The History of Youth Support in Jamaica



Youth Support was born in the early eighties  out of a need to provide a service for teenagers and support to  schoolgirl mothers and the first Youth Support publication on schoolgirl pregnancy “Are you my sister, Mummy?” came out in time for our first meeting which marked our incorporation and registration as a Charity (NGO) in 1986.  Even at this early stage Jamaican issues were to the fore. The initial teenage pregnancy research which had begun in the early eighties included many families with Jamaican origins and with their roots in Jamaican culture. It therefore became imperative that contact be established with similar work in Jamaica and hence prominent Jamaicans living in London were included in our first committees and a lasting relationship was established with the infant ‘Women’s centre’ movement even before Youth Support became officially incorporated. Pamela McNeil, Freya Olafson (pathfinders), Dorian Powell and Jean Jackson of the University of West Indies (Mona) were important contacts for us and we also liased with the Family Planning Board – Mrs Chevannes, McFarquar, and many others.  The full extent of involvement is outlined in the report ‘Health Care in Jamaica – How can we help?’ Which was produced at the request of the Jamaican High Commission, Camberwell Health Authority and the Mayor of Lambeth (Brixton).


Photos - The Early Days


The following is an excerpt from our tenth anniversary magazine -


The first Youth Support ‘event’ was the Jamaican benefit fair - held in the empty grounds of disused St Giles Hospital on midsummer day 1986. Jamaica had just suffered severe flooding and there was a need for medical supplies and vaccine for the children.  We obtained one thousand doses of polio immunisation  from Burroughs Wellcome and antibiotics from Beecham which was sent direct to the ministry of health in Kingston, Jamaica. The British Government did not allow vaccine to be sent from England because it was earmarked for British children- so Wellcome had to send it from their Canada branch .... imagine my surprise and annoyance when on visiting Kingston I was asked to convey thanks to the British Government  ... we soon put them straight!

It was on this first visit to Jamaica that we made contacts with the ‘Women’s Centre’ for pregnant schoolgirls in Trafalgar Road, Kingston established by Pamela McNeil. The centre concentrated on giving pregnant girls a sense of vocation and emphasised self worth - that they should be proud Jamaican women with a future to look forward to rather than listen to those who would have them believe that having a baby during your school years is the end of the road. The Women’s centre movement has now grow to a very large organisation with centres throughout the Island. On repeat visits I was impressed by the expansion of the project which can provide tuition for any pregnant girl wanting to continue her education. Family planning and counselling clinic sessions have now also been added to the centres. We are delighted that Pamela will be visiting Youth Support House this year.


Over the years Youth Support has been involved in discussions and liason with the Ministry of Health, the Family Planning Board, The Women’s Centre, The Chest Hospital, Port Maria Hospital, University Hospital Mona, Annotto Bay hospital, Black River hospital, the departments  of medicine, paediatrics and social services at the University of the West Indies, and the department of Psychiatry. Dr Frederick Hickling (psychiatrist) and Dr Sheila Campbell Forrester, Chief Medical officer Cornwall Area have also been a long standing colleagues with Dr Campbell-Forrester first visiting Camberwell Health Authority in 1986 when we were setting up teenage clinics. In fact Youth Support has been involved in training and aiding many Jamaican professionals. The Director has lectured in the social work and Paediatric departments at University West Indies and we have had Jamaican social workers on placement with us in London via the University of Kingston (upon Thames) .


Dr Birch takes part each year in the peer counselling course at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation - and assists at the various centres throughout the island. We developed a series of workbooks for young people some years ago and these have been used throughout the Island and particularly at the peer counselling courses. We have provided this literature and expertise free of charge to Jamaican Youth and schools.  Pamela McNeil, the then Director of the Women’s Centres had favourable response to our literature from the Minister of Education Hon Burchell Whiteman and we plan to extend our facilities for schools and teachers as well as youth.  We have also published literature of interest in Jamaica and of help to those working with Youth – for example many of the issues of our International journals are targeted towards the Caribbean and we have published articles by Sheila Campbell Forrester, Pamela McNeil , material by Lancelot Bryan re working with Youth in poor rural area and helping them learn to carve. Published material from youngsters themselves – project work and discussions is available both in journal form and on the websites and we have also published a book on history of women’s centres ‘As my mother taught me’.


Youth Support Jamaica has many links with other groups which we hope to be able to develop further in the future. Establishing centres in St Elizabeth and in Kingston will be very beneficial in this respect.  Staff have visited and established links with Patricia House drug rehabilitation centre and the director Howard Gough who is interested in liasing on deeper level and the Ashe centre and director Joseph Robinson wanted to build links with our work with Youth in media and through ‘active ‘ therapies.


Youth Support Jamaica is also about helping individuals for example in terms of youth sponsorship for our International conferences and World Youth Forum. We have had competitions for youth in the past and published stories by Jamaican youth in the Journal.


One of our International conferences took place in Kingston at Mona University of the West Indies where as well as hosting the World Youth Forum attended by youth from all over Jamaica, USA and Europe, we also attracted leading professionals in the Adolescent health field including Sheila Campbell Forrester – chief Medical Officer; John Junor Minister of Health and Dr Donald Rhodd Minister of State Ministry of Education. 


Jamaican families over in England have been assisted too – Many are followed up and helped on a regular basis and have been included in research data and follow up studies as well as general aid (see Are you my sister Mummy; The Child that Rocks the Cradle.) One initiative was a Basket ball scholarship to a Jamaican youth to study in USA and we have assisted young people to continue education and attend University. One of our Youth Leaders has attended University in the UK and has represented the Jamaican High Commission in their youth groups and in the Diaspora events. .

Research also continues – including a follow up study of girls who attended the Women’s Centres – database written for the Womens centres. Development of IT skills for youth this enabled us to produce a short film on the difficulties and outcomes for teenage parents on an International basis which included a Jamaican cohort of new young mothers; a group of young fathers from our Los Angeles division and a 25 year follow up of our large cohort from London. The work of the Jamaican Women’s centres was much praised following this.

Hence Youth Support has clearly had a long and fruitful relationship with Jamaica and it is very much hoped that we will be able to expand our work in St Elizabeth and Kingston via the centres we are setting up from which we can better serve the community and support our Jamaican colleagues.


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