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We need more foster families — gov't

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, July 07, 2012    

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A national campaign is soon to get underway to encourage more Jamaican families to foster some of the 6,000 children currently in State care.

This is according to Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, who says the State doesn't have the space to adequately accommodate the number of children in its care.

"What we recognise is that we can't take all the children into children's homes (so) we want to encourage more persons to foster," she said.

"We are going out there with a serious public awareness campaign...in town hall meetings and the Child Development Agency (CDA) is playing a major role in identifying these children and asking families to take them," Hanna told journalists at the weekly Jamaica House press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister Wednesday.

In tandem with that, the Adoption Board will also be moving to clear the backlog of applications for State wards.

Minister Hanna said further, that this year Government will be spending $1.567 billion on interventions for the nation's children through the CDA and the Office of the Children's Registry. Of that amount $292 million will be spent on places of safety, $658 million on both public and private children's homes, and $75.358 million on maintenance grants for children in foster care.

On the subject of child abuse, Hanna said the CDA was grappling with a shortage of investigators, as at least 22 additional personnel are needed to investigate cases of child abuse.

"One of the creative ways we have dealt with that is to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Technology and the child psychology third-year students. We have nine of them onboard and they are providing investigative assistance to the CDA, but we do need more," she said.

The minister also said reports of children suffering from mental health conditions have increased significantly. She noted that focus groups conducted in all 14 parishes revealed that 70 per cent of the at-risk youth in attendance were either suicidal or wanted to kill someone.

"There are serious youth issues that we grapple with in this country... Many of them are living illicit lives; scamming is not considered a problem, many of them are using sex as a business, many of them feel they are in a box," she lamented.

A request, she said, has been made for the Planning Institute of Jamaica to develop a report on the status of Jamaica's children which will analyse all the data on children, including reports of abuse.

"We will be providing the ministry with a consultant to compile all data. That is starting very shortly," she said.

Also, Hanna said two salaried social workers have been approved for the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) to assist the police with counselling abused children. They also place them in suitable families — rather than in state homes — while their cases are being heard by the court.

"This has kept over 1,116 children out of the state residential facilities and has saved the state $201 million," she said, adding that an average of $12,000 is spent per week on each child in State care.

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