Rosa Gloria Suárez López de Vergara, presidente de Unicef en Canarias.

“We must invest more in childhood mental health by allocating dedicated resources”

Today is World Children’s Day, a day to emphasize the importance of ensuring that the rights of all boys and girls are respected and guaranteed, and as adults we must ensure that all young people enjoy their childhood and adolescence to the full. in their healthy, full physical, mental and social development, as well as the right to express their opinions and have their voices heard. UNICEF is warning today about the mental health situation of our children and adolescents, which has deteriorated in recent years due to the COVID pandemic, the socioeconomic crises it has caused, the war in Ukraine and the volcano in La Palma. In this interview with DIARIO DE AVISOS, Rosa Gloria Suárez López de Vergara, president of Unicef ​​in the Canary Islands, highlights the need for more investment in mental health by allocating funds to specialized technical and human resources in childhood and adolescence. strengthen the role of education centers and avoid the stigma and discrimination that exist in the mental health environment.

– How is the health of the child population in the Canary Islands?

“This year, Unicef ​​is prioritizing the right to mental health in childhood and above all emotional, psychological and social well-being because our boys and girls need to feel good in order to develop to their fullest potential. If their mental health is not good, their learning ability is reduced. Logically, one of the battles we have is to focus on childhood mental health so that they can talk about their problems and this state of unwellness caused by depression or sadness, and they feel that their environment, family, friends are not feeling well. or they will look for a way to be taken care of at school and given the attention they need to get out of this situation”.

Mental health has always been stigmatized.

“That’s true. A study of childhood mental health by Unicef ​​in 2021 warned us of the seriousness of this problem. Worldwide, one in seven children and adolescents aged 10 to 19 – 13% of the total world population – is diagnosed with Has an established mental health problem Half of all mental health disorders begin around age 14 and 75% of all these disorders develop by age 24, but most cases go undiagnosed, undetected and therefore untreated. In addition to the enormous number of suicides estimated at around 46,000 deaths, helping children and adolescents is a major challenge that afflicts us all.Another 2021 Unicef ​​report on technology’s impact on adolescence, involving nearly 50,000 children during the pandemic, shows 15% of severe or impressive results, revealing that they showed signs of moderate depression and almost 11% had suicidal thoughts achieved. . Therefore, the authorities must be told to take care of the mental health of children and adolescents, because the pandemic has done so much harm not only to those who have problems and aggravate the situation, but also to many children. hardships as they were isolated and imprisoned, and the difficulties that each of them experienced at that time and which they are still dragging”.

Have you started taking steps to improve?

“You should value what has been done, such as the recognition of child psychiatry as a medical specialty, the submission of the 2022 National Mental Health Care Plan, and all this should continue to be encouraged. turns into concrete actions. We believe that more investment in mental health needs to be allocated to specialized technical and human resources in Childhood and Adolescence in Health Centers and Hospitals, as well as funds to assist children and adolescents with emotional education at School level. in need of protection and assistance”.

– Children in the Canary Islands have many more problems and are at risk of falling into poverty. Most of them are from single-parent families, things are unstable and there is a digital divide.

“Everything has been exposed in the pandemic, first of all the digital space that exists and is as important as they are trying to improve, but there are still areas where there is no internet access. Of course, mother-headed families who cannot make a living are decisive factors in increasing their risk of falling into poverty or exclusion, along with other factors such as social risks, poverty, disability and migration. The entire population of children living in these situations are at greater risk of vulnerability and more vulnerable to rehabilitate and restore a normal situation. We all want them to have the same opportunities and develop their talents as other children.”

-Unicef’s work is channeled together with municipalities and municipalities through the Island or Child Friendly City figure. Is it better to work from the nearest institutions to improve childhood?

“It’s a very nice initiative by Unicef ​​that started internationally in 2000 and requires both a political and technical commitment to work for children’s rights. When the City Council decides to participate, this initiative is structured in such a way that children’s rights are demanded to be defended, children have a voice and can actively participate in local policies, as well as produce proposals that they can propose. So much so that the politicians of the government and the opposition agree that the activities of children improve life and the environment. After the situation in that city or island is diagnosed, an action plan is developed for a number of years and it is requested to be accepted as a Child Friendly City, a participatory study is started. in-house, which has different departments and where children and adolescents have a participatory structure that constantly generates ideas for their own well-being. Often they want to improve not only for themselves but also their whole environment, and they are very interested in the most vulnerable groups nearby, because they feel it and can promote equality actions in this context”.

The war in Ukraine caused a protection crisis for women and children and displaced millions.

“Unicef ​​has been in Ukraine for several years and has a number of offices across the country. We never left the country when the war broke out and together with UNHCR we set up dozens of support centers or blue dots at the borders. Unicef ​​focused more on supporting families, led mostly by mothers and grandmothers with children in their care, but unaccompanied minors also arrived, there were over 234,000 beneficiaries. Initially there was great solidarity to resettle them in the receiving countries, more than 7 million Ukrainian women, children and girls were displaced by Europe”.

– In the Canary Islands, the migration route continues and unaccompanied minors have multiple unresolved issues.

We all know that the migration route to the archipelago is one of the most dangerous in the world. In 2021, we presented a report in which we highlighted unaccompanied boys and girls who arrived in small boats and cayucos as they had major problems recognizing their age, and many were considered adults as children and were transported together. old. Bone work to determine if they are small continues to take a long time. It should be noted that sometimes there are not enough places in emergency care centers and they are overcrowded. In addition, minors accumulated in the Canary Islands without being diverted to other Communities. Spain signed the United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child, so we must take care of them adequately, not only in their daily needs, but also in their education until they come of age. Since we are responsible for these children, we work with the General Directorate of Childhood and Family. In addition, we accompanied them in every way possible and made recommendations so that this situation could be reversed. However, problems remain as minors keep coming. Another serious problem we face is that by the time they turn 18 they consider themselves of age and have to leave reception centres, but many fail to resolve their identity procedures, have no accommodation and some continue to study. or incapable of working. It’s a problem that can move forward thanks to other organizations, but it hasn’t been resolved yet.”

Are government and parliamentary groups involved in providing solutions for children in the Canary Islands?

“There is a Canarian pact for children and we are working hard on the analysis of budgets that go directly and indirectly to children. We submitted a publication to the Assembly on this subject and also suggested that they update the work and continue to evaluate its impact on improving the children’s situation. We are extremely concerned about the data on child poverty rising during the pandemic, so we will all have to continue working on this issue. We know that things are moving slowly in the palace, there are issues that we see as priority and that do not go as fast as we would like. This period of life goes by so fast and if we don’t encourage all boys and girls to have the same opportunities, the progress we all want will not be achieved. We are experiencing difficult times for society, first created by COVID and the ensuing socioeconomic crisis and now aggravated by the war in Ukraine, and it all affects the most disadvantaged families facing greater challenges.”

-Unicef ​​is also on the lookout for childhood violence. As many as 48 underage children have been killed by their parents since 2013. How can we deal with indirect violence?

“It’s a terribly difficult situation sometimes in a couples breakup one party uses children as weapons to hurt the other but to reach the extreme of this brutality and take the life of their own children one person’s mental instability loses the focus of reality to hurt your ex through children. These are dramatic and incomprehensible situations, and as a society we must be vigilant.”

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