With many parents balancing working from home and home-schooling their children, due to measures to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), some are overwhelmed by this temporary ‘new normal’.

Enter the National Parenting Support Commission (NPSC), which has established 36 helplines across the island to aid parents as they grapple with the effects of the COVID–19 pandemic.

The helplines, which went live on April 6, were established in partnership with the Victoria Mutual (VM) Foundation, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Fight for Peace organisation.

There will be two helplines per parish, with the exception of Kingston, St. James, St. Ann, St. Catherine and Clarendon, which have been given additional helplines. These parishes have recorded higher numbers of COVID-19 cases.

In an interview with JIS News, Chief Executive Officer of the NPSC, Kaysia Kerr, outlined that the helplines became necessary to support parents as they undergo the challenges of being in uncharted territory due to the virus.

“Nobody has ever gone through this, it is a new phenomenon. Because of the uniqueness of the situation where schools have had to be closed, parents are still asked to honour their responsibilities as far as work goes, while ensuring that their children are being cared for and protected, and that some amount of schooling continues,” Ms. Kerr outlined.

“We understand that the pressure is definitely real. This is not a figment of our imagination, persons are feeling pressured from all sides, and parents, being (mostly) non-technical people, are just trying to do the best job (they can). They also need avenues where they can filter through and try to understand what is happening, how they are feeling, how they are coping and how they are processing the information that they are now bombarded with,” she added.

She highlighted that the NPSC, through its helplines, will be offering psychosocial support to parents across the country, “so that they know there are persons who, although they are going through the same things, have technical skills and can offer them advice and help.”

In this vein, Ms. Kerr told JIS News that the helplines were being manned by competent persons who are trained in psychosocial first aid. They assist in guiding callers to where and how they may get additional help and what they can do as individuals.

“Fight for Peace was able to provide the psycho-social first aid training on a digital platform for all responders who are at the other end of the helpline; 36 of them went through very intense, comprehensive training,” Ms. Kerr said.

She further noted that the partners of the project also play a critical role in the execution of the initiative.

“VM Foundation was kind enough to have purchased the telephones from the service providers (Digicel and Flow). UNICEF has been a formidable partner. We have been developing materials together to ensure that they are very relevant and sensitive to this particular crisis. They have (also) provided much needed support, in terms of the data and calling credit for the helplines,” Ms. Kerr noted.

All parishes will be supported with information localised to each area.

Ms. Kerr also highlighted that since the lines have been operational, the responses have been favourable, especially considering the fact that not much promotion beyond the grass roots level has taken place.

She said the NPSC cares about parents and is available to offer support “not just when we have a period of normalcy, but even as we are going through this crisis. We know that Jamaica has very unique circumstances, and at the end of it, we want parents to be healthy, and healthy does not just speak to physical health, but mental and emotional well-being (are also) important.”

Ms. Kerr told JIS News that through the helplines, the Commission aims to help parents in a holistic way to navigate their challenges.

“We know parents are frustrated, many of them feel overwhelmed because they are thrust in positions that they are not equipped to handle, and so we have to ensure that at the end of it, we are coming out on the better side of the crisis…they should be healthy mentally, emotionally and physically,” she said.

Meanwhile, parents are lauding the NSPC helpline initiative as a necessary outlet to provide much needed assistance.

Single mother from Sheffield in Westmoreland, Shantel Williams, in an interview with JIS News, noted that, “I have been working at home for the past three weeks. My son who is in primary school, I now have to home school him and it has been an extremely difficult time for me.”

“Trying to work from home, and trying to protect us from COVID- 19, it has been a lot, so I am really grateful to the Parenting Commission for opening these helplines, because anything at this time can be good for us parents,” Ms. Williams said.

For her part, resident of Woodland District, Hanover, Ossorrannis Cunningham, who also has to balance working from home and homeschooling her two children, said the helpline has come at the “perfect time, because parents are really having a challenging time. I applaud the effort and I foresee it helping a lot of parents.”

The parish lines are listed below.876-560-9314 Westmoreland (Digicel), 876-788-5568 Westmoreland (Flow)876-788-5371 Hanover (Flow), 876-560-9630 Hanover (Digicel)876-560-9395 St. James (Digicel), 876-788-5214 St. James (Flow), 876-560-9336 St. James (Digicel), 876-788-5276 St. James (Flow)876-560-9736 Trelawny (Digicel) 876-788-5382 Trelawny (Flow)876-560-9399 St. Ann (Digicel), 876-788-5468 St. Ann (Flow), 876-788-5606 St. Ann (Flow), 876-560-9634 St. Ann (Digicel)876-788-5196 St. Mary (Flow) 876-560-9604 St. Mary (Digicel)

876-560-9215 Portland (Digicel), 876-788-5323 Portland (Flow)876-560-9269 St. Thomas (Digicel), 876-788-5409 St. Thomas (Flow)876-560-9425 St. Andrew (Digicel), 876-788-5417 St. Andrew (Flow), 876-560-9656 Kingston (Digicel), 876-788-5460 Kingston (Flow), 876-560-9758 Kingston (Digicel); 876-788-5329 Kingston (Flow)876-560-9289 St. Catherine (Digicel), 876-788-5378 St. Catherine (Flow), 876-560-9564 St. Catherine (Digicel)876-560-9209 Clarendon (Digicel), 876-788-5201 Clarendon (Flow), 876-560-9503 Clarendon (Digicel)876-560-9176 Manchester (Digicel), 876-788-5427 Manchester (Flow)876-788-5172 St. Elizabeth (Flow), 876-560-9302 St. Elizabeth (Digicel)

(If persons are having difficulties getting through to any of the helplines, they may call the NPSC at876-560-9272.