RESPONSE to the fostering of state wards has been lukewarm, with only 900 children being fostered by some 800 families and individuals, against the total of 5,000 children in the care of the state-run Child Development Agency (CDA).
"Over the last couple of years, the response to foster care has been lukewarm and so we are not achieving what we would have wanted to and we have attributed that to a number of factors, one of which is the perception that children in children's homes are bad children," said CDA Chief Executive Officer Carla Francis-Edie.
Speaking to Jamaica Observer reporters and editors at their weekly Monday Exchange last week at the newspaper's head offices in Kingston, Francis-Edie said that this perception had been fuelled from the olden days when these facilities were referred to as reform schools.
As such, the CDA head disclosed, the agency had been working aggressively to dispel that perception and to inform the society that these were children who had suffered abuse.
"They need to know what it is to be in a loving and caring family," the CEO said, noting that fostering had to be fuelled by the love for children as the $4,000 per month stipend families received "is just a mere drop in the bucket", even though the Agency helped with school fees and purchasing of books, among other things.
The CDA noted that the current foster parents were mainly from the middle and lower economic strata, as upper-class persons usually preferred to assist in other ways, and frequently did not want their children to mix with the perceived "bad pickney".
At the same time, the CDA is stepping up its efforts to place more wards of the state with families instead of in institutions through the Foster Care and Living in Family Environment (LIFE) programmes.
"There is both empirical and anecdotal evidence which suggests that children do best with families so we are moving away from placing children in institutions, and for those who are in institutions we work very closely with the families with a hope to returning or re-integrating these children with their families," Francis-Edie said.
The CDA directly manages eight residential child care facilities and monitors 47 privately operated child-care facilities. Of the 5,000 children in the CDA's care, Francis-Edie said, nearly 60 per cent or 3,000 of them are in the LIFE programme.