Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Laws of Eve | Protecting Jamaica's children

Published:Monday | January 23, 2017 | 1:00 AMSherry-Ann McGregor
Greig Smith, registrar of the Office of the Children's Registry.

The operations of the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) have been placed squarely under the microscope in response to complaints about delays in the investigation of a reported case of abuse of a six-year-old child.

According to reports in the press, the matter was first reported to the OCR in August 2016, but the child was only located and taken into state care last week in response to complaints about the delay in handling the case.

I reviewed the Childcare and Protection Act to confirm what steps are to be taken by the OCR and CDA when a report is made that a child "has been, is being, or is likely to be abandoned, neglected, or physically or sexually ill-treated, or is otherwise in need of care and protection".

According to Section 7 of the act, once a report is made to the OCR, the information is to be assessed and:

- The report may be referred to the Children's Advocate and the CDA for further investigation, so that the child might be brought before the court under Section 13, or;

- The person who has custody of the child may be informed of the report, unless to do so would cause physical or emotional harm to any person.

It is important to note that any person to whom a report is referred for investigation, other than the Children's Advocate, commits an offence if that person fails to carry out the investigation.

There are a number of orders that a court might make under Section 13 if a child is taken before the Children's Court, including placing the child under the supervision of a probation and aftercare officer, committing the child to the care of a fit person, who is willing to undertake the care of the child, or make an order prohibiting a person from contacting or attempting to interfere with the person in whose care the child is placed. Alternatively, the court may make an interim order to detain the child in a place of safety.

Further, in accordance with Section 21, the court may make an order requiring the child to be medically examined for the purposes of determining what set-ups ought to be taken in relation to the child's health.

In an effort to ensure that matters in which interim orders are made by the court are dealt with quickly, Section 13 (6) of the act provides that no interim order is to remain in force for more than 30 days unless the order has been extended to a maximum of 60 days.

The guiding principle for the courts in dealing with matters involving children who are in need of care is set out in Section 65 - the court "shall have regard to the best interests of the child and shall, if it deems it necessary, take steps for removing the child from undesirable surroundings, and for ensuring that proper provision is made for the child's education and training".

Absent from the act are any clear guidelines as to what the OCR is required to do if, after making its assessment, it determines that there is no need to proceed to court. For example, who should then be informed as to the outcome of the investigations? If, for example, a child or the person in whose custody he or she resides is to undergo counselling, by what method should they be informed?

I will be conducting further research and I will provide information as soon as it is available.

- Sherry-Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator at Nunes Scholefield DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com.