Jamaica.

The programme, which began in 2006 with a three-week intervention involving 30 eight-year-olds from inner-city communities, has been credited with achieving positive behaviour change among a group of children who were considered the "worst behaving", characterised by severe disruptive disorders and academic under-achievement.

Speaking at the Association of Consultant Physicians of Jamaica (ACPJ) President's Reception and Banquet at the Jamaica Pegasus on Saturday, Founder of the Caribbean Institute of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (CARIMENSA) Professor Fred Hickling, told guests that the programme "reflects the modern response to mental health which is not focused on containment and control but on inclusion".

In 2013, CARIMENSA was awarded a grant from Grand Challenges Canada for the project "Countering youth and urban violence with a community engagement cultural therapy programme in Kingston, Jamaica".

A psychotherapeutic model was developed with a focus on preventing children from developing into dysfunctional adults and later, "Dream A World" tested the efficacy of cultural therapy intervention for improving social skills and academic performance of 100 8 to nine-year-old at-risk children from inner-city communities.

The programme has been lauded as a perfect example of a successful model of innovative care with an emphasis on engaging service users, their families, carers and communities.

The project won the 'Turning the World Upside Down Mental Health Challenge' competition set by independent cross-bencher in the UK Parliament, Lord Nigel Crisp, "to celebrate projects and practices and ideas from low- and middle-income communities, which can be effectively applied to major health challenges faced by high-income countries".

In the Dream A World Cultural Therapy Programme, participants were asked to imagine (dream) a new world on another planet, name it and conceive its inhabitants, decide what to take or eliminate from their known world to the new one, what they would look like and what role they would play in governing the new world.

Then they worked with artists in bi-weekly sessions, learning how to play musical instruments and compose songs, poems and dances about their new world. Numeracy sessions and field trips were also included in the programme.

Prof Hickling told guests at the ACPJ dinner that the programme proved so popular that other children wanted to participate and asked if they had to behave badly to join in.

All 30 children in the pilot cohort passed the Grade Six Achievement Test and entered accredited high schools in Jamaica.

Prof Hickling noted that the self-esteem of the students grew through the programme and they transferred their successes to other areas including academics.

What's more, he noted, parents who would previously ignore invitations to school meetings would now proudly attend, as they were no longer afraid of getting complaints about bad behaviour.

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