Guidance counsellors worried

THE Jamaica Association of Guidance Counsellors in Education is worried for students who, due to the closure of schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are forced to stay at home where they are subjected to abuse.

President Richard Skyers said while the association respects the Government’s decision to close schools as a measure to safeguard the population, there is serious concern for students who are now unable to seek refuge at school.

“We are all very concerned about some students being at home at this time. The whole issue of abuse is a serious concern to us,” he said in an interview to mark Child Month, now being observed.

“In my experience working at Cedric Titus High, you may have four or five reported cases for the month. Truth be told, we find out in different ways. Some of these students are very reluctant to share what they might be experiencing, not knowing the approach we might take to help them. They are afraid of what might happen at home if their parents, or whomever is the abuser, is aware that they make a report,” he said.

“Sometimes, based on our own observations, we have seen changes in their behaviours and sometimes as the counsellor, based on the relationship you have with them, you probably call them in because you have seen some changes and you have a rap time with them and allow them to feel comfortable to the point where they will be willing to share and you let them know that you are concerned about their safety. You create a safe environment for them to talk. But in terms of students coming to you, you might have four or five for the month. Some places it might be more,” Skyers said.

He pointed out that contact is maintained with students through social media. However, that medium raises red flags around confidentiality.

“Having a student in your office at school, it is a private space where you can do one-to-one counselling. Having to counsel them over the phone comes with its own sets of challenges. There is the concern of others being able to tap your line and listen in. Those issues are there, but we try as best as possible to see how we can help, given the circumstances we are in and the resources available to us,” Skyers said.

“They are at home using the technology, for those who have it, and whomever else is living there with them is right there. So it is not the most appropriate type of setting for students to share whatever issues they are having, but it is something that we are very concerned about,” the guidance counsellor said.

“We try to find out how they are coping to try and assess their psychological state and provide the necessary guidance that is required. We have been reaching out to them, but we are very concerned about them being at home and possibly being exposed to certain kinds of abuse. It is very unfortunate, but the reality is, there is not much that can be done. You can’t be there physically, and with online there is a lot of limitations to that,” Skyers said.

Meanwhile, the association has also sought to provide help to parents.

According to Skyers, a Zoom meeting was held weeks ago with over 450 parents because the association wanted to hear from them and see how best it could provide some assistance with coping techniques at this time “just to make the whole situation a little more bearable”.

He said one of the main concerns parents raised in the meeting was the difficulty they face in balancing their work-from-home duties and supervising their children’s distance learning.

“Some of them are not able to assist with some of the work teachers send to them. So what we encourage them to do is stay in contact with the teachers. Ensure you have a contact for the teachers and whatever challenge you might be having, the teachers are available so you can reach out to them,” Skyers told the Jamaica Observer.

“We also encourage them to set a schedule in terms of time to wake up for the kids, time for lunch, breaks and so on. Let them get ready, get dressed, have their breakfast, and start school at a certain time. Try to allow the process to resemble what they are accustomed to at school,” Skyers said, while noting that the association has been distributing care packages to needy students and hosting fund-raising events to offset costs associated with the gesture.

He said while credence is not usually given to guidance counsellors, their jobs are crucial to the operation of the education system and they remain committed to serving students.

“The guidance counsellors play a very significant role in the schools. Are they recognised all the time? No. Is their work affirmed sometimes? No. Guidance counsellors are assertive people for the most parts. We know that we are making a difference, we know the persons we are helping and so we try to encourage ourselves. As an association, that is what we do when we have our conferences sessions to empower counsellors and affirm them, let them know we appreciate what they are doing and that their work is crucial in saving this nation,” Skyers said.

He added that for the remainder of Child Month, the association will host a virtual boys’ conference to provide empowerment to young men across the nation. Other activities for the year include a virtual half- yearly conference in June and the annual general meeting in December.

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