A child's worth ...

Published: Sunday | September 11, 2011 Comments 0

... Gov't spend of $5,000 per week on children in state care considered paltry

Tyrone Reid, Enterprise Reporter

Prompted by the mediocre conditions with which children in the care of the State are forced to grapple, the Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) is calling on the Government to increase the amount of money it spends on each child being housed in a home or place of safety.

The Government currently spends $5,000 per week on each child.

Gloria Thompson, policy officer at the Office of the OCA, who believes the sum needs to be increased forthwith, said the "meagre" spend was partly responsible for the low-quality care meted out to the children in the institutions, which are regulated by the Child Development Agency (CDA).

"It is paltry. The figure is low and we need to look at it. The care provided is really mediocre, especially in the public homes.

"It is inadequate and based on the rising cost of living ... the figure needs to be revised," said Thompson.

She added: "The relevant persons need to get around the table again. They need to look at the required nutrition, care needs and associated costs. Look at it and do a realistic budget," Thompson urged.

The OCA policy officer said poor funding could partly explain why the children are always begging, and is calling on Government to adjust the figure to keep apace with the rate of inflation.

Carla Francis Edie, head of the CDA, told The Sunday Gleaner that increasing the funds allotted to the homes is outside of the agency's remit. "The CDA can't get up and increase the subvention. It is a decision that has to be made by the Cabinet," she said.

Francis Edie admitted that the current financial support provided by the Government was not sufficient, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the current economic climate.

Francis Edie did not want to reveal if she had made a submission to the Bruce Golding-led Cabinet for an increase in the $5,000-per-child subvention to the children's homes and places of safety.

Rashida St. Juste, public relations and communications manager in the CDA, explained that the "spend per child for government-run residential childcare facilities is approximately $70,000 per month and for privately operated residential childcare facilities the Government provides a grant of approximately $20,000 per month for each child".

The Government of Jamaica operates two children's homes and eight places of safety, while there is a total of 50 privately operated childcare facilities on the island.

"Factored into the $70,000 are administrative and operating costs ... . Aside from the $20,000 grant per month for each child in private facilities, the CDA supports wards by giving bursaries, covering medical expenses, and other miscellaneous costs," noted St. Juste.

Expensive venture

She added: "We have first-hand knowledge of how expensive it is to run a facility, so we know that it is difficult, particularly in this economic climate. We really do sympathise with the private facilities, which is why we have, in previous years, advocated for an increase in the grant."

St. Juste explained further that the cost of $70,000 per month per child includes administrative costs relating to the parish, head and regional offices. As a result, each facility actually receives approximately $60,000 per month for each child.

In addition, St. Juste pointed out that privately operated facilities have their own sources of funding that supplement the government grant.

"In order for them to be licensed, they must not only state their sources of funding, but also submit financial statements, which are taken into consideration in the review process," said St. Juste.

The last increase of the grant to non-government sector providers was approved by Cabinet in 2008. At that time, the grant was increased from $3,000 to $5,000 per week for each child.

According to St. Juste, high operational costs are among the main reasons for the Public Sector Transformation Unit's recommendation to divest children's homes.

"Since these recommendations have been approved by Cabinet, this mandate may present an opportunity for the case to be made for a significant increase in the grant to private facilities," she said.

tyrone.reid@gleanerjm.com

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