When a single mother from South St. Andrew was having problems with her teenage daughter who was exhibiting behavioral problems, the Child Development Agency’s, Children and Family Support Unit (CFSU) was contacted for help.
The staff in the CFSU provided counseling for the family, and liaised with partners such as the Poor Relief Department to alleviate the economic issues that was placing added stress on the family. The CFSU team also worked with partners in the education sector to facilitate a school transfer to remove the child from negative influences that were exacerbating her behavioral issues.
This child was one of over 500 that the CDA was successful in diverting from State Care last year through its CFSU. Combined with the Multi-Agency Model in partnership with the Centre for the Investigation for Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), over 1300 children were diverted from entering State care. These diversions are estimated to represent millions in cost-savings to the government.
CDA’s CEO Carla Francis-Edie explained that in 2009, CDA moved to establish Children and Family Support Units in an effort to strengthen Jamaican families and to divert children from being placed in residential child care facilities as a first option.
“The Units’ primary objective is to act as a diversion programme as well as a parenting intervention tool to strengthen the family’s capacity to successfully manage and mitigate both internal and external pressures that may threaten the stability or integrity of the family unit,” Mrs. Edie underscored.
The Units were established in the Agency’s two busiest regions – the South East Region which comprises (Kingston and St. Andrew; St. Catherine and St. Thomas, and in the Western region covering St. James, Westmoreland, Hanover and Trelawny, Mrs. Edie said.
She disclosed that the plan is to expand the CFSU to the other two regions (Southern and North East) over the course of the year.
The CEO explained that in years gone by, a child such as the one described above would have been placed in a residential child care facility without other options being first explored, but added that that all that has changed with the establishment of the CFSUs within the CDA.
“What we have found over the years is that many children are placed in State care for reasons that could have been resolved with counseling and other interventions with the children and their families,” Mrs. Edie observed.
Regional Director for the Western Region Mrs. Eunice Scott-Shaw said families become vulnerable and children ‘at risk’ for a number of reasons including poverty and violence.
CFSUs are now forming an integral part of the government’s tertiary child protection system’s effort to safeguard and mitigate negative impacts of social factors on families, she noted.
Mrs. Scott-Shaw explained that in Western Jamaica the unit has focused on providing early intervention strategies to both parents/guardians and children; counseling parents and children through group and individual sessions, and identifying and connecting clients with social safety net programmes.
Parenting and literacy training for families, and support for parents to manage their child’s adolescent behavior, are also part of the programme, she added.
“The CFSU team recognizes that lack of proper parenting is a major issue with a number of the families that come into the Agency for assistance, and as such we have been placing greater emphasis on imparting parenting skills to those who seek assistance,” Mrs. Scott-Shaw observed.
That assessment is shared by Jean Duhaney, Social Worker and Head of South East Region CFSU, who noted that the CFSU in the Corporate Area as in the west has been serving families by providing counseling to both parents and children; mediation within the family, sometimes with a child’s school, as well as referrals to partner agencies.
Miss Duhaney explained that parenting workshops are held twice monthly and weekly during Parent Month in November. “Oftentimes parents’ unrealized dreams can negatively impact their relationship with their children,” she said, adding that with this in mind, the Unit also has a parent empowerment focus which has seen parents gaining academic training and skills through the HEART Trust/NTA and the Career Advancement Programme (CAP).
“Sometimes parents just get lost in caring for children; they give up on, or forget their dreams and aspirations, and this exacerbates the problems in the family. By helping some go back to school and assisting them to get qualified, we build the parent’s skill and self-esteem while simultaneously strengthening the family unit, Ms. Duhaney underscored.
Clients also benefit from workshops, including with guest presenters on a range of topics to strengthen the family. Yet one of the main successes of the Unit, she observed, is parents now helping other parents.
“CFSU has now given birth to a support group of parents who have chosen to pass on the legacy to others. Many have continued to attend workshops, sharing with other parents, working with schools through their PTA, and even becoming actively engaged in helping other parents in the community,” Ms. Duhaney said.
Parent Dozilyn Munroe has been attending the parenting workshops for the last few months and says, “the CFSU has impacted my life positively in many ways. The counseling sessions have been informative and helpful, and have served to improve my parenting skills, knowledge and awareness.”
Contact: Prudence N. Barnes