Sun | Jul 22, 2018

CDA tells woman she can't sue on injured foster daughter's behalf

Published:Sunday | March 1, 2015 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Inez Burnett preparing the school uniform of one her children.

It is her love for children that drove Inez Burnett to foster eight of them over the years, and it is this same love that is pushing her to seek justice for her youngest foster child, who was hit by a bus close to three years ago.

Burnett's 15-year-old foster daughter was forced to spend almost two months in the hospital and is now physically disabled as a result of being hit by the bus, which is owned by a private hospital in Kingston.

Despite assuming all the responsibilities of a biological mother, the 56-year-woman said she was told by the Child Development Agency (CDA) that as a foster mother, she could not pursue legal action against the hospital on her child's behalf.

However, as the years go by, Burnett is concerned that not enough effort is being made by the government agency to seek justice for the child.

"I am not getting any answers that I think I should be hearing from the CDA, and now we are going to three years, and if I don't go and get miserable, I don't hear anything, so I have to keep pressing," said Burnett.

Burnett now has two foster children living with her and she feels that it is her responsibility to defend their interests as she does the interest of her biological child.

"I will fight for any one of them rights and I think I have the right. They are going to say they give you these children, you do not own them and we are not the biological parents, but yet still we have these children," she argued.

"If it takes me another 100 years to fight for this child's rights, I will fight for it," she said.




Currently, the child is not walking properly and has poor vision as a result of the accident, which took place on Hope Road while she walking with her elder sister.

Now, the 15-year-old wants to be properly compensated so she will be able to take care of her medical needs if she chooses to go on her own at age 18.

Burnett fostered her first child at 21 years old and has helped to raise close to 40 children. This includes her biological daughter, her foster children, and also the children of her brother, sisters and residents in her community who turn to her for help.

The $4,000 the Government gives monthly for each foster child can barely last a week, but this has not deterred her in her efforts to care for them. Like many foster parents in the country, she struggles to provide lunch money, bus fare, food, clothing, and maintain a shelter for her children on the paltry sum, especially now that she and her husband are unemployed.

"I don't know how it works sometimes, but it works because we try to let it work. It's not what you do, it's how you do it, and each of my children get their good meal. That is what I do best. I am a good cook," she boasted.

The small stipend given to foster parents continues to be a deterrent to many persons, and president of the Kingston and St Andrew Foster Parent Association, Shari Tomlinson, said numerous attempts to get the Government to increase this amount have been unsuccessful.

"It is in light of the country's economic climate why we have to ensure that our children are given the resources to succeed. There seems to be no shortage of funds, or funds are found to do what is important to our ministers. It really is just a matter of priority," she told The Sunday Gleaner.

The group wants the monthly stipend to be increased to $10,000 for each child and has made this and several other suggestions in a proposal submitted to the CDA in 2012. However, Tomlinson noted that changes in the agency's CEOs continue to interrupt attempts to have the proposal adequately addressed.

"The national minimum wage established by the Government provides for each worker a sum of at least $4,600 per week, which is $18,400 monthly. In a survey of our parents, we found that the average daily cost of providing adequate food and transportation for a child amounted to $1,200, which is approximately $36,000 per month," reads a section of the proposal.

Fortunately for Burnett, her other foster children, her brother, sister and nieces and nephews have been assisting her to finance those children she has now. Her first foster daughter is a dental nurse in England and most of the other children she raised all have successful careers and some are living overseas. Her biological daughter is currently studying at a local university to become a registered nurse.

"What I love about my children is that they try to help each other. When you have, you share; that's how I teach them. Learn to share!" she said.

Burnett explained that the CDA's decision to give her an additional $24,000 monthly has helped to offset some of her injured daughter's medical expenses, but with her having to pay as much as $10,000 monthly in taxi fare to take her daughter to and from school, getting by each day is still a struggle.




The foster mother also has her own medical challenges to deal with. She has lost more than 50 per cent of her vision in recent times due to retinal detachment and was told by an eye specialist that she would need $450,000 to correct this problem. Her poor vision resulted in her having to give up her job as an interior designer four years ago.

"The doctor is saying that the surgery has to be done right away," she said.

"My family members who support me and help me with these children, they say they are going to try and help. You know, things is a bit slow now, but I am still seeking and hoping," she explained.

Despite the chall-enges in getting assistance from the Government, she is always encouraging individuals who can foster a child to do so.