PRIME Minister Andrew Holness has said the newly constructed therapeutic treatment centre on the grounds of Maxfield Park Children's Home in St Andrew to serve children in State care with mental conditions is one plank of the Government's rescue mission to reduce the level of social violence and abuse in the country.
Speaking at the handing-over ceremony for the $200-million centre on Thursday, Holness, noting that the Government is targeting children in State care first, said "the cost of saving our children is significant".
He said the centre, which will provide mental health interventions to the more than 4,600 Jamaican children in State care needing those services, will also provide programmes designed to stop the cycle of abuse and violence against children.
"Overall, the project will benefit 4,500 children in State care and those in need of psychological and medical interventions. Additionally, the project will benefit 16,000 children and their families who will access the services of the CPFSA (Child Protection and Family Services Agency) on an annual basis," the prime minister said.
He, however, noted that while the centre — which will be operated by the CPFSA — is "a big deal", there was no escaping the existing gaps in mental health services for children.
"The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) in 2021 estimated that of the number of Jamaican children who are able to access mental health services only eight per cent of their needs are being met. Jamaica's children are in need of more and more available specialised and consistent mental health services. We are way behind in this area, so this move is even more important," Holness said.
"We have far more to do as a Government and as a people because addressing this serious problem is a matter both for the State and for the people," he said.
The Administration, he said, was also working on the legislative framework for children in need of care and protection.
"In this particular case I think we need to make changes urgently because the suffering is real and the impact is immediate," Holness said, noting that amendments are being made to legislation relating to children to improve their welfare.
Education Minister Fayval Williams, in her remarks, said the entity was an important development in the provision of services for children who might have been the victims of abuse, psychological trauma or who have been hauled before the courts for behavioural issues.
"The data the CPFSA compiles have been flashing warning signs that our children are experiencing unprecedented levels of trauma and abuse in home and community environments, and that our children are being witnesses to domestic and community violence," the education minister said.
"Too many of our children are being subjected to the kind of stress we associate with adulthood and we know that when this stress is introduced into a child's world so early on it can take root and it does damage which then manifests into all kinds of undesirable behaviour as that child grows into adulthood," she added.