BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter email@example.com
HEAD of the Child Development Agency (CDA) Carla Francis-Edie has assured that persons employed to State child-care facilities are screened thoroughly and trained to cope with the wards.
"Every person employed to us has to produce a police record as well as recommendations from persons in their communities and persons with whom they have worked.
"...There is always going to be ongoing training because the children are coming and they are coming in fast and furious and they are coming in with serious issues that have to be addressed," Francis-Edie told Jamaica Observer editors and reporters while appearing
at the newspaper's weekly Monday Exchange this week.
She said while the CDA, which came into being in 2004, had inherited staff who had been employed under the former Children Services Division which it subsumed, but stressed that the entity had raised the bar.
"When we looked at the training levels of those persons and the kinds of children who are coming to us we recognised that our staff have to be trained to deal with these issues and so the training unit did an audit and found out the training needs of our staff...," the CDA head told
That assessment, she said, revealed lower-than-required training levels.
"The audit showed that persons who were working in the system might come in with practical nursing training or someone who had done a four-month course in the principles and practices of social work. What we are doing now is [to ensure] that persons come to us now with at least the first-year certificate in social work; persons are being introduced to play therapy, art therapy and grief counselling to be able to handle the issues our children have," the CDA head explained.
"Our clinical psychologists are now undergoing training as to how to conduct the psychological assessments and how to determine what treatment modalities are needed so we [can] recognise what is needed, and we have a training unit that is working assiduously to ensure our staff are adequately trained. So, staff have been exposed to training in a number of areas including behaviour modification, the developmental stages of the child and caring for children who have suffered abuse," she added.
In the meantime, Francis-Edie noted that there was a shortage of professionals at particular levels.
"We have four clinical psychologists -- one for each region -- which is inadequate in terms of social workers; we need more. We have 80 children's officers or social workers and we need two times that. We recently got 10 positions that will be activated in the new financial year," Francis-Edie told the Observer.
Last December, head of the Mustard Seed Communities, Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, called for the law to take retroactive effect on workers in children's homes who are there without the required credentials.
"The law is now that they should have police records and all. We (at Mustard Seed) have been doing that for a while but that law just came in and people are already there (in the state system). To me, they should be brought to book to fulfil the present law to have some semblance of order, even if they are already there," Monsignor Ramkissoon told the Observer then.
The Catholic priest was addressing the issue of the physical, sexual, verbal abuse and misunderstanding of children in state care by some individuals employed as caregivers. He said part of the problem was caused by the less than adequate background checks done by state facilities.
Created in 2004 out of a merger of the Child Support Unit, the Child Services Division and the Adoption Division, the CDA provides child protection services such as case management and planning for the children's court, the intake of children in need of care and protection, foster care and adoption, the investigation of reports referred by the Children's Registry, and counselling. It caters for children and their parents, particularly children who have been neglected, abused or abandoned
and provides care and protection through advocacy, education, rehabilitation and family support.