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Child disappearances a growing concern

by Ryan Gilkes
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Cases of missing children are on the rise in Barbados, raising alarm bells at the Child Care Board (CCB). At a regional conference in Jamaica on responding to disappearances of minors in the Caribbean, senior CCB officials stressed the urgent need for improved inter-agency coordination to properly track such incidents.
“The experience of missing children in Barbados is a rising and concerning trend for us,” said Julia Davis, senior child care officer at the CCB. She told delegates that barring one cold case from 1988 in which Thelia Snagg went missing that December, all other missing child reports have eventually seen the youngsters traced and returned home by police.
However, sharing of data between the police and CCB remains problematic. “We don’t always know when a child has been located unless we check the police website,” Davis revealed. Both she and colleague Roxanne Sanderson acknowledged lacking comprehensive statistics due to this lack of information sharing from law enforcement.
The CCB’s role focuses on the psychosocial aspects, with officers assigned to manage open cases involving youths already known to the agency due to prior issues like abuse, behavioural troubles or mental health diagnoses. They liaise with families and police to pool relevant information.
For unfamiliar cases, the CCB awaits police updates before getting involved. Protocol states that rescued children are taken to a specialist clinic for suspected abuse and neglect cases, which minimises repeated interviews through a multi-disciplinary approach. The child is taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s Scan Clinic, which handles suspected child abuse and neglect cases.

Roxanne Sanderson, another senior child care officer, revealed this clinic, operating out of the Accident and Emergency Department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, uses a multidisciplinary approach to minimize the need for multiple interviews with the child.  The police collect forensic evidence and handle the legal aspects of these cases, while the clinic and the board focus on psychosocial support for the child and family.

“We don’t have many cases in terms of the thousands of children missing as what happens in Jamaica, but we do see, sometimes these children who ran away came from some kind of behavioural issue or something happening in the home,” Sanderson added.

But among the challenges being faced by the Child Care Board, stems from a lack of cooperation on the part of the child who would have gone missing and also the parents and/or guardians.

Davis explained: “Sometimes a child might be located in one of the shopping areas or one of the parishes, sitting by a bus stop or at a shopping mall, and we would just hear that the parent came and collected them. Sometimes it’s not always that. The child might show up at the police station or someone in the community found them or anything like that. When we do find situations where children are taken to the police station to say where they are or their whereabouts, we find that the children don’t always cooperate. They might say they’re with a friend and they give names of friends and they create all of these elaborate stories that sometimes do not pan out.

“What is the concern for us is that in most instances, what we’re suspecting is that these children are sometimes harboured by adults. We can never . . . the Police Service can never really confirm that those situations are occurring. But based on what is happening, what is said on these different social media and a person’s reporting, you get a sense that adults are involved and these children never, in most of the cases, don’t ever say where they were.”

She noted that there have also been instances where the family might say ‘Well, the child hard ears’, ‘they’re problematic and they’re not going to press charges and they’re not going to be bothered because they know what they were doing’ and the family themselves don’t want to give the police information.

“But sometimes the family doesn’t want to also come under scrutiny by the public because the child is missing. You’ve already placed the family in the eye of the media or the public and therefore people don’t want that to go any further.”

Both officials underscored the relatively low numbers in Barbados compared to certain other regions. But Davis emphasised: “We must continue public education and collaboration among all stakeholders. We need to protect the children of Barbados.”

The regional conference was put on by Jamaica’s Child Protection and Family Services Agency, at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston, under the theme Strengthening Responses to Missing Children: A Regional Exchange of Good Practices. The one-day event in observance of International Missing Children’s Day on May 25 sought to bring regional agencies up to date with the issues of child disappearances in the Caribbean and develop strategies to address the problem.

 

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