Friday, December 16, 2016

Addressing long term truancy among children in Western Jamaica

Gloria Meredith
Poor attendance at school, a serious problem in Western Jamaica, came to the attention of Mrs. Gloria Meredith, founder and CEO of Children of Faith. When she visited and held corner meetings in the district of Chester Castle, in the parish of Hanover, where truancy was acute, her first observation was that nearly all the young women were holding babies on their hips. Was there a connection between this and poor school attendance? Subsequently, she partnered with UNICEF in a programme to address the truancy problem. Its success indicates that this programme is one which should be replicated in other parts of Jamaica. Not only did this programme reduce truancy, but it has the potential to break the cycle of poverty. As such, its implementation in other communities would be a cost-efficient method of tackling an otherwise intractable problem.
The problem was identified as follows:
  • A baseline profile of school attendance for children in selected schools in Western communities conducted by UNICEF in 2014 reported that the level of daily absenteeism for these schools was equivalent to up to 36% of the total enrolment.  
  • Region 4 of the Ministry of Education records an average 73.6% of attendance among students - - one of the lowest averages on the island.  
  • The report notes that the average days absent per student is 70 days per school year.
  • 47% of children reported that they were absent because they were sick. (It was later discovered that many of them suffered from asthma, exacerbated by poor nutrition, and emotional and psychological problems).
  • 30% of children could not find the money to go to school or to buy supplies they needed to attend school
  • Additionally, some residents pointed to the contribution of poor parenting practices as part of the challenge of school attendance. 
  •  A significant number of adolescents are dropping out of school due to
  • o   pregnancy, (some of these pregnancies were the outcomes of girls seeking financial and emotional support);
    o   involvement in illegal activity;
    o   not attending school long enough to graduate or to further their education.
Objectives of this project
  • Increase school attendance/skills of 300 children and adolescents.
  •  Build resilience of children/adolescents.
  •  Support families psychologically, socially, financially, (Income Generating Activities -  IGA) environmentally.

Intervention to increase school attendance
  •   Before intervention data showed that the children referred were absent  80.9%  from school that is 4-5 days per week.
  •  Only 19. 1% were absent for 1-3 days per week.
Intervention in four (4)schools
  •   COF presently implements interventions at the school, community and individual levels in Chester Castle, Mount Ward and Mt. Peto in Hanover and Bethel Town in Westmoreland.  
  • COF has reached 80 parents caring for 248 children and young adults.
Strategies that are used:
Counseling for children and families at school and in their homes.
        Support group for parents, children, and young adults.
Community Health Fair at
Mt Ward Primary School

        Corner meetings in the communities.
        Parenting skills and money-management
        Income generating project

        Community Fairs
        Children referred to the program are seen once per week by a trained counselor for an hour.
        Support group meetings for young adults are held weekly.
        Parenting community support group meetings are also held once per week.

Parenting community support groups
Parenting community support group members are the parents:
         of children whose school attendance was low, interested parents who want to see all children attending school and parents in the community who could offer assistance.
        The support groups plan and execute fund raising activities to help address some of the money related challenges to attendance. 

        There are currently two active young adult support groups with approximately 45 young adults participating in the communities of Mt. Peto and Chester Castle
Schools and Parents are important partners
        The schools are critical to the programme.  Through them we have access and we work together for the good of the children
        Mt. Ward parenting community support group, with the support of the Mt Ward Primary School operate and manage a school garden.  They have received support from the Rural Agricultural Development Association.
        Money derived from the farm is spent on school uniforms, books and other necessities for their children.
         The Mt Ward parents group also staged a Fish Fry to raise additional funds for students who need help.
Fish Fry fundraiser

The Bethel Town parenting group, also very active, raised money to assist needy students.  
Income generating Activities  (Participants are assessed for readiness. They are taught basic accounting and are required to join a Credit Union.)
Individual households receive assistance to generate income – sale of household chemicals, chicken rearing and farming.
UNICEF Ambassador,Danny Glover, inspecting
a chicken coop.

        We have found that household chemicals cost the least but sells fast.
        Chicken rearing - 25-50 baby chicken broiler crumb and layers.
        Farming – focus on quick crop (vegetables)
        11 families received baby chicks, broiler crumb feeder and waterer.
        10 household chemicals
        1  received layers
        1 Farming
        Community fairs are our main platform for partnerships
        Parents and caregivers,  NGOs , and Governmental agencies at community health fair where the parents are given more information, register for birth certificates, PATH programme, get information about their farming, chicken etc.
        Children seen by doctors and counsellors.

Key Achievements
        Since the intervention eighty seven  point five percent (87.5%) of the children referred attend school 4-5 days per week.
        Approximately 177  of our children were assisted with all or some back to school supplies including - uniforms,  shoes, text and note books, shoes and other necessities
        Birth certificates issued (after receiving the birth certificate one was able to sit his GSAT and now is now able attend a high school)
        7 parenting workshops and 7 Money management
        2 parenting community support groups successfully established and members are very active.
        9 young adults (17-19 years) are entering into skills training.
        3 young adults presently in training  2 in the area of food and nutrition and one in construction at a HEART registered institution
        15 young adults at Knocklava
Lessons learned
        Community norms – For some community members education comes at the cost of survival.  These communities need support, especially if this way of thinking is to change for the children.
     In order to sustain this support – we need the involvement of other entities including the Ministry of Local Government and Social Security, Child Development Agency, private sector, the churches, etc.
Mrs. Gloria Meredith presented the achievements and challenges of this programme at a Stakeholders Workshop, chaired by Dr. Sheila Campbell-Forester, on Wednesday, December 7, 2016, at the Grandiosa Hotel in Montego Bay. Ms. Lone Hvass – Deputy representative, UNICEF; Dr. David Stair – Custos of Hanover; Judge Rosalie Toby – Board Member, COF; and Jeanne Foster-Robinson – Good Shepherd Foundation brought greetings from their respective organizations.
At head table, (l to r) Mrs. Jeanne Foster-Robinson, Judge Rosalie Toby,
Dr, David Stair, Mrs. Gloria Meredith, Ms. Lone Hvass, Dr. Sheila Campbell-Forester.

Following the presentation and the Q and A session, UNICEF showed a touching documentary featuring Roshane Thomas, one of the children in the programme. Because his mother began to sell household chemicals, she was able to send him to school. Because of  RGD’s presence at Community Health Fairs, he got his birth certificate and was able to enter GSAT. Because of his own hard work and determination, he passed GSAT for Cambridge High School. Roshane came to the podium where he told us more about himself, answered questions and thanked COF and UNICEF for their help. You can see the video on youtube.

Mr. Victor Wong presenting
a certificate

Mrs. Grant Smith

The second objective of the workshop was to recognize outstanding leadership and performance among children and adolescents in the programme. In attendance were children, parents and teachers from the communities involved in the programme.  Victor Wong, Board Member, COF, presented certificates to children for being most punctual, most improved, most perseverant, best attendance and other categories. Mrs. Grant Smith, Principal  of Chester Castle All Age School, thanked UNICEF and COF for involving her school in the programme. One result, she pointed out, is that parents are becoming more a part of the school. A parent, on behalf of the Mount Ward parenting support group, also expressed thanks for the programme. After the presentations, we all enjoyed a sumptuous lunch prepared and served by the dedicated staff of the Grandiosa Hotel.

Participants at the workshop at the Grandiosa Hotel









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