JIS News

Children Advocate, Mary Clarke, while lauding the Foster Care Programme as a viable alternative to the institutionalisation of children in need of care and protection, has made a number of proposals to improve its effectiveness and efficiency.
The recommendations, which include mechanisms to properly assess those with learning disabilities, increasing the stipend paid to foster parents, and developing minimum standards for children in foster care, came out of a study conducted by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies of the University of the West Indies (UWI) on behalf of the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA).
The study involved 217 foster children, 226 foster parents, 14 graduates of the programme, nine children’s officers, as well as senior managers from the Child Development Agency (CDA), which oversees the programme.
Presenting the findings at a press briefing held on Thursday (Feb.18) at her offices in Kingston, Mrs. Clarke said that the study revealed that many foster children had learning and behavioural problems. More than a quarter (29.8 per cent) of the respondents said they were having problems at school, which included fighting and quarreling with peers and teachers.
“I’m calling for mechanisms to properly assess children, who have learning disabilities and behavioural problems. Sometimes, the problems may not be easily addressed. There could be children, who need psychiatric attention, children who need medication, children who need intense treatment,” she stated.
Turning to the $4,000 per child monthly allowance paid to foster parents, Mrs. Clarke said that the amount is “grossly in adequate,” and should be increased in keeping with current economic conditions.
“If you look at the socio-economic conditions of foster parents, whereas some of them would be able to subsidise the government grant, what we are finding is that many of the parents, by virtue of their earning capacity, as reflected in this study, could not adequately subsidise that $4,000. We are calling for an immediate review of the allocation to foster parents. We fear that the rights of the children in foster care could be threatened if (this is not done),” she stated.
She noted too that the national minimum standards for children in foster care need to be developed, to further improve the programme. The standards address the criteria for selection of foster parents; the expectations of the CDA and foster parents; protecting children from abuse and neglect; promoting adequate contact, consultation, development and health; preparation for adulthood; and encouraging educational achievement.
The study also highlighted the fact that foster parents felt that they did not see the CDA officers as often as they wanted. Mrs. Clarke noted however, that when this matter was probed further, it was found that case officers were overburdened. The case load per officer is about 63, which is way above international standards of about 30 per officer.
Another problem identified, Mrs. Clarke said, is how to treat with 18 year olds, who are no longer deemed children. “They are in children’s homes, they are in places of safety, they are in foster care..how are they prepared for life?” Mrs. Clarke asked.
“There has to be a half-way house or somewhere.as they seek to become independent and seek to go to the job market. They must be prepared with the proper life skills and made ready for the job market and be given some accommodation or allowance to put a roof over their head,” she stated.
Even with the shortcomings, the study found that both the children and the foster parents benefit from the experience, and Mrs. Clarke called for measures to encourage more Jamaicans to join the programme.
She said she was heartened to see that most of the children enjoyed being in foster care and over 80 per cent preferred their foster care homes to their previous homes. The study revealed that 95.1 per cent of the children would have liked to live permanently with their foster parents and many children found their foster families loving and were satisfied with the treatment they received.
Foster parents also said they enjoyed caring for the children and most were willing to care for their foster children permanently, and provide them with loving homes and families. “No one expressed regret that they had agreed to foster a child. That is so encouraging,” Mrs. Clarke shared. “Many of them (56.6 per cent) said they fostered because of their love for children and that they recognised the need,” she noted.
The study showed too that many of the foster parents (40.8 per cent) had more than one foster child in their home, indicating a willingness to foster multiple children.
Additionally, it was reported that all 14 foster care graduates had achieved academic success. “One hundred per cent reported that their foster parents had encouraged them to excel in school, and all were still in contact with their foster parents. Most of the graduates (88.8 per cent) had been satisfied with the service,” the report stated.
The Foster Care Programme forms part of the CDA’s Living In Family Environments (LIFE) project, which aims to reduce the number of children in institutional care, by increasing the placement of children in family-based settings.
There are currently 3,481 children participating in the LIFE programme and of the number 1,189 are in the Foster Care Programme.

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