Care and Protection of Children Top Priority of Govt.


The regulatory landscape in the country has changed significantly over time, with much being done to improve the welfare of the Jamaican child.
According to Director of Programmes at the Child Development Agency (CDA), Winston Bowen, these changes, particularly those related to the improved Childcare and Protection Act 2004, have given more prominence to the need for the care and protection of children.
He says the Act has created greater awareness, as it educates the populace on their responsibilities as parents and caregivers, while informing them of the rights of the child.
In an interview with JIS News, Mr. Bowen says one other highlight of the Act is its introduction of mandatory reporting, a significant first.
With this provision, persons who are aware of a situation in which a child is being abused are required, by law, to make a report to the appropriate agent or agency, with failure to act by attracting a penalty.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator A.J. Nicholson, who piloted the Bill in the Senate last March, explains that the legislation is a guideline on how to treat children, pointing out that they are often beset by exposure to conflicting cultural practices, inattention on the part of persons who should be protecting them, and by a lack of appreciation for history and security.
He also notes that the passage of this Bill will allow Jamaica to fulfill its commitment under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Jamaica in May 1991, and will serve to enrich and improve upon the system of child protection in Jamaica. The Act also makes provision for the appointment of an advocate who will have oversight responsibility for the work of state agents and agencies as they respond to the needs of children.
According to Mr. Bowen, this is another first and work is now being done to establish an advocate’s office. He informs that the office, when fully functional, will make a significant difference as to how agents and agencies respond to children’s needs.
There is also the provision of a registry through which it is envisaged that all cases of abuse or reported abuse will be recorded at the Ministry and the appropriate action taken by the registrar.
Mr. Bowen, who concedes that the changes have been long in coming, notes that this is so because of the level of consultation surrounding the legislation, stalled further by the oppositions and consequent amendments in a bid to remain fair and to produce a holistic instrument.
“There have been oppositions, there have been amendments, there have been changes to the original Act and the whole idea was to accommodate people as best as possible in terms of infusing, where necessary and possible, their suggestions as to how the Act could be amended. I think it has given this holistic provision where we tried to capture as much of the recommendations as we possibly could,” Mr. Bowen informs.
The CDA, critical to the implementation of the Child Care and Protection Act, was declared an executive agency last June under the government’s Public Sector Modernisation Programme (PSMP).
It was created from the amalgamation of the Children’s Services Division, the Adoption Board and the Child Support Unit. The agency is also responsible for identifying and evaluating new issues surrounding child welfare and developing or adopting local and international strategies to advance the interest of children.
Mr. Bowen explains that the CDA also plays a role in the Early Childhood Commission, which is mandated to oversee the whole early childhood education sector and the registration, licensing and monitoring of early childhood education in Jamaica, a collaboration which will bring a holistic approach to the matter of education for the children.
Children in the CDA’s facilities and foster homes benefit from early childhood education and attend school outside the compound where applicable.
Of the 62 childcare facilities in the island, namely places of safety and children’s homes which cater to some 2,500 children, 13 are state owned and operated through the CDA, with the others run principally by faith-based organizations and private individuals.
Under the foster care programme, which is a temporary arrangement, and which caters to some 1,100 children placed across the island, Mr. Bowen explains that emphasis is being placed on re-unification of children with their parents over time. So far he says some 700 children have been re-united with their parents after spending time in either the children’s home or foster care programme.
Another innovation in terms of policies has been the introduction of monitoring officers. The operations of the CDA is divided into four regions, namely the South East, Southern, North East and Western. A monitoring officer is assigned to each region with responsibility for the supervision of all residential facilities within the region.
Homes are also visited regularly to make the process more effective, and a reporting mechanism has been established through which recommendations are made on a regular basis for the improvement of the quality of care.
Mr. Bowen says that a new system to provide for the licensing of all children’s homes for a three-year period is being introduced. Prior to this licences were granted to persons as private operators indefinitely.
“Certainly we would have been visiting and ensuring that you were doing a good job, but this time the licence is going to be set for three years and at the end of the three years or near to the end of the three years, you have to re-apply,” Mr. Bowen explains.
A part of this process he says, involves a reassessment of the results, which will form the basis for deciding whether the licence will be renewed or some other action taken.
Prior to this, most of the monitoring was done from a central point. Now, monitoring officers are stationed within the region and maintain regular contact with the institutions.
The Director is appealing to persons with homes, time, the interest and the capacity to be a foster parent, to contact its regional offices in Montego Bay, St. Ann’s Bay, Mandeville or Kingston for information on how to participate in any of the programmes.

JIS Social