Fayval Williams, minister of education, youth and information, on Tuesday provided Parliament with an update on activities in the youth and children sectors and plans for moving legislation and related matters forward.
The onset of the coronavirus last year posed many challenges as we had to adjust quickly, pivoting to ensure that the nation’s young persons during the period were still engaged and continued to enjoy the benefits of the programmes that the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information provided for them, albeit virtually.
YOUTH MONTH 2021
Despite the challenges associated with the pandemic, we were able to host a successful staging of Youth Month 2020. Youth Month is celebrated each year in November and is a period during which we affirm and celebrate Jamaican Youth, providing a platform for focused attention on the concerns and interests of this most critical demography. Last year’s theme, and aptly so, was: ReTHINK Youth: Resilient through Entrepreneurship, Training, Hope, Innovation, Networking and Knowledge.
Indeed, we had to ReTHINK how we would engage our young persons, and as such, most of the activities took place on virtual platforms. However, through the support of our partners, we were able to fully utilise traditional and social media to maximise our reach to the youth.
Planning has begun in earnest for the staging of this year’s Youth Month; we will be utilising a mixed modality, virtual and face-to-face in line with the COVID-19 protocols. The committees are now being formulated, Youth Month Planning and Advisory Committee and the Selection Committee for the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards for Excellence.
Additionally, packages for sponsorship for the numerous events are being dispatched to prospective sponsors, and the procurement of the required goods and services have begun.
THE NATIONAL YOUTH PARLIAMENT OF JAMAICA
The staging of last year’s National Youth Parliament was such a success that I am proud to announce that the Ministry received a record of 1,055 applications with the opening of the call for applications this year. The selection process this year was the most competitive. Nonetheless, the new 2021 cohort of Youth Parliamentarians is in place and ready to execute their various community and county projects.
Additionally, this year we have a representative sample of young persons from rural and urban Jamaica and a 50-50 gender balance among the 102 Youth Parliamentarians that just recently had their first meeting with the Hon Robert Morgan giving them their charge to be exemplars to youth across the nation.
THE NATIONAL YOUTH ADVISORY COUNCIL OF JAMAICA
The National Youth Advisory Council of Jamaica (NYACJ) has been active in informing government policies throughout the years and has made some contributions in areas such as the National Youth Policy, the NIDS Bill, the National Plan of Action for an Integrated Response to Children and Violence, the Disabilities Act, the Grooming Policy and the Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas and the Caribbean.
The NYACJ also acts as a Steering Committee for the National Youth Parliament of Jamaica, guiding the execution of projects and preparing their presentations.
After a rigorous application and selection process, 20 National Youth Advisors were appointed by the Ministry in April of this year. In a bid to ensure a 50-50 gender parity of 10 males and 10 females (50-50 ratio). Members of the (2021-2023) cohort of the NYACJ have already started to gain representation on Ministerial Boards, such as: Factories Corporation Limited.
YOUTH JAM SESSIONS
Youth Jam Virtual Empowerment Sessions premiered in March 2020 as the Youth and Adolescents Policy Division shifted engagements to virtual platforms. The empowerment sessions are executed both through zoom and via the Instagram Live platforms. They are hosted for 30 minutes and deliver training to our youth with a specific focus on Mental Health, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Knowledge, Monetising their brand, and Sexual Reproductive Health. This programme is still ongoing, and the flyers are posted weekly on the Ministry’s social media pages.
THE PRIME MINISTER’S NATIONAL YOUTH AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE 2021
The nomination process will be opened earlier this year to facilitate greater reach and diversity of applicants across a broader cross-section of our youth demography. This signifies a more intense and robust approach to strengthening sensitisation around the Prime Minister’s National Youth Award for Excellence. Additionally, a greater emphasis on the promotion of under-represented nomination categories such as Environmental Protection. Revision and addition of new nomination categories to allow for more representation and diversity.
YOUTH INNOVATION CENTRES
There are currently 10 Youth Innovation Centres (YICs) islandwide and three Youth Access Points in St Thomas, St Mary and Trelawny.
The centres were closed in March 2020 with the proliferation of the COVID-19 pandemic as a preventative measure in mitigating the spread of the virus. The offices, however, are open to staff who continue to assist the young people virtually in areas of information dissemination, job readiness support in terms of resume assistance, and basic counselling and guidance.
Youth engagement over the period:
Youth Jam sessions, along with various other virtual and face to face strategies employed by youth empowerment officers, recorded the engagement of 11,824 youth: 4,005 males and 7,819 females. Unattached engagement amounted to 1,671.
2021-2022 Youth Innovation Centres – Infrastructure Projects
Thirty Million Dollars ($30,000,000.00) was allocated in the 2021-2022 financial period to effect repairs to YICs. The status of 2020-2021 Carried Forward Projects are as follows: Seven (7) YIC – repairs are completed. The estimates are being prepared for works to be conducted in 2021-2022.
It is anticipated that the YICs will reopen in line with the reopening of schools.
NATIONAL MENTORSHIP PROGRAMME
This year the ministry will launch its National Mentorship Programme, which will provide our young persons with the guidance and support of experts in their desired fields. These young persons will be chosen from the grassroots or communities but have shown good attributes and will go through a programme facilitated by the staff of the Ministry and partners that will aid in their character development, technical skills, and requisite soft skills that are needed for their success. It is expected that a Cabinet Submission will be made to approve this programme in the next month.
CHILDREN’S LEGISLATION – Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA)
The review of the Child Care and Protection Act is intended to address new and emerging issues and to ensure harmonisation with other pieces of legislation concerning children.
The process is advanced as a draft Cabinet Submission has been developed to seek approval for the recommendations that were made in the Report of the Joint Select Committee of the Houses of Parliament.
CCPA – Section 24
The Ministry has found it necessary to accelerate the pace of the revision of Section 24 of the CCPA by pulling out this section of the Act for advancement even ahead of the revision of the entire Act.
– No child not charged with an offence will end up in a penal institution;
– The use of the terms “uncontrollable”, “beyond control” and “out of control” will be abolished in describing children with behavioural issues, to be replaced by modern defined terminology to capture the range of behavior exhibited by children.
Children (Adoption of) Act (1958)
The review of the Children Adoption of Act will address several legislative gaps and ambiguities, and areas in which the law can be updated to reflect the scope and types of adoption applications currently being received. The process has begun as the Ministry is treating this matter as one in need of urgent attention. A policy document has been developed which has informed the crafting of a draft Cabinet Submission that the Ministry is currently refining to advance to the next stage.
COVID AND CHILDREN’S HOMES
The Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) provides care to children declared as in need of care and protection by the Courts, and those who are awaiting the outcome of court proceedings in this regard. As at the end of the March 2021 there was a total of 4,569 children in care. Of that number 2,999 or 66 per cent of the children in care are living in familial environments (foster care, family reintegration, kinship care and supervision orders) while a total of 1,570 or 34 per cent are living in Children Homes and Places Safety.
During the pandemic, the homes continued to follow the necessary protocols which were established to reduce risk to both staff and wards.
Each home secured a quarantine area and ensured that new wards who were being placed at the facility were isolated for the required time before being placed with the general population. Whilst a number of homes were affected by COVID-19 thankfully, it was not significant and the impact within the sector was minimal.
LICENSING OF CHILDREN’S HOMES
The CCPA Children’s Home Regulations make provision for all privately operated Children’s Home and Places of Safety to be licensed. Each institution is re-licenced every three years after going through the re-application and assessment exercise. The Homes are due for re-licensing in 2021 and already they have been engaged in the process. It is important to note that the Ministry will not be issuing a licence to any home that has not met the standards as required by the Regulations.
Currently, a total of 34 of 41 homes have been issued with licences approved by the Hon. Minister of State. One home has already been closed and we are looking to close another. The other homes must meet the criteria as listed at Section 3 of the Children’s Home Regulations to be issued with a licence.
TEMPLATE OF MAXFIELD PARK CHILDREN’S HOME – The Ideal Children’s Home in Jamaica
The Maxfield Park Children’s Home is a Government company which is funded by the Government to the amount of $8.5 million per month. The Ministry is proposing that the status of the company be changed from being
not just fully funded to being a fully managed Government entity.
The Ministry is also proposing the rehabilitation of the Maxfield Park Children’s Home into a centre of excellence for child care, which would provide both residential and “out-patient” services. “Out-patient” services would include, inter alia, counselling, facility for recreation and “time out” from school. The facility would also be technologically equipped to provide the best living and learning environment for our children. A Taskforce is being established to guide the renovation of the facility.
With technical support of Winrock International, the study of Children Living and Working on the Street was completed and submitted to Cabinet for approval. An analysis of the root causes underpinning children living and working on the street indicate that consumption poverty is the most obvious push factor for child labour on the streets and the potential for quick monetary gains is the most significant pull factor.
Cabinet’s approval was secured for the circulation of the final document as well as for the establishment of a Multi-Sectoral Body to review and finalise a Street and Working Children Framework of Action and oversee the
implementation of said Framework of Action. The CPFSA is currently in the process of establishing the taskforce.
ACCELERATING FAMILY PLACEMENT OF CHILDREN 0 – 3 YEARS OLD
The MoEYI, working with the CPFSA, has developed a policy to accelerate family-type placement of children three years and under entering State Care. This will ensure that children 0 – 3 years old who have entered state care are placed in an approved placement under a foster care arrangement until their case is resolved either by family reintegration, kinship care or by some other appropriate permanent placement, such as adoption. A draft Cabinet Submission has been prepared and is currently circulated to the relevant stakeholders for comments. Upon receipt of these comments, the approval of the Cabinet will be sought for the Ministry to embark on this policy direction.
GOOD PARENTING CAMPAIGN
The Ministry through the CPFSA will be embarking on a Positive or Good Parenting Campaign in an effort to empower Jamaican parents to raise happy, healthy and smart children. The Ministry will also be embarking on a Corporal Punishment Campaign where parents will be encouraged to try positive discipline. Both campaigns will run for a total of four (4) years in separate phases. The Ministry is preparing to go to tender to engage a public relations company to lead this activity.
As a part of our reforms to the Child Protection ecosystem, we have received approval from the Office of Utilities Regulation to activate 211 as a singular helpline for children at risk or for anyone who wishes to report child abuse. We will be launching the 211 helpline on the 6th of September.
This helpline will be manned 24 hours by child care professionals and will be a significant addition to the Child Protection ecosystem. We will be running a national campaign to information Jamaicans of this new helpline
as we will transition it to be the main helpline for reporting child abuse in Jamaica.
I cannot end without acknowledging the work of our state minister, the Honourable Robert Nesta Morgan.
He has been leading the review of the Adoption Act, the CCPA and Amendments to Section 24, as well as the policy for accelerating family placement of children 0-3 years old and is pushing the implementation of the 211 Hotline.
I have also charged him to continue his focus on the youth portfolio with particular concentration on improving the work of the Youth Innovation Centres as well as a general review of the work of the youth division.
He also meets with all divisions within his remit every Monday to get updates related to children, youth and information. Minister Morgan, your support and determination does not go unnoticed, I thank you.