Jamaica has established a 24-hour dedicated helpline to assist children and teenagers experiencing challenges or who may be feeling overwhelmed with adapting to changes caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The facility, the Safe Spot National Child and Teen Helpline is a multisectoral initiative involving the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Jamaica Office, and the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA), which will manage it.
The authorities said that the helpline 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.
Education, Youth and Information Minister, Fayval Williams, who endorsed the initiative, said the helpline is a “most welcome step” in strengthening the government’s heightened thrust over recent years to develop and implement policies that address the physical, emotional and mental well-being of Jamaica’s children.
She said this has been done through increased funding and amendments to existing regulations and legislation or the introduction of new ones.
The Youth Minister said she is “particularly pleased” that the helpline caters specifically to children, pointing out that “they need a safe space to talk, to reach out, and to have the confidence that their concerns will be heard.
“As Jamaica tries to navigate this period of great uncertainty, it is important that avenues are found that provide psychosocial support and guidance to our children… and that they have ready access to these resources,” Mrs. Williams added.
Children’s Advocate, Diahann Gordon Harrison, said Safe Spot will provide the safety net for youngsters who could potentially “fall through the cracks” in relation to other programs also designed to provide interventions.
She said that the facility will cover the “full-spectrum” of issues affecting youngsters, including isolation and trauma.
UNICEF Jamaica Representative, Mariko Kagoshima, noted that the prolonged closure of schools and restrictions on movement, consequent on COVID-19, have negatively impacted the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.
Additionally, she said the pandemic has exacerbated the incidents of violence and abuse against them, noting further that access to social services and these types of similar interventions “have become more limited.
“Therefore, UNICEF is very happy to be a partner in the establishment of this helpline, which fills a critical gap in the provision of services to children and adolescents in Jamaica,” she said.
Meanwhile, chair of the PSOJ’s Human Capital Development Committee, Mariame McIntosh Robinson, in underscoring the organisation’s commitment to the Safe Spot initiative, encouraged youngsters across the country facing challenges “to take advantage of the solutions [being offered] to help you”.