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JIS News

Story Highlights

  • The OCR is seeking to adopt best practices from Canada in order to improve child care and protection in Jamaica.
  • The objective is to improve the mechanisms for addressing child abuse and children, who go missing.
  • The OCR team witnessed the operations of the Amber Alert child abduction warning system, which the Canadian authorities adapted from the United States’ model.

The Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR), is seeking to adopt best practices from Canada in order to improve child care and protection in Jamaica.

The objective is to improve the mechanisms for addressing child abuse and children, who go missing.

Registrar of the OCR, Greig Smith, and Ananda Alert Officer, Barbara Gardner recently participated in a one-week United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF-sponsored study tour to Toronto, where they held discussions with government officials from the Children’s Aid Society and the Chief of the Police Services Division in Toronto.

The team witnessed the operations of the Amber Alert child abduction warning system, which the Canadian authorities adapted from the United States’ model.  It was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year old girl, who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas in 1996.

“Our objectives were to assess and review the Amber Alert system, to see how best we can forge collaboration with partnering agencies in Canada and to improve our operational mechanism to deal with child abuse on a daily basis,” Mr. Smith tells JIS News.

“The trip was also intended to improve our multi-agency approach in fighting the issues of missing children and children, who have been abused,” he adds.

Mr. Smith says the Toronto Police Services Division has offered to assist with the improvement of the Ananda Alert system, which was established in 2009 following the abduction and death of 11-year-old Ananda Dean.

“Whether they will be coming here or we will be going back, is something for discussion, but we will be having further dialogue with them,” he says. He notes that this will be done in consultation with the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

“I have written to the Police Commissioner. He did respond and we are now in dialogue with the Deputy Commissioner of Police, who is responsible for operations, in which we will see how best we can strengthen the system, in terms of who can be considered missing,” he says.

Unlike Jamaica, Mr. Smith says that the Canadian police do not issue a report for every missing child.

“They issue reports for children, who are abducted or kidnapped. We will now have to assess ourselves and possibly a study will have to be done in Jamaica to find out what children are just going missing and what percentage is being kidnapped,” he notes. According to Mr. Smith, Canada reports about 40,000 children missing every year in comparison to about 2,000 per year in Jamaica.

“But they do not disseminate the names of all those 40,000 children who go missing because, again, what they are saying is that the child might not have returned home but might have gone to a family member and was not necessarily missing,” he says.

He informs that 1,621 of the 2,034 Jamaican children, who went missing for the period January to November 2013, returned home.

Mr. Smith says the OCR will have to embark on a “serious” public education programme to inform parents that before they make a report to the police, they need to know the “groupings of their child and where they might have gone and to gather all the basic information of their children’s whereabouts before making a report to the police.”

He notes, for example, that a child might be reported missing when the mother takes him/her to a rural home, following a disagreement with the child’s father. The father, who might not know where the child is, often makes a missing person report to the police.

“In fact, they might be using up the resources of the state, which are limited and causing chaos, so we have to look at some procedural operations as to what it is that we need to do,” he tells JIS News.

He says that the recommendations being proposed for the improvement of the system will be sent to the Minister of Youth and Culture for consultation and approval “to see how best within at least the next six months, we can begin implementing some of the best practices learnt.”

Mr. Smith said that the OCR will be seeking funding from private and public sector entities for some of the initiatives.

“Some of the recommendations that we want to look at is to have a National Ananda Alert Day in Jamaica and a National Day for Missing Children,” he shares.

He notes that recommendations to the Minister will also focus on the operations of the Child Development Agency (CDA) and how Jamaica deals with cases of sexual abuse. He notes, for example, that a sexual abuse case in Toronto is dealt with by the relevant authorities within 12 hours of the incident being reported.

“We need to ensure that with all credible cases we make reports known at the earliest possible time,” he says. The OCR has received over 40,000 reports of known or suspected cases of child abuse since its inception in January 2007.

Mr. Smith says the Canadian authorities applauded Jamaica for its efforts in promoting a multi-agency approach in dealing with sexual abuse cases.

“We do run a multi-agency approach that is operated through CISOCA (Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences & Child Abuse) in which we have two social workers from the Child Development Agency, Victim Support and the Police officers. Our multi-agency project has been in operation from 2009/2010.” He notes that Toronto only started its multi-agency approach in October of 2013.

“So Jamaica, again, despite our having a far way to go, is making strides in terms of where we are and positing ourselves,” he points out.

Noting that the visit to Canada was a success, Mr. Smith says the OCR remains in contact with the Canadian authorities, who continue to offer their support and assistance to the agency.

“They want to know what challenges we are having and are willing to work with us,” he says.