Project Lead(s): Yves Lecomte, Ronald Jean-Jacques
In Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country still coping with the catastrophic effects of a major earthquake in 2010, there are currently fewer than 30 psychiatrists for more than 10 million people — a population with widespread psychosocial and psychiatric issues.
“Physical and psychological violence are frequent in a child’s life in Haiti — a problem exacerbated by extreme poverty,” says Yves Lecomte, a psychologist and professor at the University of Quebec-TELUQ. He leads a Grand Challenges Canada project to create a network of Haitian community services and caregivers to promote mental health, to offer psychosocial services, and specifically, to oppose family violence, abuse, and the potential mental health problems caused. Says Dr. Lecomte: “Children can be the victims of educational methods in which corporal punishment is commonly accepted, contributing to causing affective and conduct disorders.”
Commonplace also in Haiti: families forced by poverty to give children away. “Those kids are not adopted,” he says. “They are incorporated into other families, not as children but as virtual slaves — cleaning, carrying water or providing other services, becoming easy targets for physical or psychological abuse. Those kids are at risk to suffer developmental problems growing up without anyone playing the fundamental role of parent.” Dr. Lecomte's project will focus on Grand-Goáve, a semi-rural region of 130,000 inhabitants, and will collaborate with a citizens’ group already trained in the issues. The network will promote mental health and non-violence toward children through radio broadcasts and meetings, with special target audiences to include new parents and young people. They also aim to reach children themselves (including abused children) to help them develop strategies to prevent violence and coping skills. Other efforts under the project include the rehabilitation of victims of violence, suffering developmental, emotional and behavioural problems or disorders, including screening, treating or referring them to professional treatment centres.