Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Fayval Williams, says the Government remains committed to providing “comprehensive” support to Jamaica’s children, to facilitate and safeguard their development and welfare.
Addressing the recent digital launch of the SafeSpot National Child and Teen Helpline, Mrs. Williams said the Administration, through the Ministry, will continue to collaborate with local and international partners to ensure the youngsters get a good foundation in their early years, and have access to the resources that help them to live and enjoy a normal life.
The Minister emphasised that as Jamaica navigates the period of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that avenues be identified to provide psychosocial support and guidance to the nation’s children, “and that they have ready access to these resources”.
She said that this is particularly important, in light of data relating to the incidence of child abuse since the onset of the pandemic.
The Minister pointed out that statistics from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), an entity of the Ministry, show that there has been a fluctuation in the number of child-abuse reports between 2019 and 2021.
Mrs. Williams pointed out that while monthly referrals to the CPFSA averaged 1,200, this figure fell below 400 in 2020.
“But at present, we are seeing an increase over 2020… not at the same level as they were in 2019 but, nevertheless, they are moving up, relative to [last year],” she added.
In relation to sexual abuse, the Minister said CPFSA data indicate that while cases declined by 26 per cent in 2020, relative to 2019, it still accounts for a significant number of the offences reported.
“These statistics are frightening, as they likely do not tell the full story, as often children are afraid to make a report, and adults may either be unaware of what is happening or are, themselves, the perpetrators and, therefore, will not make a report,” she added.
Mrs. Williams said that within recent years, the Government has been placing greater focus on developing and implementing policies that address the physical, emotional and mental well-being of Jamaica’s children.
She noted that this is being done through increased funding and amendments to existing or the introduction of new regulations.
“Our formal school system has a well-established guidance counselling programme of support, and with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have stepped up the psychosocial support,” the Minister added.
While noting that helplines are available through the National Children’s Registry and National Parenting Support Commission, Mrs. Williams maintained that “there can never be too many resources in these circumstances”.
Against this background, she said Jamaica is fortunate to have local and international partners who are providing the support to help our children, as evidenced by the establishment of the SafeSpot initiative.
The helpline is a multisectoral undertaking involving the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSO J), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Jamaica Office, and the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA), which will manage it.
The facility is intended to provide prompt responses to youngsters’ concerns by eliminating delays and increasing access to trained professionals who can assist them when they need it most.
“I am particularly pleased to note that this helpline caters specifically to children. They need a safe space to talk, to reach out, and to have the confidence that their concerns will be heard,” Mrs. Williams said.
She assured that the Government “will continue to fight to provide a safe space for our children”.
To access the services offered via the SafeSpot Helpline, persons may call the toll-free number – 888-SAFESPOT (888-723-7768), send a WhatsApp message to 876-439-5199, or send a direct message via Instagram or SnapChat to @safespotja.
Other partner stakeholders in the initiative are the British High Commission in Jamaica, National Commercial Bank, GraceKennedy, Flow, Digicel, and Wisynco.