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JIS News

Story Highlights

  • Approximately 950 children in foster homes across the island
  • Getting children into a nurturing home is one of the top priorities of the CDA
  • A prospective foster parent must be prepared to go through training

Jamaica’s foster parents are opening their homes and hearts to hundreds of children, who are in need of care and protection.

They are providing a safe haven for children, who sometimes face extremely difficult circumstances within their own families. These include children, who have been abused, orphaned, abandoned, neglected or who cannot be cared for by their parents or relatives and who might have been placed in a children’s home.

Team leader at the Child Development Agency (CDA), Robert Williams, tells JIS News that the CDA, which is responsible for providing support to children in need of care and protection, has been supervising fostering relationships between parents and approximately 950 children in foster homes across the island.

Foster care is a legal process that allows a person, who is not the biological parent, to raise and provide a nurturing environment for a child’s physical, spiritual and emotional growth and development.

Mr. Williams says that getting children into a nurturing home is one of the top priorities of the CDA. “We want to get the children out of the facilities into a home environment. The home is the preferred place for a child. We seek to put emphasis on that,” he says.

He notes that some Jamaicans are willing to foster but “what we would like to see is definitely an increase; we want to see more persons becoming foster parents.”

According to Mr. Williams, being a foster parent demands a high level of commitment and the ability to demonstrate love and willingness to care for a child with the same love, care and respect with which a person would treat a biological child.

“We are looking for people, who fit the profile of somebody, who can offer care and guidance and love to a child,” he adds.

A prospective foster parent must be prepared to go through a period of training in child rearing and satisfy the expectations of the CDA before their applications could be approved.

The training sessions, Mr. Williams informs, expose foster parents to policies and procedures of foster care as well as information on human growth and the various stages of a child’s development.

For those fostering adolescents, topics such as human sexuality are also addressed. “We want them to understand the characteristics of teenagers and how to deal and cope with that,” Mr. Williams informs.

Additionally, he says that children’s officers in various parishes are required to conduct regular home visits to see to the children’s well being. Students from universities engaged in work study practice in child care and development also participate in the home visits.

Mr. Williams tells JIS News that children’s officers are also expected to arrange fun time for foster children.

“From time to time, the children’s officers (doing the case management) try to get the children together. They go on excursions and at some stage in the process, we seek sponsorship from corporate Jamaica and take them to different places,” he says.

Mr. Williams says the CDA directorate meets with foster parents associations from time to time to hear their grievances and concerns.

One such group is the Kingston and St. Andrew Foster Parent Association. Its President is Shari Tomlinson, who initiated the rebirth of the association in 2012, which had become dormant after some five years of existence.

“We currently have an executive board. We have our mission and vision statement. We are developing our policies as it relates to it being an organisation that will now provide not only social support but also tangible support for our parents,” she tells JIS News.

She notes that “a lot of our parents are in need of real support as it relates to financial factors. Whether it is clothes or goods, whether it is cash, whether it is in kind; the association is looking to offer something more to the parents.”

Mrs. Tomlinson says the association has written to CDA and the Ministry of Youth and Culture, outlining how it could assist the CDA in dealing with some of the issues being faced by foster parents.

“We have had dialogue with the CDA’s management team and they have looked at some of the things that really are an issue for us as foster parents, and we have also looked at how we can assist the CDA in putting in place some of the things that we deem very necessary,” she tells JIS News.

Outlining ways the association can help, she mentioned on-going training for foster parents, in addition to the introductory training by the CDA, to deal with some of the issues that arise during foster care.

She notes that for some children, it is traumatic moving to a strange surrounding and to people they do not know.

“A lot of times, children cannot be integrated very easily into a family because they do have issues, and the issues that they bring to the table are things that we as foster parents must deal with, or the placement will breakdown and then the child goes back into care,” she points out.

The President says the association is looking to organise a parenting seminar in August. “We really want to do this because we believe that not only foster parents, but parents in general, are having serious challenges with our children for many reasons and we want to see how best we can address some of these issues, particularly for parents of those children who have emotional and psychological challenges,” she informs.

Mrs. Tomlinson tells JIS News that despite the challenges, the foster parents are committed to the care and development of the children in their charge, and they feel a sense of satisfaction when foster children turn out to be successful citizens.

“Any child that you have taken from the system and have made a difference in their lives, once the child becomes self-sufficient it is a success story,” she says.

“Like any parent you are very proud, you applaud the child, you feel that here is somebody who, despite the odds, has been resilient enough to make the best use of all that they have been given,” she states.