Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
The continuing problem of children in adult lock-ups; the 766 cases of sexual abuse of minors reported to the police; and the 41 children murdered all blotted Jamaica's copybook for its treatment of children last year.
But coming into the new year the minister with responsibility for children affairs, Lisa Hanna, who faced the heat over her stewardship of the ministry last year is adamant that major changes will come in 2013 including special attention to children in the care of the State.
According to Hanna the national policy for children developed in 1997 is to be reviewed this year to facilitate the preparation of an updated policy, reflecting new and emerging issues affecting children.
But the human-rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) says the ghost of the past nine years since the well-received Keating Report will haunt the ministry's efforts.
Executive director of JFJ Carolyn Gomes, told The Sunday Gleaner that the failure of the Government to implement the report since 2003 will continue to impact negatively on our children.
"There is a lack of clarity on what has not been implemented, as there are varying stories at varying times. In fact, the Government has reported that the report was almost fully implemented, but there are still children in the system who have yet to be assessed," said Gomes.
Transferred from home-to-home
According to Gomes, there are still children in the system who are being transferred from home to home without proper care plans and documentation.
"There are still children in the system who are being sent out at age 18 years who are clearly not ready to be sent out, and many with no place to go," she stated.
Hanna, last week, announced the appointment of Sadie Keating whose seminal report on the status of children in state care is widely accepted.
Among Keating's recommendations in 2003 was that a halfway house should be established for young adults who are wards of the state who must leave at age 18 years when they are legally adults.
Hanna said Keating's assignment will help to "fast track the implementation of outstanding recommendations of the 2003 Report on children."
Keating came to national attention after she was selected to chair a committee mandated by former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson to conduct a review of all children's homes and places of safety in Jamaica.
Now that Keating is back in the system, Hanna argued that it underscores the Government's commitment to being faithful to its mandate to ensure the well-being of children in need of care and protection.
But Gomes wants the Government to go further this year.
"We still have children in lock-ups. There is lack of clarity in the Child Care and Protection Act as to who have responsibility for the children when they come into conflict with the law.
"A distinction must be made whether it's the Ministry of Justice, the Child Development Agency (CDA), the Ministry of National Security or the Ministry of Youth and Culture."
According to Gomes, when children come in conflict with the law, the CDA cannot "just wash its hands of them".
Gomes said her biggest wish for 2013 is to see serious consideration given to building a resident psychiatric facility to treat juveniles who are mentally ill.
"There are many young people in the system with mental-health problems. There is no facility for residential assessment where they can get the proper medical care."
Increasing therapeutic medical care
But Hanna, a first-time minister, said this year emphasis will be on "increasing the therapeutic medical care of children at the prevention and rehabilitation levels".
"The ministry is particularly concerned about the increased reports of abuse and the related mental, psychological and emotional trauma and illnesses being presented in children, particularly those who come into state care and in contact with the justice system."
The youth minister added that her 2013 plans include the development and enforcement of protocols for the delivery of services for the care and protection of children in contact with the justice system.
Other 2013 agenda items for Hanna's ministry include the "review and development of recommendation of amendments to the Child Care and Protection Act and attendant regulations and the Adoption Of Children Act.
The ministry is also planning to "create a model place of safety to provide therapeutic medical care for children on "Remand and Correctional Orders" by the court particularly for issues related to "Care and Protection" and "Uncontrollable Behaviour".