Prime Minister Should Rescue Alpha Boys - Holness

Release Date: 
Saturday, April 19, 2014 - 12:15

Personally and as Leader of the Opposition, I am truly saddened that an important social institution such as the Alpha Boy's Home will be closing its residential care facility.  The Alpha Boys Home has been around since 1880 as a place of safety and care for boys in difficult circumstances. More than that, its music programme has undoubtedly contributed significantly to Jamaica's music and culture. In the totality of the circumstances, I am calling on the Prime Minister to take a special look the situation and to increase funding and psycho-social support to the home. The Opposition would certainly be prepared to support a special subvention for the Alpha Boy's Home given its historical importance and significant contribution to Jamaica. The issue does, however, have wider implications.

While concerns about increasing anti-social/predatory behaviour among the wards are real and should not be covered up, what I know of the dedicated Sisters of Mercy is that they would redouble their efforts to tackle any problem once supported with resources.  My understanding of the move by the Sisters of Mercy to close the residential facility is that it is a reaction to the lack of funding which limits what they can do in light of the larger numbers of wards coming to them with serious behavioural problems.  However, anti-social/predatory behaviour among boys in care would not be unique to Alpha Boy's Home, and closing down the residential facility certainly will not eliminate anti-social behaviour among boys in care.  In fact, carrying the given justification to its conclusion, we would be forced to ask if this action signals the Government’s intention to close more, or even all residential facilities.

I find it disturbing that the Government is trying to hide behind concerns about anti-social behaviours, when the real problem is flawed Government policy. The real issue is that the Alpha Boys’ Home is not being provided with resources to adequately finance the programmes needed to address the level of anti-social behaviour they face.
Government is misguided if they believe shifting to foster care will mitigate anti-social behaviour.  The level of deviance in a child is sometimes such that foster care is ineffective, and sometimes even more damaging - children with entrenched anti-social behaviour need a particular level of structure in their care.  From an economic perspective, the policy shift is also flawed as state owned residential facilities are far more expensive to run and the services available are sometimes less than the services offered in private/church operated homes. Among my further concerns is the fact that shifting resources away from institutional partners weakens the capacity of the social services sector. I believe it would have been better if the Government contracted most of the places of safety it operates to the churches, which operate similar facilities at less cost and give more services.
A cursory examination of the Government's allocation for such facilities as Alpha Boy's Home and John Boscoe, reveals that this Government has shifted its financing away from those homes. The level of funding required to deliver a residential programme with adequate supervision and interventions that would address the issue of anti-social behaviour, is simply not there.

We need more institutions like Alpha Boy's Home with appropriate intervention and supervision programmes, and the Government has a duty to support them. This Government can no longer keep talking about caring for the poor while taking actions which directly contradict such statements.  Allowing an institution like Alpha Boys’ Home, which caters to only the poor and vulnerable in our society, to scale down its services, is one significant contradictory action.

Again, I call on the Prime Minister to revisit the Government’s current stance on this matter, and the broader issue of state care.