The latest announcement that the Government will construct ten children’s homes is a startling new addition to the frenzy of appearing to show concern.
Is it possible that this is the response to a recommendation that was made a long time ago that can only now be funded or is this new?
Will these homes be built in conformity with the requirements of the not yet proclaimed Act 65 of 2000: The Children’s Community Foster Homes and Nurseries Act, 2000?
Will there be staff trained and hired to service these homes? Shouldn’t the architects and planners have an acquaintance with the provisions of the Act before providing a design of the buildings? Moreover, who knows what number of children we need to cater for now and in the distant future?
In the absence of the Children’s Registry can we refer to the 2010 Census? Clearly there can be no quick fixes.
One of the pieces of legislation lost in transition between changing administrations is the Children’s Community Foster Homes and Nurseries Act, 2000.
Currently the State has official responsibility for four homes: St Mary’s Children’s Home, St Dominic’s Children’s Home, St Michael’s School for Boys and St Jude’s School for Girls.
The Inspector of Orphanages, who is the Chief Probation Officer, has no responsibility for all the other homes that “well meaning” persons operate all over the country. There are no standards set for operating these homes. There is no monitoring of their operations and there is no knowledge of their graduates’ whereabouts and occupations that would enable planners to provide resources for future intervention and support.
When complaints have been made against some homes they come to the attention of the Ministry of Social Development and some of these homes are ordered to be shut down. Many homes for children are known to engage in practices that do nothing to enhance the well being of the children they shelter and they never come to the attention of those in authority.
The police are the only first responders with the authority to remove children when there is a report of abuse or abandonment. In the event that the police are unable to investigate reports of abuse or abandonment in a timely manner the alleged victims are left in their discomfort that much longer. If a police team should rescue a child in a high risk situation at an inconvenient hour of the night the child has to stay in the police station until it is time for a court appearance after nine the next morning. Police stations are equipped to house law enforcement officers and crime suspects, but not children in need of love.
It is only because of the personal kindness of the police officers that provision is made for food and if necessary clothing for the court appearance. Moreover, the Police Service has to use whatever resources are available when there is no state- sponsored shelter so the child or children are invariably dropped off at a children’s home in the community before and after the magistrate has ruled. Getting a child into the state-run home is a long administrative process that requires in-depth investigation and a probation officer’s report. What happens to the child in the interim?
There is an urgent need for the establishment of convenient /discreet/dedicated children’s crisis centres staffed by trained individuals who are accountable in law. Important decisions in a child’s life are left up to the personal interest, knowledge, case- load and experience of the social worker or police officer who has had the encounter with the child.
In addition to the announcement to build children’s homes, we need a fully thought through policy that guarantees the welfare of children at risk. The work may have been done already. Will the government construct homes before the promulgation of Act 65 of 2000 and regulations to govern their operations?
• Gloria Henry was a minister
in the NAR administration of 1986-1991