Nedburn Thaffe, Gleaner Writer
A new call is being made by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness for the Government to consider privatising children's homes and other state-care facilities, a move proponents believe could ease the State's financial burden and improve the quality of care in such facilities.
Addressing a divisional council meeting of the Eastern Canada and Caribbean districts of Kiwanis International yesterday, Holness said while the onus should be on the State to provide certain services, the reality was that the State "may not be the best agency for providing those services".
Holness told the gathering at The Mico University College Counselling Centre in Kingston that, just like in the education system where children with certain disabilities are educated outside the public system, there is a need to consider applying the same method for "care in general for the less vulnerable".
"We recognised that the Ministry of Education built a bureaucracy that, as huge and hard to manoeuvre as it is, could not provide that personal care that was necessary for an autistic child or a child that suffers any form of the spectrum of learning disabilities," said Holness, who held the education portfolio under the previous Jamaica Labour Party administration.
"That requires special attention, personal care, a specialised environment and what we did was support those persons wanting to give, wanting to work, so that they could provide the service."
He proposed that the Government could "contract out those facilities they already own and instead of them directly running, take that budget under a framework and provide funding to persons genuinely wanting to volunteer, genuinely wanting to give; whether it is the Church, Kiwanis or whatever."
Holness said this was something that his party was looking at "very closely".
"I am certainly willing to develop a policy and regulatory framework to encourage and support faith-based organisation partnership, partnership with voluntary organisations such as the Kiwanis and those who are in what we call the third sector which is not necessarily voluntary, not necessarily business, but they are in what we call social entrepreneurs," he said.
Holness' comments come less than a week after Youth Minister Lisa Hanna, in response to a proposal from Mustard Seed Communities, said she did not have the authority to remove children from the custody of the State and place them in the care of private groups.
Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, who heads the Mustard Seed Communities, had written to Hanna last year, asking her to approve an arrangement that would allow a group led by his organisation to take on the care and rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law.
In his letter, Ramkissoon also asked that the budgetary subvention in place to care for these wards be turned over to his group to help cover the costs involved.
Ramkissoon, whose suggestion followed the reported suicide of 16-year-old Vanessa Wint at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in November, has since claimed the minister only provided a lukewarm response.
Last week, Hanna argued that under Jamaica's existing legislative framework, the responsibility for children in "different situations" is spread across several ministries and state agencies.
She described the proposal as "well-intentioned", but sought to make it clear that she was not authorised to "unilaterally commit government buildings and recurrent expenditure on behalf of other ministries".
The minister, while stating that proposals such as Ramkissoon's were appreciated, stressed that such a change in policy could not happen overnight.
While still in office in 2011, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding had said his administration was exploring the idea of privatising the country's prisons and children's home. Golding had said it was costing the country about $1 million to house each prisoner and another $1 million to care for each ward of the state.
Full Caption: Renisha Daley, governor for Key Club Jamaica District, pins Opposition Leader Andrew Holness (left) while Governor Peter Tudisco (second left), Eastern Division Canada, and Lt Governor Charles Brown of the Eastern Canada and the Caribbean District 23 look on during an international divisional council meeting of the Eastern Canada and Caribbean districts of Kiwanis International at The Mico University College Counselling Centre on Manhattan Road in Kingston yesterday. - Rudolph Brown/Photographer