JFJ’s Newsletter: Realising Sexual and Reproductive Health Responsibly…

Realising Sexual and Reproductive Health Responsibly: JFJ’s Pilot Intervention in Children’s Homes

June 2014 – In the previous issue of the special edition of reform matters, the issues surrounding healthy sexual growth and development in marginalised youth were examined. This second newsletter in the series will explore Jamaicans for Justice’s pilot project in children’s home.

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) in partnership with the Jamaica Family Planning Association (FAMPLAN Jamaica) and with the kind support of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) and Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN) have combined resources to foster healthy sexual growth and development in marginalised youth in children’s homes. The ten month project spanning October 2013 to July 2014 focuses on rights, responsibilities and life skills as a result of the increase in HIV and AIDS infections in adolescents.

JFJ has been concerned with the situation of children in state care from 2001 and has since been advocating for improvements in their condition. The intervention is the first of its kind for the organisation and is being carried out in six privately run children’s homes.

Sexual and reproductive health is a human right that is not always recognised, and marginalised youth are at greater risk of not having this right realised due to limitations with age of minority laws and discriminatory practices. These limitations help to contribute to the contraction of HIV among marginalised youth. JFJ’s intervention therefore aims to promote a culture of responsibility regarding realising sexual and reproductive health in order to reduce the incidence of HIV infections in the adolescent population. In order to take steps toward realising this goal, the project has three main objectives:

1. Provide marginalised youth in children’s homes with rights-based information on sexual and reproductive rights to allow for their empowerment
2. Furnish vulnerable youth in children’s homes with knowledge and life skills to ensure their participation and enable improvements in their health seeking behaviours, access to key health and protective services and sustain healthy lifestyle practices.
3. Engage with and empower caregivers of targeted marginalised youth in children’s homes, in order for them to improve the enabling and protective environment, allowing young people to claim their sexual and reproductive rights responsibly.

The target group of the project is approximately 120 children ranging ages 12 to 17. These young people are girls and boys housed in urban and rural children homes for various reasons, including behavioural problems, neglect, abandonment, parents having died or are alive but unable to financially care for them, as well as due to physical or sexual abuse. Along with the children, approximately 80 caregivers are targeted due to them occupying a supervisory and in loco parentis role in relation to the children. It is due to these roles why it is imperative that the caregivers also receive the training.

After receiving training from CVC-COIN and being aided by FAMPLAN Jamaica in October of last year to develop the curriculum for the project, JFJ’s facilitators began implementing the intervention the following month. Caregivers of the homes, including teachers and other staff members who interact with the wards, were the first to receive intense training in human rights, sexual and reproductive health issues affecting youth, and communication for providing a protective and enabling environment for wards who may need assistance. The training with caregivers was subsequently followed by sessions with the wards. Some children’s homes had wards that were being home-schooled while some had wards who attended public schools. Of those who attended public schools, some were on a shift system. These factors affected which homes were able to facilitate training on weekdays or on weekends. Sessions spanning January to May were carried out with the wards of all six privately run children’s homes. The targeted wards from these homes received education and training in: human rights; sexual and reproductive rights and responsibilities; puberty, reproduction, body image; gender relations; sexuality and society; relationships; and communication and decision-making skills. This included providing them with information on where to access youth-friendly non-discriminatory spaces that offered health and protective services.

Participatory Approach
A project of this nature required careful delivery and recognition of the input of the target group. Therefore, a participatory approach was taken with the delivery of the intervention. Participatory activities to educate adolescents on critical health issues hve been stated as one which works in reducing high risk sexual behaviour, and promote social adjustment, among other things. This participatory approach is an educational approach based on the belief that the purpose of education is to expand the ability of people to become shapers of their world by analysing the social forces that have historically limited their options. JFJ’s implementers recognised that the participation of the wards would be integral in shaping the outcomes of the project. Children have different experiences and as such approach sexual and reproductive health in their own personal way, allowing for a wealth of knowledge to be dispersed.

A participatory approach in human rights education and training promotes and values the sharing of personal knowledge and experience, encourages mutual respect and reciprocal learning, and seeks out and includes the voice of the participants in the learning process. It enables the targeted marginalised youth with different values, beliefs and backgrounds to learn effectively together and learn from each other. It encourages social analysis aimed towards empowering youth participants to develop concrete actions for social change that are in accordance with human rights values and standards.

Even though the intervention explored a range of issues, some of which resulted in the children sharing their preconceived notions, the JFJ facilitators made certain not to impose their beliefs but provided information to widen the learning scope of participants with the hope that they would use their new knowledge to shape their understanding and make better decisions.

The administrators of the homes welcomed the intervention as it was felt that it was timely and necessary for their wards. The zeal of the administrators was not at first shared by the caregivers. Caregivers were at first apprehensive about JFJ, human rights and the rights of children taking precedence over their rights which they indicated often times resulted in bias in favour of the children in many situations.

After completing the first session, the caregivers realised that they had certain misconceptions and in order to get the equity they desired, it was possible that what they needed was their own representation instead of looking for this through to the state and non-governmental organisations set up to preserve the rights of children. By the end of their training, they realised the value of the project and wished that there were more capacity building interventions for caregivers in children’s homes.

The children waited with baited breaths to see what the JFJ facilitators would bring. They turned out in their numbers for the initial sessions and seemed to like the participatory techniques employed.

As the training with the children progressed, the number of participants fluctuated due to several reasons. These included children returning home to their families, some running away, some sent to other homes as well as sessions clashing with other activities that required the attendance of some of the children.

Training sessions were at times difficult to complete due mainly to behavioural challenges presented by the children. Although these children came from a wider society with a breakdown in values and decorum, it became obvious that they also needed interventions on propriety, how to minimise confrontations, deal with conflicts and stop bullying.

At about the mid-point of the intervention, it was evident that some administrators prioritised other activities for the children over training sessions, even though initially they indicated their commitment by not only welcoming the project’s facilitators into their homes but also signing memoranda of understanding (MOUs). Priority was given to people coming to provide the children with “treats” and freebies or the mainstream academic curriculum was prioritised over the intervention which resulted, at times, in sessions having to be postponed.

By the end of the intervention, the administrators, caregivers and wards were in disbelief that it was over and were sad to see it end as they professed that they had been learning a lot.

The children’s homes that benefited from the intervention seemed to be devoid of long term interventions suited for their wards to function in the wider society. Education and learning should not just be about academics nor should care and protection of institutionalised children consist mainly of providing food, shelter and clothing. Priority also has to be placed on children’s complete development. The wards of the state should not leave the same way they entered the system nor should they leave in a worse state.

There exist 52 children’s homes in Jamaica: five state-run and 47 privately-run. An intervention of this nature which focuses on the healthy sexual growth and development of marginalised youth from a rights, responsibilities and life skills approach needs to be implemented in all children’s homes and even youth-populated correctional centres. Therefore, the sustainability of this intervention requires buy-in from all stakeholders especially government which has the power to facilitate this expansion. The Ministers of Education, Youth, Health, National Security and even Finance and Social Security (as risky sexual behaviour among marginalised youth impacts the country’s welfare system) need to take a vested interest in not only JFJ’s pilot intervention but in others that address the additional social issues faced by the wards and caregivers.

The impact of JFJ’s pilot intervention will only be bolstered when these other initiatives are implemented.

The next issue will focus on the lessons learnt from JFJ’s pilot project in children’s homes.