BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
THE Child Development Agency (CDA) has pointed to a number of programmes it has been able to roll out to help the nation's children, as well as the personal achievements of some of its wards as major successes of the entity in its near decade-long operation.
"We have trained our staff to appreciate that children do have a voice and we must take into consideration their evolving capacities and recognise that they have say in decisions that affects them," Chief Executive Officer of the CDA Carla Francis-Edie told the Jamaica Observer recently.
Additionally, the CEO said the agency has moved away from societal beliefs that children must be seen and not heard and has embraced child participation in some of its decision-making. This, she said, has been evident in the agency's last Strategic Corporate Plan where children were invited to be a part of that process and will be again included in the in future strategic plans.
The CDA head said, too, that children's councils have been established in institutions and a child from the council attends staff meetings to represent the views of his/her peers in the facility.
There is also a Children's Advisory Panel which includes both children who are in state care as well as those in the formal school system.
Francis-Edie also pointed to the CDA's establishment of the children and family support unit which offers a diversion to children going into state care, as another success of the state entity. The success of this programme, said Francis-Edie, has been evident by statistics which showed that last year 506 children were diverted from going into state care with only 13 going before the court.
The CDA also listed as one of its accomplishments the multi-agency model to deal with child abuse which incorporates the functions of the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR), The Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) and the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse.
Meanwhile, Public Relations Manager Prudence Barnes said the OCA and the OCR, which were established by the CDA, have helped to significantly raise the awareness in society on issues affecting children.
"Even though things look bad at times it is because the society has a new level of awareness brought about by these institutions being established," Barnes said. She added that "without the registry we wouldn't know the extent of the problem because there used to be a high level of silence".
She said although there are still unreported incidents of child abuse, there is a mechanism for people to report these crimes against the nation's children, which she said has been a major step.
Also high on the CDA's successes is the performance of some of its wards who have beaten all odds to excel at academics. The CDA reported that last year more than 30 of its wards performed extremely well in external exams, copping nine and 10 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects at grades one and two.
The CDA provides support to children in need of care and protection and this includes those who have been, abused, abandoned, neglected or vulnerable due to disability. It also carries out advocacy/public education programmes to prevent child abuse and investigates reports of child abuse, abandonment and neglect to determine the best interest of the child.
The agency also provides quality care for children who are brought into the care of the State to include those who live in children's homes and places of safety.