Author: Levy, B. M.
The living arrangements and environments of adolescents have not yet been studied in any detail for Jamaica, especially to make the linkages between their environment and development outcomes. This paper does not try to address this entirely. Its aim is much more modest. It seeks to describe the living environments of adolescents, that is, the living arrangements of, and social supports that exist for, adolescents. This kind of composite picture can lay the foundation within which to understand other aspects of adolescent behaviour and welfare, as it is these environments of the adolescent that can serve to expose them to danger, hinder their development or protect them from negative consequences.
Purpose / Objective
The specific objectives of this study are:
- To assess the living arrangements of, and the support mechanisms for, adolescents and how these may differ depending on gender, area of residence and age
- To assess the preparation for, and access to, livelihood opportunities for adolescents
- To make recommendations to policy makers and programme planners
Two methodologies were used in this study to examine the living environments of adolescents across Jamaica. These are focus group discussions, with adolescents in community and service delivery environments; and the secondary analysis of aggregate data from the Survey of Living Conditions 1998.
The focus groups were administered to 170 young people ages 10-19, in three areas: Maxfield Park in an inner city community in Kingston; Montego Bay, a predominantly urban community; and Clarkstown, Trelawny, a rural community. The children were taken from schools for the two younger age groups, and from within the community for the 17-19 year olds. A total of eighteen focus group sessions were held, each 2-3 hours long. The groups were organised by age and gender.
For the secondary analysis, the study used data that are contained in the Survey of Living Conditions (SCL), conducted in 1998 by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) and the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN). The Survey of Living Conditions, conducted annually in Jamaica, is an adaptation of The Living Standards Measurement Studies (LSMS) designed by the World Bank to monitor the effect of economic policies on social issues. It is a household survey, conducted using a probability sampling technique so that the results are reproducible and generalisable over the population.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Adolescents in Jamaica are fairly well off. Most tend to live with one or both of their parents, in households where there is at least one income earner, even though it may not be the head of the household.
5.6% of the participants have a child and, at the time of the survey, 22.6% of the girls reported that they were pregnant, mostly in the older age groups. One half of adolescents visited a health care practitioner when they were ill. Teen pregnancy has a higher incidence as well as a higher occurrence rate in rural areas.
80% of adolescents were attending school, and they were attaining approximately the recommended age for grade attainment, with girls doing better in this regard than boys. The main reason for absence from school was lack of money, and this cause was cited more often for girls than boys, in the sample. Non attendance at school on a Friday is also a rural phenomenon.
Less than 2% of adolescents reported that they were exposed to violence, either to observe or to participate in a violent act. More females reported witnessing a violent act than males, but participation in violence was equal for males and females.
The physical living environments of the majority of adolescents was fairly good. They lived in wood or concrete structures, and had access to toilet facilities, whether indoor or out, shared or with exclusive use. Over 95% of adolescents lived in households that had access to electricity and kitchen facilities.
Poverty was a significant variable in determining the living arrangements and access to certain services such as education and health care, as well as negatively impacting on basic sanitation and household amenities.
The majority of adolescents live in the family home. The family structure was varied, consisting of nuclear family, a mother and a father, and maybe including a number of children, to single-parent households, to households that included stepparents. In others, aunts, uncles, grandparents cousins and friends lived in the home along with the parent. In a few isolated cases, adolescents did not live with a parent, but with a guardian, who was an aunt, uncle or grandparent, or else was unrelated. Some of the older adolescents did not live with a parent or guardian; instead, they lived with friends or on their own, with their own children.
Adolescents rely a lot on support from family. In some regards, the support is economic, including things like supplying food and clothing, and money, to buying lunch and books. In other instances, the support is emotional. Adolescents turn to family for advice, to be there in case of anything. This reliance is strongest at the youngest age groups. As they get older, adolescents seek out friends more, often in cases when they feel the mother or father would not understand. Other figures, in the extended family, play important roles, such as uncle or aunt, as well as persons in the community such as the teacher, guidance counsellor and the pastor. Older adolescents also use the church and/or God as avenues for support.
Adolescents looked up to persons in their family and communities. They admired family members, especially mothers who were able to cope with difficult circumstances, and were helpful to them and guided them.
Public figures that are looked up to include successful sports personalities and businessmen. Actors that had positive images were well received. Music stars got mixed responses. Groups seen as smart and intelligent got the thumbs up, especially from younger adolescents, while entertainers who promulgated lewd lyrics were given the thumbs down.
Many young persons do not feel prepared to enter the work force, and many see others who have been unable to obtain employment. They see the school as the primary institution with the responsibility to prepare them to enter the world of work and feel that it is not doing an adequate job.
The study points to the need for a comprehensive approach to the development of a policy for adolescents that seeks to include, inter alia, the limitations that may be experienced due to living arrangements and the lack of social supports for adolescents. The issues that would need to be addressed include non-attendance at school due to economic reasons and pressure to work at family employment; the development of a social support network for adolescents so that each adolescent would have at least one adult that would be irrationally committed to their development; parenting issues; factors contributing to teen pregnancy and those factors that contribute to adolescents being both victims and perpetrators of violence.
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