JFJ Launches New Initiative to Address Children in State Care with UNICEF

To date, JFJ has documented and analyzed over 1,600 incidents including physical and sexual abuse, attempted suicides and self-harming by children living in institutions

UNICEF and Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) have forged a new partnership to address improvements needed for children in state care. As part of the initiative, JFJ is undertaking the most comprehensive study of its kind to examine the state care landscape in Jamaica, including quality of care for wards of the state.

The partnership was officially launched on Thursday, June 28, 2018, when UNICEF also introduced its latest Situation Analysis on Jamaican Children. Rodje Malcolm, Executive Director of JFJ, noted that JFJ has examined over ten years of reports documenting critical incidents at both public and private child care facilities.

To date, JFJ has documented and analyzed over 1,600 incidents including physical and sexual abuse, attempted suicides and self-harming by children living in institutions, accidental injuries, health emergencies and other incidents. Sharing some preliminary findings related to these incident, Malcolm noted that the number of incidents had been steadily declining over the past five years, which was an extremely positive trend.

Physical abuse is the single largest incident category and overwhelmingly involved boys in state care. JFJ’s research suggests that a child’s gender impacts the types of incidents that they experience. Roughly three-quarter of incidents that threatened physical wellbeing affected boys, such as physical altercations, health emergencies and accidental injuries.

Conversely, girls were substantially more likely to attempt suicide, self-harm or be sexually abused by an adult staff member at the facility. Malcolm noted that these initial findings can help guide interventions and programming for children moving forward.

“This partnership is about generating the evidence needed to ensure that all children in institutions are safe and adequately cared for,” said Malcolm.

“We recognize that every day many children receive quality care from hardworking caregivers. But we also must address the fact that many others experience abuse and trauma while in the care of the state. By examining the residential care system, we can constructively partner with the government to improve the sector in the interest of all children.”

The state care study will explore why and how children are placed in state care, the quality of care provided in homes and the financing of state care. The ultimate aim of the initiative is to promote the de-institutionalization of children, given the many detrimental outcomes of institutional care that have been documented globally.

The research findings will be released in parts between 2018 and 2019. Part one is slated for September 2018. The study is being conducted with technical and financial support from UNICEF, in consultation with the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) and the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA).

“UNICEF’s Situation Analysis makes it very clear that safety and justice for Jamaican children must be made an urgent priority,” said Lone Hvass, Deputy Representative at UNICEF Jamaica.

Hvass noted some of the more troubling data highlighted in the Situation Analysis:

  • 68 of every 100,000 Jamaican children are victims of violent crime;
  • Some 80 per cent experience psychological or physical violence administered as discipline;
  • About 65 per cent of students are bullied at school; and
  • 79 per cent of children witness violence in their community or at home.

“Our partnership with JFJ is a reflection of UNICEF’s commitment to invest more in safety and justice over the coming years, and to focus more on children who are in highly vulnerable situations,” said Hvass.