Jamaica’s Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) has launched an initiative targeting 136 schools across the island, to identify and provide intervention for students with whom they have not had contact during the pandemic.
According to the CPFSA’s investigations manager, Stacy Ann Lindsay assistance will also be provided for other students who need assistance from the State.
The initiative will involve collaboration with a range of State agencies as well as non-governmental organisations.
Lindsay explained that the targeted schools are among those which the agency has been giving special attention and frequently interfacing with, prior to the coronavirus crisis, where the numbers of cases of abuse and interventions were significant.
“So, we have used that same list to target and to find the students who are unaccounted for — those who the schools haven’t heard from. It’s not just them, but they are the main reason why we are doing this project. We also want to pick up on students who may have other issues, or where the attendance might be irregular. We are not saying these are the only schools that have those issues, but we have to start somewhere,” she said.
Education Minister Fayval Williams recently disclosed that schools have had no contact with approximately 120,000 students over the past year, due to the pandemic, despite the deployment of mixed modalities to deliver lessons.
“They’re not engaged online, they’re not watching [lessons on] TV, they’re not listening to the radio, they’re not opening their books. They’re not in contact with their schools,” she told a virtual post-Cabinet press briefing.
A mobile programme was rolled out by the ministry to track down and engage those students, but that effort was beaten back shortly after as the country started to experience an exponential rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. Lindsay said the CPFSA is concerned about the reports from schools about students not attending classes.
“A lot of that has been attributed to the fact that the children are not at school for the teachers, guidance counselors and so on to know what is happening with them, so there has to be some role for us to be more proactive to locate those children,” she said.
The investigation officer explained that interventions under this new initiative will focus on risk and needs assessments for the affected students. “What we have done is collate a list of all the potential partnership agencies, and those agencies will be called upon as part of the project in order to provide the support that the family might need.
“Let’s say there is a financial issue, we may have to reach out to PATH or NGOs; there will be a lot of referrals.”
The data, she said, will also be submitted to the Ministry of Education, which would be able to address some of the issues.