Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna, says this year the Government will be spending $1.567 billion on interventions for children, through the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR).
Miss Hanna, who was making her Sectoral Debate presentation in the House, on July 3, said there is a sense of urgency to deal with the issues facing children.
The Minister noted that of the allocated sum, $658.357 million will go to children homes, both public and private; $292.593 million will go to places of safety, and $75.358 million for maintenance grants for children in foster care.
Ms. Hanna said that the vision of the government “is to ensure that children know that the State is there to protect them, facilitate a nurturing environment in which they can thrive and develop, and that the State takes decisive steps to punish those who take advantage of their vulnerability."
The Minister outlined several steps that have been taken in the past five months towards addressing issues facing the nation’s children. Among them was theapproval of two salaried social workers at the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), to assist the police with counselling abused children.
“The social workers will also find suitable families for them, while the courts deal with their individual cases, instead of placing them in Children’s Homes and Places of Safety. This has kept over 1,116 children out of the State residential facilities and has saved the State $201 million,” Miss Hanna said.
She explained too that Cabinet approved a recommendation to “have those children in State care who can, live in well protected, safe and nurturing family environments. Since then, we have been auditing such possible family homes to ensure that they meet the prescribed standards."
“We have set a target of 70 per cent from the 53 per cent of children in need of care, to be living with suitable families. We are now at 60 per cent."
She revealed that funding has been approved for her Ministry and the CDA to implement a national campaign to encourage Jamaican families to foster children who are in need of care.
The Minister said that in May, she signed on behalf of the Government, with UNICEF, a $1.2 billion Country Action Plan to assist with the eradication of violence against children, and for focused interventions for child protection and development over the next five years.
On the issue of child abuse, Minister Hanna revealed that preliminary data from the OCR shows that the number of reports on child abuse and maltreatment rose by 22 per cent last year. She said there was a 70 per cent increase in the number of sexual abuse reports, 53 per cent increase in emotional abuse and 50 per cent in reports of child labour.
She emphasised that the Government’s mission is to ensure that no child is denied the right to be safe, protected, empowered and provided with the opportunities to realise their dreams. “As a country, we have a long way to go, because our society has a culture of child abuse which we must overcome,” she said.
The Minister said that in its efforts to reorient the society and end child abuse, “the State must send a clear and unequivocal message to offenders: we will hunt them down, expose them no matter who they are or where they come from, and will ensure that they are punished to the full extent of the law."
By Andrea Braham