Nadisha Hunter, Gleaner Writer
More Jamaicans are becoming foster parents, according to data from the Child Development Agency (CDA).
Statistics reveal that as at April 2008, there were 805 foster parents across the island, up from the 785 who were in the system up to April 2007.
The CDA, which is responsible for children who become wards of the State, aims at providing them with a stable family structure.
According to Rashida St Juste, public relations and communication manager, a strategic objective of the CDA is to reduce the number of children in residential childcare facilities by increasing the number of placements in such programmes as foster care. There are 2,592 children in childcare facilities across the island and 1,159 in foster care.
Foster parents are expected to provide a safe haven, as well as meet the needs of children who became wards of the State as a result of abuse, orphanhood, abandonment, neglect or poverty.
However, while foster parents are expected to contribute to children's development, the State provides a monthly allowance towards the maintenance of each foster child, as well as fees for clothing, books, school fees and medical bills, where necessary. St Juste said not all foster parents opt to take this assistance.
Due to the responsibilities that accompany being a foster parent, St Juste said, they are not allowed to officially foster more than four children.
Foster care in Jamaica has remained vibrant over the years.
St Juste said, "Many of us know somebody who raised a niece, a neighbour, the child of a close family friend and we never really thought of that arrangement as foster care. But it is something that Jamaicans have been doing for many years (formally and informally) and many children have benefited."
Not everyone, however, is qualified to become a foster parent. Persons between the ages of 25 and 65 are ideally selected, but consideration may be given to persons over 65 years, particularly if the individual is a relative of the child and can demonstrate strong family support.
"A foster parent can be a single individual or a couple. Placement with a single man, however, is only done if the applicant is related to the child or under other exceptional circumstances," says St Juste.
Living by cda rules
Parents participating in this programme must abide by the rules and regulations. The CDA, said St Juste, ensures that foster parents live up to expectations. They must be willing to be supervised by a social worker from the agency, who will make regular visits to the home to determine that the child's well-being is being maintained.
Among the rules that they must conform to are allowing the foster child to maintain contact with his or her biological parents or relatives, facilitating the reintegration of the child once a recommendation to that effect has been made by the social worker.