Child protection agency gets resources to seek out kids with mental challenges

THE Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) received another boost to its mobile health unit last Friday when it collected the keys to a Toyota Coaster bus, costing approximately $15 million, from Toyota Jamaica.

The CPFSA also received a multipurpose printer, worth roughly US$4,000, which the agency said will allow its mental health officers to respond better to the needs of children in State care and juvenile correctional facilities traumatised by acts of violence and abuse.

The 36-seater bus, purchased from Toyota Jamaica with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank, was transformed to include two counselling areas, Wi-Fi service, air conditioning, a refrigerator, sinks and cabinets.

Chief executive officer of the CPFSA Rosalee Gage-Grey said the addition to their Smile Mobile Unit, referring to the fleet of three buses, will enable them, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic, to reach out to “our children have been severely affected due to a loss of contact with their normal social services. Most of them are home now, so having this psychosocial intervention with this mobile unit go to them is [well needed],” she shared at the handover ceremony.

Pointing further to the importance of the mobile unit, she told the Jamaica Observer that with just one bus in 2013, the unit screened more than 400 children in State care under the Smile Mobile programme.

Now, the unit should have around three functioning buses which will go across the island to the various facilities, offering the necessary mental health support. Currently, there are over 4,600 children in State care or in juvenile rehabilitation centres.

“With the first bus, over 400 children were screened in residential child care facilities, primarily the south-east region, Kingston, St Andrew, St Thomas and St Catherine.

“It indicated that 60 per cent of [roughly 465] children had indicators of some psychological problem. They were further assessed and about 30 per cent of those had to get intervention. We have children who people say are rude and not behaving, but most times there might be some disorder.

“If you don’t screen and assess you won’t be able to pick up this disorder. This has helped us to know the specific needs of the children. You have issues such as anxiety, behavioural disorders and a variety of clinical indicators. A lot of anxiety, traces of depression, and in some cases suicidal ideation,” Gage-Grey outlined.

Between April and September 2020 more than 300 children were screened. After their first psychological screening these minors were immediately recommended for treatment and psychological care where necessary. Psychological treatment follows a continuum, based on risk levels. Children at high risk of poor mental health and behavioural challenges are even further recommended to receive treatment from a licensed associate clinical psychologist. Others are referred externally for psychological assessment and treatment if required.

In 2013 the programme was piloted in CPFSA’s south-east region, which includes Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine and St Thomas. A total of 11 residential child care facilities and two juvenile correctional centres, catering to a total of 260 boys and 205 girls, were screened to determine the mental health status of the children. Of this number, 231 assessments were completed. In the first instance, treatment commenced for 83 wards who were diagnosed with serious psychological disorders. In 2018 the programme expanded to include Hanover, Westmoreland, St James and Trelawny, through a donation from USAID of the second mobile mental health unit.

In 2019 cumulative strength and difficulties questionnaire results from facilities screened by the Mobile Mental Health Unit showed more than 60 per cent of the children displayed signs of concern for conduct and behavioural challenges. Analysis of results from the mental health screening tools from the period July 2018 to the same period in 2019 showed that conduct- and trauma-related issues continued to emerge as significant findings.


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