Claudine Housen, Staff Reporter
As the Government scrambles to find homes for the more than 2,000 orphans in its care, the Jamaica Aids Support for Life, (JASL) is urging stakeholders to remember that children
living with HIV need foster care as well.
While noting there has been much progress in the creation of programmes to facilitate the reduction of mother-to-child transmission and antiretroviral treatment for children living with HIV, JASL members are contending that the ministry now needs to take it to the next step. They are suggesting that the Health Ministry assist the process of locating suitable family environments for HIV-infected children through techniques such as increased information dissemination and perhaps better financial incentives for their foster parents.
"I think the society can do more for children living with HIV but I think they need to be educated to know that these children still need the same care and support that children that are negative need," said JAS nurse Dawnette Wellington.
Giving an example of the desperate need for more information as it relates to these children, nurse Wellington recalled a situation where the mother of an HIV+ expectant mother asked whether they (mother and grandmother) should take the child home after birth and how they should treat the child on reaching home.
"More education needs to be disseminated to the public in general. Even persons that are positive need this information as well," Nurse Wellington said. "The service is there. There are social workers in the clinics, but sometimes persons are not aware that they can go to the social workers to access this kind of information."
She said another major deterrent for some persons willing to foster children living with HIV was the lack of financial support.
"Up to yesterday I got a call from a lady, an in-law, and she wanted to foster two children whose parents died from HIV and she is unable to afford it," Nurse Wellington said. "I know foster parents get a 'smalls' from the Government but it is very minimal. Some persons are willing, but are financially not able to. The Government needs to look at the stipend and probably make the medical and educational support available more affordable for these persons."
Under the Child Development Agency's foster care programme, persons who opt to care for orphans are paid a monthly allowance of $ 8,000 for clothing in the first instance and a monthly allowance of $ 4,000 per month per child.
There are currently 11 children living with HIV who have been successfully placed into foster care across the island with the help of the JAS, but so far, there has been no successful placement of such children into foster care on the part of the Government. According to a Health Ministry report, as of June 2006, the number of HIV-infected children in residential care facilities - children's homes or places of
safety - stood at 56.