Editorial | Place of safety?
SOS Children's Village, Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, and Glenhope Place of Safety have all had infernos over the years. Walker's Place of Safety, which, like the others, falls under the umbrella of residential child-protection facility, is the latest to be swallowed up by flames, leaving two lives in the ashes. We have no doubt that without the quick action of the dedicated staff, the casualties could have been higher.
After each incident, the country pauses to absorb the shock, politicians express sadness while hugging survivors, and then there is another fire.
Investigations are under way to determine the cause of this latest blaze at Walker's Place of Safety, but it seems clear that enough attention is not being paid to ensure the protection of children who have been placed in the care of the State.
What might a well-run place of safety look like? Here's an idea: One that is equipped with workable and serviced fire extinguishers, where there are regular inspections and drills by the fire department. The staff may not be able to prevent a fire, but they and their charges can be well prepared to guarantee efficient and seamless evacuation if and when necessary.
Been here before
We are not breaking new ground here, because the 2003 Report of the Keating Commission that looked into conditions in children's homes and places of safety made 40 recommendations, including how to prepare for disasters of this nature.
The Keating Report commissioned by then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson was supposed to be a general guide on how to address the issues affecting these state-care facilities. That has been buoyed by various audits, studies and reviews. The last one described as comprehensive was undertaken in 2013.
Administrators who have welcomed these recommendations have publicly lamented the lack of funds, which they claim is hampering their ability to deliver proper care. In September 2013, Government increased by 20 per cent the subvention for each ward of the State, but administrators say with the rising cost of living, it is still not enough.
Many of the privately run homes, therefore, rely heavily on private-sector donations and the benevolence of persons of goodwill. It is the Government that has overall responsibility for child-protection services and cannot shirk its role of caregiver for children who cannot be looked after in their homes or who run afoul of the law.
So are the children in state care being provided with the best treatment for their emotional, physical, mental and social development?
Jamaicans for Justice, one of the country's foremost advocacy groups, does not think so. The organisation has looked at the sector in the past and found inefficiency and inadequacy of the monitoring system that ultimately contributed to a lack of follow-up or corrective action.
We acknowledge that institutional care poses a range of problems for children and their caregivers. At the minimum, parents and guardians expect that administrators of facilities such as Walker's have safety measures in place for their children. No parent should have to bear the agony of burying a child. And certainly no parent expects that his/her child will die in a so-called place of safety.