Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Hundreds of Jamaicans remain in the care of the State even after turning 18, as abandonment by families haunts them from infancy through adulthood.
Figures from the Ministry of Youth and Culture, the umbrella ministry for the Child Development Agency (CDA), indicate that 354 adults remained in state care, 76 of whom were able-bodied, and 278 mentally and intellectually challenged.
According to the CDA, the oldest person remaining in the State's care is 47, but has the psychological age of a child.
Though these individuals do not remain in children's homes, the Government spends more than $6 million each year, through the CDA, to contribute to their care.
"It was a Cabinet decision that determined that once children get to age 18 years, and had physical challenges or special needs, that the State should still take care of them," said Rosalee Gage-Grey, acting chief executive officer of the CDA, as she responded to questions at a Gleaner Editors' Forum held last Friday at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices.
Gage-Grey was part of a team headed by Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna.
"They have nowhere else to go," said Hanna, whose ministry has portfolio responsibility for the CDA. "We can't just abandon them too."
Said Gage-Grey: "So we still provide the subvention for them, wherever they are placed."
Providing a breakdown of the numbers, the CDA said 50 of the 76 able-bodied were males. Another 158 mentally and intellectually challenged males and 120 females were also in the system.
Based on the status of the individuals, they are transferred to other homes which can best cater to their needs, the CDA explained.
Accordingly, some are placed with Brothers of the Poor - a Christian ministry run by Father Richard Ho Lung - as well as other privately run institutions.The Government gives these homes an average of $18,000 per year to keep and care for each ward, whether they remain in public or privately run homes, said the CDA.
The agency said the individuals were assessed and enrolled in programmes best suited for their abilities.
"They are usually enrolled in either a skills-training area, such as HEART/NTA and programmes, including cosmetology. Others attend tertiary institutions and others sit external examinations," Gage-Grey pointed out. These examinations include Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects done by secondary-school students in Jamaica and across the Caribbean.
According to Gage-Grey, the agency assists as best as possible.
"Those who can are assisted in the main. Some are in foster situations, but they still get a subvention. Some families are able to facilitate them at home, and are given some support; and in one instance, two staff are paid to take care of an individual on a rotating basis," she noted.
She said currently there are "transitional living arrangements with some individuals, especially those in tertiary situations".
"The Muirton home in Man-chioneal, Portland, is to be used to provide transitional living arrangement and screening for placement to happen shortly."
The ministry said in the case of juvenile correctional facilities, there is no one over age 17 years.
"The oldest person within the system is 17 years old," stated information provided by Mabel Morris, director of juvenile services at the Department of Correctional Services.
According to Morris, "Depending on the status of the case, they are repatriated to the adult correctional centres or returned home."