Pubdate: Sun, 30 Nov 2003
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2003 The Gleaner Company Limited
Author: Glenda Anderson, Staff Reporter


SEVERAL SCHOOLS across the island have had to call on outside
professional counsellors to deal with ganja-smoking and rum-drinking
by children and those whose behaviour have been aggressive and disruptive.

The Mico Care Centre in Kingston receives the bulk of the referrals,
about 40 cases each week. However, while not willing to name the
schools or areas these students are from, counsellors there say that
they see routinely at least one case of a student abusing ganja.

The referrals, they say, come from across the Corporate Area, St.
Thomas and St. Catherine, from teachers, parents and guardians.

"One of the problems we face is that ganja is readily available, and
most children will use it once it is in the home. The ones (students)
the school catch up with may be those who take it in for a kind of
'show and tell' where they try to share it with their friends," senior
counsellor Yvonne Davidson said.

The centre, an outreach project of the Mico Teachers College, offers a
non-residential counselling programme for children under 18 years old.

The children are usually referred to the centre from across the island
not just for behavioural problems but for other issues like trauma,
and grief counselling as well.

But the counsellor said while many of the children are sent for
behavioural problems, tell-tale signs of drug use are usually
uncovered through the routine screening process.

She said, however, that unless the children admit to a drug problem
they cannot be labelled or even treated as users.

"We have seen children on drugs between 13-16 years old, but they may
well have started at an earlier age, and may well have been using it
for quite a while before the parents pick up," Ms. Davidson said.
"There are others (student drug users) though, who we refer straight
to drug treatment centres, this is why we don't have a steady figure.
One of the things that we now see with the students is that they are
(increasingly) aggressive, and their grades, as well as their
relationship with peers and siblings deteriorate."

Guidance counsellor at the St. Andrew Technical High School in
Kingston, Michelle Boxhill-Dunkley, said the school regularly sent
students to the Centre for counselling for a variety of problems.

She said behavioural issues were the main reason with violence, change
in behaviour, attitude and academics as main indicators.In other cases
she said children were identified for care because of difficult or
stressful home situations which most often showed up as indiscipline
in the students.

One principal of a high school in St. Catherine said the situation of
ganja use among students was so rampant in her school that outside
help was now crucial.

"You can't pinpoint particular students because they will not admit to
it and unless you catch them then you cannot say they are using, but
you know it," the principal said. "From Grade 7 straight to Grade 11
they are using it. There are times when say, after a break, the
children come back and they are just edgy. They are not the same. On
one occasion recently I found a group of students under a tree and
when we called out to them they all ran but two little boys were so
out of it they could not move, they were so 'cramped' they couldn't
run with the others. When I held onto their little hands they were
limp, they were just staggering. Apparently they had been drinking,
you could smell it on their breaths, but it seemed as if something had
been placed in the drink."


She said that at times when the drug use on the compound became even
more obvious, then they have to call in the police.

"The vendors themselves sell the children the alcohol and Rizla
(cigarette paper) so you know it's something the children are using."

She said that several schools including hers had to be relying heavily
on collaborative agencies for help.

"We have the police working with us. They come in and talk with the
students, we've invited motivational speakers, persons from the public
health department and agencies like these." The counsellors say while
the figure is not significant, it speaks to a greater problem of drugs
being more accessible to students, as well as increased awareness of
the problem.

President of the Guidance Counselling Association of Jamaica, the Rev.
Oliver Edwards confirmed a growing concern among the group's over 300
members of rising rates of indiscipline and aggression among students.

He pointed to the problem of migration which had forced some students
to be fending for themselves. Others had been passed off to extended
family members.

"The children internalise this and are then seen as unruly," The Rev.
Mr. Edwards said. "There are other situations too where some persons
are exposed to drugs and early sex."


"Parents lack proper coping and parenting skills and that is really
the main reason. It is a very serious situation now," Sergeant Jackie
Brown of the St. Catherine South Police said. The division monitors
schools in Portmore, Old Harbour and Central Village.

She confirmed that the police had been called in regularly in several
schools and now counsel an average of 30 students each day.

"We see them as young as six years up to 18 years old. They come in
with behavioural problems, promiscuity and drug use, but behavioural
problems especially are very high. In fact most of our day is spent
counselling," she said.
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