Locked out - Schools refusing to readmit students who went missing
Some of the Jamaica's children who go missing each year have been having challenges returning to school as they are being refused entrance by administrators who say they have been away from classes for too long.
This is one of the issues facing guardians interviewed by representatives from local child advocacy group Hear the Children's Cry, which provides counselling for families of missing children.
"Some schools don't want to take them back. They say they are not taking them back. Now, that is a violation of the law, they are supposed to take them back," lamented convener of Hear the Children's Cry, Betty Ann Blaine.
More than 17,000 Jamaican children have been reported missing in the last nine years, according to the Ananda Alert Secretariat. An estimated 1,674 went missing last year.
According to acting executive director of Hear the Children's Cry, Maxine Taylor-Cooper, some of the children who went missing were not performing well academically, and this is sometimes used as the reason for not accepting them back.
"Sometimes, why the school doesn't accept them, it is not because they have gone away. There are other behavioural issues that arise," she said.
Although she is concerned about the well-being of the children who are denied access to schools, Blaine said that she also sympathises with school administrators.
"I can understand the dilemma the schools face. When a child goes missing for weeks and months per se, where do you place them when they come back to school? They don't have any remedial programmes in schools for missing children," said Blaine.
Principal of Holy Trinity High School, Margaret Brissett-Bolt said that her school has been fortunate enough to have provisions in place to deal with children who have been out of school for a prolonged period. This includes children who went missing.
"If a child has been out of school for a while, as long as the space is available, we would just assess the child to see where the child is at and then we accept the child and try to give them the remedial work," Brissett-Bolt told The Sunday Gleaner.
"I have certain resources that I have brought into the school that can sort of help that child to find themselves again," she said while noting that, "not all schools can do that."
According to Brissett-Bolt, children who attend her school have gone missing in the past, but to the best of her memory, none were missing for more than six weeks.
"When that child comes back, he or she is placed with the guidance counsellor and they are placed on a special programme and the guidance counsellor works very closely with the family," she said.
Brissett-Bolt said that the Ministry of Education generally sends children to Holy Trinity who, for one reason or another, have been out of school for a while.
"My school is like the saving ground," added Brissett-Bolt.