Wards of State cry for better care

CHILDREN in the care of the State are expressing disgust with the “shortcomings” of the juvenile justice system, which they say has only helped to push some of their peers through the cracks and into criminality.

The view is one of several issues highlighted during the fifth staging of the National Children’s Summit at National Indoor Sport Centre in St Andrew on Thursday.

In a declaration compiled by members of the Children’s Advisory Panel (CAP), which was handed over to head of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) Rosalee Gage-Grey, the youngsters said, “the juvenile justice system, in our opinion, is not sufficiently prepared to rehabilitate juveniles into the society”.

They said this was reflective of the “experiences of numerous young people who have endured hardships and slipped through the cracks of the educational system as a result of shortcomings in the juvenile justice system”, basing their stance on recent statistics from the Department of Correctional Services.

In January of 2021, according to the Department of Correctional Services, 75 children were reintegrated into the educational system. But by December of the same year only 22 of the original 75 were still in school. The remaining 53 children had either been expelled, suspended, or ceased attending school altogether.

According to the youngsters, some of the families of their offending peers “refuse to care for them because they believe the children were beyond help and beyond change”.

“They have been left to fend for themselves without the support of their families and, regrettably, there is a significant likelihood that they have committed new crimes and returned to the lifestyle they previously escaped,” the declaration said.

Additionally, State wards are insisting tha, there are instances when juvenile offenders under the age of 18 are dealt with in a similar manner to adult offenders.

“If these situations are not dealt with carefully and promptly my fellow youth may suffer irreversible damage that would alter their lives for the worse,” they declared.

The youngsters are recommending that to alleviate the challenges within the juvenile justice system, educational and awareness campaigns be conducted in schools on how to deal with juvenile offenders and the youth as a whole.

Furthermore, they said juvenile offenders who are placed in correctional facilities should be given targeted intervention that seeks to address the root cause of the problem so that the appropriate rehabilitation solutions can be provided.

Other issues raised by the children for the attention of stakeholders included concerns about their peers being forced into prostitution and drug-selling because of poverty, the “continuous trend of fathers leaving their children”, and children who have reached the age of 18 in the system finding it hard to transition from State care as they feel they have not been properly prepared.

Having been presented with the copy of the declaration, containing the issues and recommendations, head of the CPFSA Rosalee Gage-Grey said the agency is committed to implementing the recommendations and would be having further discussions with the CAP members.

The event, which was held under the theme ‘Beat the Odds, Chart Your Destiny!’, is part of the thrust by the CPFSA to improve children’s rights and participation, and saw some 1,200 wards of the State taking part in several sessions.

Between 2015 and 2020 there were 74,455 reports of child abuse in Jamaica. Between January to June 2021 there were 1,203 reports of sexual abuse, 1,465 reports of physical abuse, and 2,528 reports of neglect.

Generated by Feedzy