Foster fears - Is the State failing foster families?
Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Jamaica's Corporate Area-based Foster Parent Association has declared that the State-sponsored programme designed to aid children in need of care and protection is failing.
In an open letter to Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, the Kingston and St Andrew Foster Parent Association (KSAFPA) charged that the government is neglecting the psychological and socio-economic needs of the nation's most vulnerable children.
"We really do have a system that is failing or has failed, and we haven't really addressed the issues that lead to the need for foster parenting or the support systems that would minimise a repeat or need for foster parenting," Shari Tomlinson, president of the KSAFPA, told The Sunday Gleaner.
According to Tomlinson, the State does not lack the resources to deal with the problems but there is no will to make the necessary changes.
"It is ironic and sad that funds are found to finance many other things that are not immediately important - while that which is truly important is neglected or given scant regard," said Tomlinson.
She called for a system-wide overhaul of the Government's foster-parenting programme which is administered by the Child Development Agency (CDA).
According to Tomlinson, even though persons who volunteer to become foster parents are given basic parenting training by the CDA, many are still unable to cope with psychological needs of the children placed in their care.
Another foster parent - who spoke with The Sunday Gleaner on condition of anonymity - questioned if the current foster-care arrangement is working and alleged that it is plagued by inadequate home visits and follow ups by agents of the State.
The foster parent echoed Tomlinson's call for system-wide social support interventions as well as a robust support mechanism for those already in foster care.
In the meantime, Tomlinson argued that the relative silence of foster parents through the years may have proven to be more detrimental to their cause.
"There are issues that foster low self-esteem, feelings of abandonment, lack of self-worth, rejection, depression, emotional and mental instability in many foster children.
"The list of emotional and psychological problems that I have cited are by no means exhaustive. Of course, these issues may often lead to angry and violent behaviour which are usually played out in school, at home and then in the society at large," said Tomlinson.
She further argued that once a child is in the State's care it speaks to a breakdown in their family or social structure and requires psychological intervention at the outset.
"It is therefore not difficult to deduce that children who are in State care must be in need of therapy whether or not they are currently displaying antisocial behaviour.
"This assessment is not usually made and a child is placed in foster care, in a children's home or delinquency unit without addressing the cause of the behaviour. Hence, we have some children who are maybe apathetic, angry, suicidal and violent," she said.
The foster parent association has sounded a warning to the Government that its members will no longer stand by and watch as the State fails to do its job.
"We intend to have a voice and will speak out on all the issues that affect our children, be they in State care, delinquent or otherwise. Our voice is not just a bag a talk, it is underpinned with action, and that gives us the right to speak," said Tomlinson.
The association also charged that the Government is still failing to adequately provide for the children it has placed in the care of foster parents.
"In the case of foster parents, we are not even given resources to ensure that the children in our care are able to eat for a week. Being a foster parent is indeed a labour of love," read a section of the letter.
The Government provides a stipend of $4,000 per month for each child, which is paid every two months, but foster parents claim that the payment is generally late.
The money is expected to cover all costs related to the child during this period.
"We note with interest also that in developed countries, caregivers are given adequate resources and support structures are in place to ensure that children in the system can be properly cared for," argued the association.
Tomlinson charged that all the blame should not be poured on the CDA as its officials are often given the proverbial basket to carry water.
"The Child Development Agency does have some dedicated and loyal persons working on behalf of the nation's children; however, it must be difficult for the agency to be effective with the limited resources it is given.
"However, the CDA has been an executive agency for some time now and there has been little or no improvement in the services it offers."
When our news team contacted Carla-Francis Edie, chief executive officer of the CDA, she said, "If the programme is failing, it simply means that they are failing as foster parents, and that is not the case." Edie also pointed out that she was aware of the challenges facing the foster-care programme, which is why her team recently held meetings with foster parent associations across the island to get first-hand knowledge of the issues. As a result of those meetings, she said, the CDA has decided to take steps to improve the foster-care programme.