Friday, December 15, 2017

‘Old’ institutions failing the children

In a recent effort by the Ministry of Education to address issues of inappropriate behaviours by schoolchildren, I was alarmed the minister “sentenced” the girl to a State-funded institution.
Although benefiting from heavy subventions, institutions such as St Jude’s and St Michael’s are tied in a tripartite management structure involving church, ministry and the Statutory Authority Services Commission.
There is no chain of management and there have never been clear lines of accountability.
This structure is counter-productive. As far as I am aware, the administrator at St Michael’s was suspended after an internal audit.
At all institutions, reports showed staff training was inadequate to cope with the mounting “new issues”, including drug abuse, gang allegiances, medicinal administering and the need for mental assessments and intervention. The children at these institutions have very little meaningful and no long-term interventions. The traditional youth training facilities/camps such as at Presto Praesto and Chatam, while offering better opportunities, are also plagued with serious mismanagement and staff inadequacy problems.
Having become operational in 2015, the Children’s Authority brings an avenue of hope to the construct of intervention but it needs a large-scale assessment centre. There is dire need for a modern children’s facility where children in need of mental, psycho-social and emotional assessment can be observed and managed over the short term. There is no current facility.
Many children who experiment with bad behaviours and break the law have traditionally been sent to our “old” institutions and spiral downwards into a life of crime, neglect and recidivism. They need intense emotional and medical interventions to stop the cycle. That social workers are overburdened, underpaid and demotivated is another sad story!
We can save those children who fall awry of the law by recognising, firstly, the “old” institutions and systems cannot furnish a holistic intervention. That band-aid has outlived its time.
Raziah Ahmed
Former president of the Senate
Former minister of gender, youth
and child development