Pressure on agencies providing psychosocial assistance
Official says issues facing juveniles in correctional centres are complex and stressed the need for psychosocial support as the youngsters are there in body and not mind.

STATE agencies that provide psychosocial assistance are cautioning that the pace at which these services are provided to those who are in urgent need should be accelerated, saying there is a risk that the gaps which currently exist could erode the trust of victims of violence and other vulnerable individuals.

Speaking Wednesday at the launch of a report on psychosocial case management needs for vulnerable children and adolescents, including inmates in the juvenile corrections system, senior case management coordinator in the national security ministry, Orville Simmons, stressed that timeliness is critical in the provision of these services.

“If we are not able to respond in a timely manner, we run the risk of losing that trust that case officers would have built up with clients,” he said during discussions among heads of agencies, ministries, and departments.

Weighing in, domestic violence prevention officer for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) domestic violence intervention centres, Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Dillon, called for quicker responses.

“I am begging that we get some amount of response when it comes, especially [to] social workers, because we do not only deal with victims of intimate partner violence, we do deal with family violence and it has taken a toll on our centre managers, who are basically doing almost everything,” she said. Interventions, she added, must be made in a timely manner in order to assist people who reach out to the centre.

The study, funded by the European Union and conducted in partnership with the Ministry of National Security to estimate the psychosocial and case management needs for children, youth, and victims of violence who will benefit from the Government’s citizen security plan, focuses on students 10-17 years in 25 schools across zones of special operation in Kingston and St Andrew and St James.

Director of juvenile services for the Department of Corrections Claudette Hamilton, in her presentation, pointed to the complex issues facing those in the juvenile penal system and the need for intensive psychosocial support. She also highlighted the need for a halfway house to help children with their transition back into the society.

Some, she said, have been suspended from school, while others have been expelled. “They have suffered trauma, they are victims, they are offenders, and so the issues are complex when dealing with them. How important is vocational training and academics when the children are there in body and not mind? So our greatest need is psychosocial support and resident psychologists and psychiatrists to address all these needs,” she stated.

Hamilton said transitional centres are now critical as most of the children come from environments that enable, aid, and abet the behaviours that they display.

“The reintegration aspect is lacking without this halfway house that we can have them stay for a year or two years, depending on their age, to get them to fully buy into the society where they can continue their education. So, if they are in an environment where they can go to school and come back and then we can help them to find a job, then we are on our way to stemming crime and violence as it relates to our children,” she explained.

At the same time, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security Colette Roberts Risden said the study provides useful data, but urged the researchers to dig deeper into the issues affecting the retention of social workers.

She said that, in addition to Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) services, the same social workers also deals with other social programmes, even while the ministry continues to grapple with the high attrition rate among those personnel. The permanent secretary pointed out that many qualified social workers enter the system but remain only for a year or two before moving on.

The study says there are 104 case management/social workers or their equivalent serving 6,323 cases which require psychosocial interventions. And two of the agencies which deal with vulnerable youth – the HEART/NSTA Trust and the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s domestic violence intervention centres – currently have no social workers.

Alphea Saunders

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