GOVERNMENT Senator Natalie Campbell Rodriques is encouraging Jamaicans to respond to the call of action in this year’s theme for Child Month, and to get involved in safeguarding the well-being of the nation’s children.
“Those of us who are mothers, aunts, godmothers, grandmothers, I just want us to think about it. And our fathers, and our uncles, and the brothers… [think about the fact] that we need to show children that someone cares about them,” she said in the Senate on Friday.
She said that this year’s Child Month theme — ‘Children need our love and protection…Get involved’ — gives the nation another opportunity, as individuals and as groups, “to do right by our children”.
This call to action this year, the senator said, is a reminder that the well-being of children is crucial.
“Our children need to feel safe, healthy and empowered to be their best selves — and to do so we need to create a safe and nurturing environment,” she said.
Highlighting one of the ways in which people, especially parents, can do their part in seeing to the welfare of children, Campbell Rodriques encouraged them to tell their children they love them.
“Surprisingly, a lot of children in Jamaica do not hear the words ‘I love you’ because, as we know and it’s promoted often, big man don’t say ‘I love you’. But I want to flip that script a little bit and say it shows a lot when you say ‘I love you’,” Campbell Rodriques said.
She also stressed that parents, guardians and other trusted relatives need to teach children to be comfortable about confiding in them.
“So those of us who are godparents, parents, aunts, uncles, be that space where our children can feel comfortable in telling us what is happening to them and [feel] safe to do so,” she said.
She also encouraged parents to let children feel free to say, “No.”
“Give them agency of themselves, their minds, and their bodies. Ensure children understand how to set boundaries. Hug our children, as they need affection,” the senator said, adding that play is also an important aspect of a child’s well-being.
Opposition Senator Gabriela Morris stressed in her remarks that children are the most vulnerable members of society, who rely on adults to provide them with love, care and protection.
“It is our duty as adults to ensure that children are safe from harm, that they have the resources they need to thrive, and that they’re treated with respect and dignity. And when I talk about respect and dignity, specific groups come to mind because the group of children aren’t homogenous; they have different needs. What comes to mind is children with disabilities who are often left out of some of these conversations; what comes to mind is children who are in State care who have tremendous challenges that they need to overcome,” she said.
Morris said Child Month should be used as an opportunity to reaffirm Jamaica’s commitment to the well-being of children. This, she said, could simply look like mentoring a child, hugging a child, loving a child, and talking to children.
“Let us take, also, concrete steps to show them that they are valued and protected. I believe that by working together we can indeed create a society where every child has the chance to grow and to thrive. I want to wish every child… a happy Child Month and encourage parents to use the time to make their children feel extra special this month,” she said.
Government Senator Dr Saphire Longmore zeroed in on the importance of catering to the mental health needs of children and adolescents.
“It is that important that we put emphasis, not just only on the awareness of our children during Child Month, but we recognise that there is great need to see to the mental well-being of our children,” she said.
She also spoke of the significance of spiritual health care, “meaning a sense of identity, that sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves”.
Dr Longmore also underscored the power of play, noting that when children play they are doing something very healthy as they are physically, socially, mentally and spiritually engaged.
“Especially during this time, let us ensure our children are playing and have avenues for play,” she said, adding that parents should encourage their children to still be children.
Dr Longmore noted as well that specific mental health-focused activities will be rolled out throughout Child Month.
Opposition Senator Dr Floyd Morris joined Dr Longmore in highlighting the importance of issues relating to the mental health of children.
Morris, who is visually impaired, noted that mental health is one of the leading causes of disability across the world. He said that there are different types of mental disabilities, “and we have to make sure that we put in place the requisite support structures to have these individuals properly rehabilitated and integrated in our society”.
He lamented that often, not much attention is given to the mental health of children in Jamaica, and said that “increasingly we are seeing increases in mental health challenges for our children”.
Morris said he is of the view that this may be because of the lack of play amongst children, who tend to stay indoors on their electronic devices.
He suggested that games such as hopscotch can be inscribed in communities being built to give children the opportunity to enjoy more outdoor play.