Minister Grange launched the programme during the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation's 40th Anniversary Charity Ball on Saturday (May 26) at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.
The initiative dubbed A-STREAM — or Advancing Secondary, Tertiary, Remedial Education for Adolescent Mothers — is to be administered through the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation and is designed for teenaged mothers who are at risk of dropping out of school.
According to Minister Grange:
"Over the years, the Women's Centre has been able to reintegrate about 70 per cent of its participants into the formal school system. But we are seeing where several of the girls are now at risk of dropping out of secondary school for a second time for reasons which include financial constraints and inadequate psycho-social support."
A-STREAM — also a legacy programme from the Women's Centre's 40th Anniversary celebrations — has three main components: Mentorship, Sponsorship and Scholarship.
Under the programme, 40 adolescent mothers will be paired with 40 mentors who will encourage them to complete their education while assisting them with critical life skills. Forty bursaries of J$40,000 each are to be awarded to teenaged mothers to assist with school expenses; and A-STREAM will also provide scholarships for tuition totalling J$400,000 to four adolescent mothers who have matriculated for tertiary level education.
Minister Grange has mandated the Bureau of Gender Affairs to contribute to the pool of funds to ensure that Bursaries and Scholarships will be provided in a timely manner.
The Minister also appealed for support from individuals and organisations to assist the Women's Centre to provide additional mentorship, bursaries and scholarships to adolescent mothers in need.
Minister Grange said:
"I am not just saying this because it is one the agencies for which I have Ministerial responsibility but if you're looking to support an organisation with a track record of having a positive impact on people and communities, you won't find much better than the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation."
The Women's Centre was started in 1978 out of the need to provide a response to the global issue of adolescent pregnancy.
At that time, recalls Minister Grange, "pregnancy was like a death sentence for the adolescent girl; her health was endangered; her education would stop; her hopes and dreams would vanish; and she faced a life of poverty and dependency."
Minister Grange praised the Women's Centre for "removing the major obstacles that would prevent adolescent mothers from leading successful lives by helping them to continue their education thereby increasing their job prospects and equipping them with the tools to look after their children and to become good parents."
In the 40 years, the Women's Centre has served 46-thousand adolescent mothers — most of whom never had a second child during their adolescent years. During that time, through its work, the Women's Centre has helped to reduce Jamaica's Adolescent Fertility Rate from 131 per one thousand to 54 per one thousand.
"We are proud of the progress we have made, but we know we can do better still with your support," said Minister Grange.