Protecting our children will secure Jamaica's future

As we await further developments, including possible police action, regarding an alleged scandalous relationship between the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) and Embracing Orphans head Mr Carl Robanske, Jamaicans shouldn't hide their heads in the sand.

It's not enough to blame the child protection agency, and those in charge there, for what we are being told in the report from the Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA).

Rather, the report's contents reflect a tendency and culture in this country to treat with our most vulnerable children in a loose, off-hand manner. It shows in the way far too many children are growing up in our impoverished neighbourhoods — neglected, unschooled, with little or no love, and hardly a good example.

Many of those poorly parented children are the ones who end up in the majority at State care institutions, eventually arriving at transition points such as The Father's House in St James, which came under justifiably intense scrutiny.

It's easy to say that parents are at fault. But why blame parents who grew up in the same way, held hopelessly captive by overwhelming poverty and ignorance?

Given Jamaican realities we should not be surprised when twisted minds with bad intentions towards the young are tempted to set up shop here.

Hence the United Nations Children's Fund's (UNICEF's) call, in response to the OCA report, for greater investment by Jamaica in protecting children.

Said UNICEF: "The current polices and services urgently need to be strengthened to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against children and to safely maintain children in families.

"There is the need to invest in and strengthen the capacities of the social service workforce, at all levels, so that the rights of the children and the families they serve can be better protected. It is only through increased child-focused public expenditure and a concerted effort to strengthen the child protection system at all levels that we can reduce the reliance on external funding sources that can potentially threaten the rights and safety of our young people."

We are at one with UNICEF in its contention that "given the nature of the reported abuses, it is essential that the young people impacted receive the requisite support to address their physical, mental, and psychosocial needs as soon as possible".

And that "the Government… seriously examine the findings in the OCA report, along with the recent evaluation of the child protection system, and provide the necessary investment — financial and technical — in the overall child protection system and importantly the Child Protection and Family Services Agency to ensure that the rights of all children are protected at all times".

Very importantly, it seems to this newspaper that investment can't only be for those already in State care. There needs to be concerted attention by the State in training adults to be good parents and in protecting, guiding, and educating those children — now growing up like 'goat kids' in the wild.

That way we will not only significantly reduce the numbers ending up in State care, but many now drawn to crime and social delinquency will have a better chance of becoming law-abiding, productive citizens.

If, as a nation, we truly believe that children are the future, then we must break the cycle of child neglect and abuse.

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