Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
An academic assessment conducted on Jamaica's national child-abduction alarm system - the Ananda Alert - has found it wanting.
The system was weighed and measured by Gloria Thompson, a former investigator at the Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) and current master's degree student at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.
In the research paper that placed the national alert system under the microscope, Thompson concluded that the Ananda Alert is a good initiative by policymakers that could effectively manage missing children reports in Jamaica, but pointed out that it has not lived up to its true potential.
Some of the problems identified with the system include a lack of public education/training and sensitisation for service providers and recipients, inadequate broadcasting, inadequate involvement of schools, lack of agency collaboration, inadequate alert, and inadequate resources.
"There are some amount of inadequacies in the programme which could have resulted from any of the following factors: lack of implementation of some key aspects of the programme and poor policy implementation in other areas; ineffective systems or institutional arrangements; lack of some essential resources to enable the programme to run effectively; inconsistencies in service delivery or disregard for protocol," she noted.
Thompson explained that the Ananda Alert has not yielded the success or had the impact that it was intended to have, as no additional resources were assigned for its implementation.
The research paper cited the case of a mother, Ms Henry, whose daughter, Charmaine, had gone missing for the fifth or sixth time and how crudely it was handled by the police.
"When the matter was reported at the police station, the police responded that they were tired of seeing Ms Henry coming to report on Charmaine," Thompson said.
"Therefore, Ms Henry thought that they were non-responsive and did not care. Ms Henry's approach, thereafter, was to search for her child first and then report the matter to the police next. Ms Henry stated that sometimes they were informed of where Charmaine was and when they called the police for assistance, none was given to attempt to locate the child," Thompson added.
The research paper also advanced that no systematic procedure was followed at each visit to the police station. "The parent was the one who carried out the search and located her child (this was corroborated by other parents, as approximately 50 per cent of them said that they were the ones who conducted the search and found their children, while 40 per cent of the children returned on their own and 10 per cent was found by the police)," noted Thompson, adding that "the police was very apathetic in their responses, though some tend to show some interest".
She continued: "What is done is that they ask for a photo and write the report on a piece of paper. The police response is sometimes, 'so a you again', and write the report on a piece of paper then give a receipt to the parent to be taken to the juvenile centre the following day. It takes a number of days before it is heard on the radio waves and when it runs, it goes by very quickly. It was the parent and the family who took on the responsibility of searching for their child the six times she went missing."
Thompson also stated that in 2012, the public had raised major concerns about the effectiveness of the programme.
"Moreover, the statistics from the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) showed that between 2008 and 2012, a total of 9,112 children went missing, and only 7,170 (79 per cent) have returned," she stated.
The former OCA investigator also revealed that the Amber Alert system in the US from which the concept of the Ananda Alert system was formed, showed similar findings in terms of the percentage who have returned.
According to the research paper, the Missing Person Policy, developed by the Department of Local Government (2011), stated that the Ananda Alert system was established in 2009 to replace the Red Alert system. "This was done in response to a public outcry for a quick-response system to address the issue of missing children following the disappearance and death of 11-year-old Ananda Dean. A call was made for a safe and speedy recovery system where instant action is taken by the police whenever a child is reported missing, instead of waiting the usual 24 hours under the Red Alert system (Department of Local Government, 2011)," read another section of the document.
The Ananda Alert system was recently transferred from the purview of the Ministry of Local Government to the Ministry of Youth and Culture, and has been placed under the ambit of the Office of the Children's Registry.
"Under this ministry, the amendments that are being proposed by the registrar has some similarities to the system that was originally intended for implementation by the policymakers. It is, therefore, expected that some of the problems identified in the study will be addressed," she noted.
The 19-page research paper contained 15 recommendations to improve the abduction-alert system, which includes providing regular updates to the public on the missing and returnees so they won't get overwhelmed or desensitised and informing them about how they can help, get them involved in the programme so they get the feel that this is also their responsibility and not just that of the state agencies.
The research paper also recommended that a special unit within the Jamaica Constabulary Force be designated and equipped with the requisite staff and motor vehicles to handle cases of missing children.
Some of the problems identified with the system include: