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More mental health services needed for abused children, experts say


STATE and international child rights agencies are calling attention to an urgent need for more mental health services for abused children, and those who are victims of violence, as part of the national support system for minors.

“There is a great need for more [support] …our mental health support for children from the severe cases to the mild cases, those are in need of some serious injection so that we can have speedier support being provided to children,” Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison stressed yesterday during discussions on sexual, emotional and physical abuse of the nation’s children. She pointed to the feasibility study, which was done in collaboration with her office, UNICEF and the PSOJ to establish the 211 helpline for children, which noted the deficit in these services.

Gordon Harrison and other experts weighed in on the topic at the Jamaica Observer’s Monday Exchange. She noted that medical response for children who need it is generally satisfactory. “We do have a wide enough network of services for hospitals, community clinics that provide that kind of physical response to children once they turn up for service. We have had some challenges and sometimes, depending on the parish that the child might be in, at the level of service that’s available at the clinic as to how soon they can get the service, sometimes there might be a bit of delay [or] prolonged waiting period,” she explained.

“We have had children, for example, who need mental health support through the form of therapeutic counselling interventions or other types of support, but because of a small number of specialists who are available in this area there is a very long wait sometimes,” she added.

Gordon Harrison pointed out that child guidance clinics are providing good quality services, but the large volume of cases means there are significant delays for hurting children.“Of course, to delay when a child is having a challenge is dangerous,” she remarked, stressing that one of the fundamental principles of both the Child Care and Protection Act, and the international convention on the rights of the child is that support systems for children should be delivered in a timely manner. At the same time, she acknowledged steps that are being taken by the Ministry of Health and other agencies to shorten wait times and improve the overall provision of mental health services.Child protection specialist at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Janet Cupidon-Quallo stressed that attitudes, including among some social services providers, are sometimes a part of the problem. “There is still a lot of stigma and discrimination concerning persons, including children with mental health problems and a lack of understanding and a lack of sufficient information. Very often the thinking is – oh, my child couldn’t be mentally ill because him not mad. There is just a lack of appreciation that mental health should be everybody’s concern and a part of everybody’s life,” she said.

Quallo said poor mental health leads to acting out among some children, which leads to abuse. She said very often children who end up in juvenile correctional centres are those who are abused and are having mental health problems. “It’s a complicated issue that requires us to change our thinking and our attitudes around what mental health really is,” she said.UNICEF’s health programme specialist Novia Condell said, having been cut off due to the COVID-19 pandemic from their social support systems, such as school, mental health challenges among children are now more pronounced, compounded by an increased sense of anxiety about the future. “Because of this stigma in our communities surrounding mental health, it is much more difficult for a child to say this is not normal how I’m feeling, and I’m going to reach out for help… this is a massive effort that really needs to be undertaken at all the levels of our society in service to our children,” she stated.

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