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JIS News

With a surge in the number of reports being made to the Office of the Children’s Registry, the agency is moving to increase its efficiency in tracking data related to child abuse, by introducing a case management system and engaging the services of statisticians.
Registrar at the Office of the Children’s Advocate, Carla Edie, in an interview with JIS News says the statisticians will help the agency analyse data and make projections.
“Based on the information that we get, we will be able to identify trends, what kinds of services are needed to address the issues facing the children and their families,” she elaborates.
Employment of statisticians will also be accompanied by the introduction of a Case Management System, which will organise the reports and updates that the Registry receives.
“So if somebody calls to say ‘How many children in the year 2008 between the ages five to six were sexually abused?’ very easily we’ll be able to generate that kind of information,” she illustrates.
The Office of the Children’s Registry has been in existence since January 1, 2007. It was established to receive, record and store data on the maltreatment of Jamaica’s children, in keeping with the Child Care and Protection Act.
The Act, passed by Parliament in 2004, places responsibility on all Jamaicans to report all types of child abuse, whether it is suspected or already happening. A person can be fined $500,000 or endure six months’ imprisonment, or both, for failing to make a report.
Until recently, very few Jamaicans were taking their duty to report child abuse seriously but, Mrs. Edie says, they now appear to be taking greater responsibility for the safety of the country’s youngest citizens.
Preliminary data have shown that the number of reports made to the Registry, so far this year, have almost surpassed the number for the entire 2008. Mrs. Edie says the Registry has received close to 3,000 reports of child abuse since the start of the year, compared with 3,784 for the entire 2008. The 2008 figure was a dramatic increase over the 2007 figure of 425 reports.
However, the increases do not necessarily signal an increase in the number of incidents of child abuse, but rather an increased awareness on the part of adults of their responsibility to report child abuse, she told JIS News.
“We have been meeting with stakeholders and making them aware of their legal responsibility to report, if they know or suspect that a child is being abused, and probably persons are just recognising that it is their civic responsibility and that we all have a part to play in protecting the nation’s children,” she says.
She notes that the fact that the Registry offers confidentiality also plays a major role in getting persons to report child abuse.
“You do not have to give your name and, even if you give your name, it is not divulged to the CDA (Child Development Agency) or the OCA (Office of the Children’s Advocate),” she disclosed.
Mrs. Edie adds that employees of the Registry are mandated by law to keep all information confidential, and if that is breached the employee can be charged $500,000, or spend six months in prison, or both.
There is also a group of persons who are considered mandatory reporters. These are persons required by law to report child abuse. By the nature of their profession, they execute some form of care toward a child. They include physicians, nurses, dentists, other health professionals, hospital administrators, operators and employees of day care centres, guidance counsellors, teachers and school principals.
The Registrar says most of the reports received by the Registry are made by some of these prescribed reporters. Of the 3,784 reports for 2008, about 2,000 were made by prescribed/ mandatory reporters.
Incidents of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, incest and neglect are among the most common complaints.
“There are also those children who are in need of care and protection. Children who have parents, but their parents are unfit. The children are probably falling into bad associations, which means that they are probably becoming a part of gangs. Children who exhibit behavioural problems, so their parents have reached a point where they can no longer control them,” she says.
Mrs. Edie says most of the reports received are from Kingston and St Andrew, but this is not indicative of whether there are more cases in these parishes.
This is one area in which a statistician could play a major role in data analysis, she points out.
“That person will be able to look at, per capita, what’s happening in Kingston and St Andrew in comparison to what’s happening in other parishes,” she explains.
While the Registry receives reports and records them, it does not carry out investigations. Reports are usually referred to one of two service partners – the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA), or the Child Development Agency (CDA).
Mrs. Edie also informs JIS News that regulations stipulate that when a case is referred, whether to the OCA or the CDA, they are mandated by law to give the Registry an update on the case, at least once per quarter.
Mrs Edie says these quarterly reports are a mechanism for ensuring that action is taken by the agencies, within three months of the report being referred. She says the Registry has been receiving updates from the OCA and the CDA. However, human resource constraints mean cases have to be “prioritised” and the ones that are deemed to be emergency cases dealt with first.
Though Jamaicans appear to be becoming more aware of their responsibility to report instances of abuse, the Registry is still not happy with the level of compliance.
Mrs. Edie says public education is a major area of focus for the Registry. Included in this public education campaign is a focus on incest.
“Persons never want to ‘disgrace’ the family, so it’s kept a secret and people suffer sometimes for years under that kind of abuse,” she says. She added that incest in some areas is the norm.
She told JIS News that she is convinced that the number of incest cases are far below the true level of occurrence in Jamaica.
Reports can be made to the Registry by calling 1-888-PROTECT or 908-2132 or 878-2882 or 822-7031, Mondays to Sundays, between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Reporting forms are also available at the Children’s Registry or CDA offices islandwide, which persons can fill out and submit to the Office of the Children’s Registry at 12 Carlton Crescent, Kingston 10.
These reports can also be faxed to 908-2579 or emailed to ocrjamaica@yahoo.com.
A report should include enough information to help the authorities identify and locate the child in question, such as the name, age and sex of the child; names and addresses of parents/guardians; and the school that the relevant child attends.
It should also include details of the incident being reported and any knowledge of previous abandonment, neglect or ill-treatment of the relevant child and relevant dates and the identity and other details of the alleged perpetrator.
Mrs. Edie says persons should also feel free to call back and present any new information they have regarding a report already made to the Registry.
The Office of the Children’s Registry is not only intent on getting persons to report child abuse, it also wants corporate Jamaica to take the issue seriously and provide funding.
“We are seeking alternate funding, because as we know the Government is experiencing a financial bind right now,” she tells JIS News.
To bolster its own human resource demands, the Registry will be employing senior registration officers, accountants, information technology officers and drivers, in addition to the statisticians. At present, the Registry is operating with a staff complement of 13.