211 helpline is no duplicate of 888-Protect, says MorganMonday, May 03, 2021
BY JASON CROSS
State minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Robert Nesta Morgan says the 211 helpline for children suffering abuse, which will be launched later this month, Child Month, is not a duplicate of the 888-Protect (776-8328) helpline which is currently still in use.
Morgan, who was the guest at Friday's Jamaica Observer Press Club forum at its Beechwood Avenue location in Kingston, pointed to gaps in the 888-Protect system that should be filled by the 211 helpline.
The state minister touted the 211 line as a one-stop shop for reporting that is easy to use, even by a five-year-old.
“The effort is not being duplicated. We have a myriad of numbers and sometimes it gets confusing. Someone said to me that they called the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) and nobody was answering and they heard that they don't work on weekends.
“The front desk may not be present on weekends, but if we give one number like 211, which the Office of Utilities Regulation has given us approval to use, then you can have 24-hour linkages with 888-Protect, with the suicide prevention hotline, the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, and the police. It is like a clearing house of issues. When a child calls the number, somebody will answer.
“That's the purpose of that line; to create a one-stop place. If a five-year-old takes up the phone and calls 888-Protect, how long does that take? If you are a five-year-old and you hear an ad on the TV that say if you are abused, call 211, it is very easy, versus 888-Protect. 211 is the number we are going to promote. Over time we will phase out 888-Protect. The reality is that there are challenges within the childcare and protection ecosystem and it is our duty to constantly make adjustments to make it easier for children and persons who are interested to get help,” Morgan said.
Opposition spokesperson on education and training, Angella Brown Burke, raised concerns that the ministry had not been clear on whether the 888-Protect programme was being duplicated, and if so, why weren't steps taken to fill the gaps which existed in using the service instead of starting a new helpline altogether.
Yesterday, she told the Observer that her concern “was that the UNICEF-funded programme, which was a collaboration with the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica and the Office of the Children's Advocate, has been in the works for quite some time. The helpline that was up actually offered 24-hour support through a toll free number which is at no cost to children. Is there an issue with that programme? If there are some gaps, let us fix those gaps instead of starting a brand new programme.
“Fixing it doesn't mean starting from scratch. I believe that they should have looked at 888-Protect, review it, and identify where the gaps are. There could be better use of the money. I am certain that 211 is easier to dial than 888-Protect, but I am also certain there is technology to make it the same thing. We can't be talking about taking Jamaicans to the new technology age and the ministry couldn't solve a problem like that. Funds are scarce and we do not have the luxury of duplication,” said Brown Burke.
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