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Ministry making push for education of children in custody

BY KARYL WALKER walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 14, 2014    

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LOCAL human rights groups have, for years, been bashing what they termed the uncaring attitude towards the education of children in State care, especially those who ran afoul of the law.

The chorus of condemnation grew louder in November 2012 after a teenage girl, who was locked away in two maximum adult correctional institutions for a year after being deemed uncontrollable, complained that there was little regard to her education.

The teenager told the Jamaica Observer last year that while locked up she and the other juvenile inmates were given little or no educational guidance and complained about the inhumane conditions inside the Fort Augusta prison and New Horizon Remand Centre.

There is, however, good news for those concerned about the education of children in custody of the State.

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites told this week's Jamaica Observer's Monday Exchange that his ministry has provided 25 teachers as well as resources to youth and culture and security ministries to educate children in care or custody of the State.

"The offer has been taken up in part, but facilities, rules and regulations have stymied us from going further. It is to me an issue of great importance," Thwaites told Observer reporters and editors.

Thwaites said the ministry has offered temporary teachers who came on board the education train through the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme.

"We are willing to offer special education teachers because many of those who are in custody have special education needs. We are open and we would like to assume that responsibility," said the minister. "We are hoping that our colleague ministries can accept and respond to that openness," he added.

There was also good news for some of the children in State care, who have used the educational opportunities available to them to rise from the mire.

According to Commissioner of the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission and Chairman of the Child Development Agency's Advisory Board, Maxine Henry-Wilson, a number of the students in State care or who were about to leave State care have matriculated to university.

She gave the example of a former female ward of the State who was found abandoned in an old car.

"She was discovered by a policeman... so she bears that policeman's name, but she was in care. She put herself through undergraduate school and she is now going to law school. These are the things that we have to deal with, so we have to support her. We have quite a lot of them who have come through the system and are now ready for tertiary education,"

she said.

Henry-Wilson said all the books and educational material needed by the CDA have been supplied by the Ministry of Education. "The children in care will have access to the same curriculum as the children who are not in care," she said.

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