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National Parenting Policy still on hold

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, September 07, 2010    

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IT might be some time before the National Parenting Policy developed under the Bruce Golding-led Jamaica Labour Party, which took office in 2007, is unleashed.

According to Education Minister Andrew Holness, whose ministry is responsible for driving the implementation of the policy, the administration will have to do some amount of courting to ensure acceptance of the measures.

"One of the things that I have been very cautious in doing is putting out the National Parenting Policy because there are some very important things we must say but they may not be politically acceptable to half of the people, so we have to keep building to the point where they come to the understanding that you can't come to the next level until you do this," he told the Observer last week.

Holness said one such issue was that of parents who leave their children to their own devices, many of whom attend school but are unsupervised.

"One of the things we know is that there are many parents who have abdicated their roles as parents. The law has to be very clear, and what we are saying is you cannot abdicate your responsibilities as a parent," the education minister stressed.

"Once you are the biological parent there is a formal process of relinquishing your rights and you must go through that process, you must come to the courts and say I cannot manage and go through the process," he said.

Holness said the matter was one in particular which had to be settled before a hard and fast policy is put forward.

"Now how do I run a school system where I cannot identify who is the parent?" Holness queried, noting that it was not unheard of for the ministry to come across instances where children were left with adults who, when faced with evidence of their involvement in illegal activities, pointed the finger to the absent parents who in turn refuse to accept any responsibility for their offspring.

Sadly, the education minister said there was not much else that could be done in these instances while acknowledging that such situations existed and were a real concern.

"Right now, apart from representation being made to the Child Development Agency, who will say they don't have the resources, there is very little other than the school trying to mobilise resources to help that child," Holness conceded.

"What I am trying to do is to fill that gap by coming out with the parenting policy so we can say do this and the Government will do that," he said.

He added that the National Parenting Commission, which will drive the policy, will provide a meaningful support base. The commission will develop programmes of minimum standards of parenting, provide support to parents and institute a public education campaign on parenting. Churches and other organisations will also be drafted.

In 2007, Holness announced plans for the development of the policy which, he said, would -- among other things -- bring parenting into the formal education system and hold accountable those who are delinquent.

At the time, he said it was hoped that by 2008 he would present to "Parliament whatever legislation is necessary to have the policy executed".

Delinquent parents, he said, would also be brought to book, although there was a cultural fear of challenging these things. "I hold no such cultural fear and so we have to challenge them if we are to get growth in this country," he said.

The minister said, too, that he intended to elevate parenting and bring it into the formal realm of economical development. "We want to bring parenting and the family structures formally into the education system," he added.

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