Battle weary - Large number of child abuse cases pressuring CDA investigators
With only 120 investigators, the Child Development Agency (CDA) was faced with approximately 14,000 reported cases of child abuse in 2015, leaving many of the investigators struggling to cope.
The Government has started to take steps to increase the number of CDA investigators, but while that takes place those already in the system are being provided with support to deal with the stress which comes with seeking to protect children, some of whom are facing unspeakable horrors.
Since 2007, CDA investigators have responded to more than 60,000 reports of child abuse, child neglect and children in need of care. This works out to approximately 150 cases per investigator each year.
And while arranging case files is a challenge, investigators must also cope with the long hours, stench, threats, and physical and emotional abuse that often come with their work.
"It's very stressful, very long hours. We provide support through Family Life Ministries for counselling and support. When these things happen, the debriefing that has to happen for the person to start functioning again is very critical," head of the CDA, Rosalee Gage-Grey, told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Thursday.
"But I must say it is a team of dedicated officers who go beyond the call of duty. You can call them any time of the night," added Gage-Grey.
She said her investigators have been threatened and even attacked while investigating offences. "We have had close calls. I myself have been threatened," said Gage-Grey.
"There was a time in Montego Bay, for example, when we had to say to officers, don't go out. One of our officers was heading out and there was a shoot-out and he was caught in the middle of it. He had to run leave his car and jump some walls," added Gage-Grey.
She argued that the CDA investigators have to be street-smart when they enter some communities.
"You can't just go into a community and ask 'who is John Brown?' You have to be smart on the ground."
In the meantime, legal director for the CDA's Southern Region, Valerie Muhammad, said regular conversations with investigators help them with their cases and to unload psychological burdens.
"Sometimes, even before they begin to write that report, they need to do that talk," said Muhammad.
Last month, several CDA investigators told our news team harrowing tales relating to their investigations.
"We have been cursed and told expletives even by family members of the children we are trying to help. Them tell you come out a dem yard and go away, stuff like that," said one female investigator, still coming to terms with the demands of her job after a little more than a year.
"People don't like the idea of people seeing CDA investigators coming to their homes. And most people always want to find out who made the report," said the investigator, hinting at a fear which has prevented many Jamaicans from reporting child abuse to the authorities.
According to the CDA investigator, they are often hampered by relatives of abused children, including parents, who hide the evidence in an effort to protect a loved one. "One child had several scars and she admitted that her father had beaten her. But when I spoke with the mother she denied it and said the father would only grab the child up one or two times. Our investigations later revealed that the mother was also being physically abused," said the investigator.
One male investigator recalled his first day on the job when he and a female colleague were summoned to premises where a terminally ill woman lived with four children, ages six to 14 years.
"The stench that was coming from that house and the conditions those children were living under really hurt me to my core. Anytime I remember or talk about it I get emotional," said the investigator.
"There are many challenging days but the good days outweigh the bad one," said the investigator.