EVERY year, about 250 children enter the National Foster Care Programme, but it is unclear whether those with HIV/AIDS -- except for one little girl eight years ago -- are among those who benefit.
"Currently that information is not available," was the Child Development Agency's response to Sunday Observer queries about the number of HIV positive children currently being fostered.
Despite the unavailability of the statistics, the agency said that children with the disease are eligible for foster care, and that a child's HIV status was not among the factors that present a challenge to National Foster Care Programme.
Instead, it listed among the challenges:
* economic/financial instability which deter prospective foster parents from getting involved in the programme;
* people who, while interested, do not meet all the requirements to become foster parents. For example, there are people who will go through the process and not show up for training, which is mandatory;
* people's reservations about fostering older children from volatile communities; and
* people who make special requests that cannot always be met, such as for children in a specific age group or children of a specific gender.
Up to October 2009, there were 74 children in state care living with HIV/AIDS, according to the CDA. Fifty-one per cent or 38 of them were males aged one to 15 years old. Of that number, 22 were between six and 10 years old, and 10 between the ages of 11 and 15. The others were five years old or younger.
Of the 36 females in the group, 16 were between the ages of 11 and 15, while seven were aged 16 years and older. Eight were between the age of six and 10 years old while four were five years and younger. The age of one among them was unknown.
The CDA said such children were treated no differently from the more than 6,000 others in the system. Of note, is that 44 per cent of the 6,077 children in the state's care and protection live in residential care facilities, while the others are participating in the Living in Family Environments programme that includes foster care.
"Section 62 of the Child Care and Protection Act states: 'A child in a place of safety, children's home or in the care of a fit persons shall have the following rights: to be fed, clothed and nurtured according to prescribed minimum standards and to be given the same quality of acre as other children in the placement'," the CDA noted. "The CDA is also guided by the Ministry of Health's National Policy on HIV, which clearly articulates a position of non-discrimination; confidentiality; and care and support for all persons living with HIV/AIDS."
As such, the agency said there is no mandatory testing of children entering the system.
"However, depending on the circumstances under which a child is taken into care, testing may be necessary," the agency said, adding that children entering the system were subject to a medical to determine their level of health and health needs.
"A first time medical, dental and psychological test/assessment is applied for every child entering the system for the first time. All children in the child protection system have access to health care services that meet their physical and mental health care needs. This is necessary for the development of the individual care plans for children in the care and protection system," the CDA said.
It is a team of four clinical psychologists who provide support for children in care. Between 2007 and 2009, they saw 2,259 children.
"Additionally, a team of five social workers were employed to operate out of seven Government of Jamaica-managed facilities. The agency continues to utilise the services of regional child guidance clinics, as well as facilitate private medical and counselling practitioners who volunteer their services on a region by region basis," the CDA said.
The agency, which has come under fire in recent times concerning issues of child abuse in the system, said that there are special facilities that deal with the care of children in state care living with HIV/AIDS.
"The majority of children in care living with HIV/AIDS are placed in these facilities that offer specialised care. However, on occasions when there is no space available in these facilities, children are placed in non-specific ones. In these cases, there is no attempt to separate or to differentiate the children," the agency noted.
"The child's HIV status is confidential information, and no member of staff in a residential child care facility has the authority to disclose such information," the CDA added.
Meanwhile, the agency said that every precaution is taken to ensure there is no transmission among children in state care.
"Staff members in all residential child care facilities are required to supervise play and other peer group activities to guard against mishaps," the CDA said, adding that staff members have basic training in dealing with HIV/AIDS.
Children with the disease are provided with antiretroviral medication.
There are also educational efforts, undertaken in accordance with Jamaica's National HIV Policy.
"Part 5.3 of the National HIV Policy states: "Adolescents and youths have the right to knowledge of HIV modes and transmission and prevention methods of abstinence; mutual faithfulness and consistent condom use... health care providers... should not deny minors access to condoms, on their request, but should offer services, guidance and counselling, while promoting abstinence as a viable option in a non-judgmental way'," the agency said.
"For our part, the CDA's team of clinical psychologists and social workers/children's officers, as well ass our stakeholders, for example the Child Guidance Clinic, provide ongoing guidance and counselling on the sexual reproductive health of adolescents," the agency told the Sunday Observer.
The website of the National HIV/STI Programme which provides a range of information, including prevention strategies.