Children First Agency

Location: Spanish Town and Kingston, Jamaica
Combat sport: Boxing and Martial Arts
Focus areas: Sexual health, education, employment, youth violence prevention
Established: 1997
Joined the FFP Alumni: November2012
Contact: Claudette Richardson-Pious
Website: www.childrenfirst.org.jm

In the late 1990s, Save the Children UK (SCUK) reoriented its work in Jamaica from an operational approach towards the capacity building of local partner organizations. One of those entities supported by the SCUK Kingston office commencing in 1989 was the Spanish Town Marginalized Youth Programme (now Children First Agency) that started out by working with 50 marginalized children and young people, i.e. street and working children, by providing welfare support such as school fees, school uniforms, and educational supplies.

Children First Agency is a Non-Governmental Organisation that was legally incorporated in September 1997. The Agency operates from Spanish Town, St. Catherine with outreach centres and programmes in Kingston as well as Old Harbour Bay a nearby fishing. The target group is mainly at-risk youth 10 to 24 years old, (80% males) from lower socio-economic backgrounds that have dropped out of the formal school system, are not attached to any formal institutions, and are affected or impacted by violence.

The mission of Children First is to work with street, working and vulnerable children, to improve their life opportunities and enable their contribution to society, through active engagement with children and young people, their families, communities and institutions which affects their lives.

In Jamaica, violence is at a very high level and is most evident in poor semi-urban neighbourhoods, where it manifests itself in many forms, namely domestically, politically, gang and drug related. Spanish Town where our Agency operates is one such community that has been polarized by gang warfare, along with many social ills. The violence is primarily driven by young men involved in gang turf wars, but affects entire communities and in many neighbourhoods that violence is coupled with broader issues of poverty, corruption, lack of opportunity, and infrastructural failings.

According to a study by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), “Crime and violence remain high, with Jamaica having significant amounts of domestic violence. These high levels of crime and violence erode the social fabric, chip away at the concept of the rule of law, and weaken the very foundation of the bond between a government and its citizens. Crime and violence are symptoms of much more fundamental social ills such as dysfunctional family units, poor education, high unemployment and political polarization. Additionally, statistics also shows that over 60% of Jamaican youths are out of school by age 18 and many of them are living in poverty, are unskilled, unemployed and are not even functionally literate.

The lack of proper housing, inadequate health care and irregular food supply due to low or no economic activity in the family are some of the other challenges they encounter. The problem is a rather complex one that has been caused by a multitude of underlying factors that affect Jamaican children and adolescents at various developmental stages. These include the lack of economic security, deficiencies in the education of youth, lack of employment/job opportunities, high levels of crime and violence, health and home‐related problems including domestic violence and sexual exploitation as well as child labour.

Children First is partnering with fellow Jamaican FFP Alumni member S-Corner Clinic, to launch a local martial arts & boxing initiative aimed at providing a positive and “energy-releasing” alternative to a target group of vulnerable youngsters, in a bid to enable them to channel their energies positively and reduce their likelihood of engaging in violence related activities.

This intervention will utilize Martial Arts & boxing as an engagement tool, and then channel participants into the other youth development programmes or services being implemented by either by Children First Agency, S-Corner Clinic, other Community Based Organizations and/or formal training institutions dependent on the needs of the participants.

It will be named after the legendary Bob Marley’s classic “Fighting for Survival”, and aims over time to expand across the country through partnerships with other organisations.