Tue | Jan 19, 2021

Virus fear grips kids - ‘Smile Mobile’ tackles frowns as the great unknown unnerves children

Published:Friday | December 4, 2020 | 12:19 AM
Rosalee Gage-Grey
Rosalee Gage-Grey

Reports of increased levels of fear and anxiety have triggered more support for children in state care since the onset of COVID-19, with the deployment of a mobile mental health unit.

‘Smile Mobile’ is retrofitted with two counselling areas, Wi-Fi service, and air conditioning, among other features. The unit was donated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2017.

Officers from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) have been conducting training and assessment in children’s homes to gauge the scale of impact of COVID-19 on the children’s mental health and wellness, said the agency’s chief executive officer, Rosalee Gage-Grey.

Jamaica has 50 children’s homes and places of safety, which house approximately 2,000 children, ranging from zero to 18 years. Children represent seven per cent, or 800, of the 10,911 coronavirus infections on record here up to Wednesday, December 2.


While not providing empirical data, Gage-Grey said that the pandemic has had a “very significant impact” on the mental health and social-interaction skills of children.

“We are seeing a lot of psychosocial issues that are presented in children generally. There’s a lot of fear – fear of the unknown, fear of their relatives or families coming down with COVID, fear of themselves getting it,” the CEO told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Wednesday.

She said fear has also been exacerbated in children with pre-existing conditions. Underlying conditions make coronavirus contraction more mortally dangerous, especially among the elderly.

“We have been seeing a number of suicidal ideations, like cutting, but thankfully we have not had any significant or serious impact. Any indication of suicidal ideation is treated as a high emergency, and these children are usually taken to the hospital to be treated,” she said.

Gage-Grey noted that children were coming under extreme pressure because of the limitations on play, with diminished outlets for the relieving of stress.

“For those in the children’s homes, they get the opportunity for play and recreation much more, but once we had seen the numbers climbing over the August to September period, we had to implement the wearing of masks during play time for most of these children,” said the CPFSA chief executive.