By Robertson S. Henry
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent -- In the questions and answers session that followed the opening ceremony of the first ever St Vincent and the Grenadines national juvenile justice training conference on Thursday, the first person mentioned of concept in mathematics that calls for one to use the known to find the unknown.
The participant suggested that the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines should decentralize more facilities so that more corrective services could be offered in assisting young people with troublesome social issues. Such a move would also contribute immensely in dealing with children in conflict with the law.
According to the speaker, “The more centres we set up, the better it is for us to handle the number of children across the region.”
For children in conflict with the law, in the speaker’s opinion: “While we think of taking care of them, there is the aspect of good discipline using different ways and programs which will help to discipline them.”
He spoke of the good gang / negative gang concept. He pointed out that this concept can be used for with this approach; the authorities can set up a smooth transition from negative to positive, so persons have the experience.
He was confident: “In the negative gangs, there is a tremendous amount of good leadership, so allow them to use the same mental faculties to do positive things.”
Another participant wanted to know, “What number of children are we looking at, and is it a crisis situation?”
In response, Merissa Finch-Burke, the juvenile justice reform project coordinator for St Vincent and the Grenadines, stated that a first study conducted by USAID raised a number of issues, which were staring us in the face. These were focused around the number of cases at court and number of cases from social institutions.
She admitted, “We were not able to provide services for the cases. We identified training areas for all social sector practices. For example case workers would be trained in all areas for programmes that will be developed for not only would programmes be developed, but also, people will be developed.”
It was also pointed out that preventative elements in the project itself raise issues of identification. Low risk programmes can cause each child to be exposed, and their livelihood and skills increased, preventing upward negative mobility.
A curative approach is utilized for as problems are anticipated, efforts are made to fix them. We should look also at a preventative approach, because if children are trained from a very young age, “many of these problems will be eliminated.”
Another issue raised is while the training of parents is of utmost importance, and that it is the parents’ responsibility to train children, “Is there any provision for the training of social workers to deal with these juveniles?”
Jeannie Oliver, in taking the floor, pointed out, “We cannot continue to deal with our youths in isolation of their parents. Children live what they learn, and learn what they live. Employ social workers and councilors to deal with the parents.”
Permanent Secretary in Grenada Ministry of Social Development and Housing, Barbara Charles
Permanent secretary in Grenada’s ministry of social development and housing, Barbara Charles, told the gathering that everyone need to come under one umbrella to get the juvenile justice to work better.
She was in agreement with getting the bad and good groups together, for there is in Grenada a recent program named “badness out of style”.
“Informal groups that can draw the crowd to the positive, and rehabilitation programmes can get young people to come to the centre every day. We should use the same people and persons from outside to bring good principles, for them the bad people outside believes that no one cares. Love is important,” she said.
Wendell Parris of Marion House liked the idea of a national parenting program.
“We need more than just parenting, we need national education,” he said.
He illustrated an incident where, last week, a 19-year-old walked out of prison and went directly to the Marion House, because Marion House conducts counseling sessions at the prison.
The young man was at Liberty Lodge for eight years, and has nowhere to go “but he has to survive.”
Parris further pointed out that there is a need to sensitize the entire population about the needs of these persons.
Lucan Browne making a case for NGO inclusion
Lucan Browne in presenting a case for voluntary organizations said, “I do not feel that voluntary organizations are well represented.”
She added that there is room for such, and more linkages should be formed with these voluntary organizations. In addition, persons who are prepared to serve and counsel those in need to be provided.
It was pointed out that that there are many counselors at schools but students still break away from the norm. Is there room for students who do outrageous things to be isolated within the school environment? Is there any particular environment where they can live a disciplined life for a period? Is it possible for them to be removed from the home environment for a period, depending on the crime they committed, until they reach the point where they may be reintegrated, and behave in acceptable way?
Mrs Finch-Burke pointed out that, as long as the needs of the risk and risk level are identified, then there are certain programs that may not allow isolation.
“The aim is to ensure our children get the right levels of justice while serving their needs as it depends heavily on their risk factors.
“We have identified organizations and community based organisations to be involved at different locations to provide different activities under one framework. We have programmes, but sometimes some people do not know what each other are offering,” she said.