– programme set for July launch
Leroy (not his real name) knew only the streets. Where he and his parents and siblings rested their heads at night was on whichever street night caught them; a lifestyle that afforded him and his siblings no form of schooling.
Today, almost two years after he was picked up off the street by employees of the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, Leroy is enrolled in school and doing as well as any child. He now lives in a home with many other children who came from similar circumstances and is a candidate for foster care.
Leroy and the other children will soon be given the opportunity to be part of real homes instead of living in state-operated homes or privately-owned orphanages.
According to Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Priya Manickchand, her ministry is in the process of setting up the foster care programme which is expected to be launched in the third week of July.
Some of the children who are up for foster care were taken off the streets by the ministry or even from homes where they were left alone. There is the story of a four-year-old who was left at home alone and was rescued by the ministry when a neighbour informed officials. Her mother had gone to the interior and even though she has contacted the ministry since the child was taken she has made no attempt to see the child.
“Right now we are matching children with [foster] parents and parents who we have identified or have come forward for this process are going through medical and police checks and other necessary things we need to do,” the minister told Stabroek News in a recent interview.
The minister explained that her ministry has to seek the permission of the court in relation to each child and the placement of them with families. She said it is an ongoing process but they intend to find suitable homes for as many children as they could even though there are some children – the older ones — who may never be placed.
“Some of these children will spend their remaining years as children in orphanages…” the minister said while noting that her ministry has been ensuring that orphanages maintain the minimum standard set out by the government. She said the government and its private partners have been working with homes to provide some of the things needed to reach the minimum standard and once they would have reached that standard they would be supervised to ensure they remain there.
There are some 25 standards and regulations that the homes are asked to comply with.
One such is hygiene, which includes that children are always clean and the home is spic and span and well maintained with specific cleaning routines. The homes are also asked to monitor the children’s health through regular medical checks and to provide a safe and secure physical environment for the children to cultivate a domestic, instead of an institutional, atmosphere, facilitating internal and external interaction. All homes should be registered and should co-operate with the Child Protection Agency in working to improve standards and delivery of care to children and should be overseen by a management committee that is accountable for the welfare and care of the children, among others.
“What we have found is that the children we have picked up, many of them from the streets or from other harmful situations, some of them can be reintegrated with their families. Those who can… we support those families so that they can take them back in,” the minister said.
She said many of the children taken off the street have been reintegrated and the ministry not only gives the families’ monthly financial support but also provides things such as beds to make the home conditions more comfortable for the children.
“And these children we don’t just put them back into the home, we monitor them continuously to make sure that they stay there and the parents are happy and the parents and child receive counselling.”
She said her ministry has realised that some of the children will never be able to return to the place they once called home and some their parents cannot even be found. It is those children who are going to be fostered.
The minister said by the end of the year it is hoped that 100 children would have been placed in foster homes even though she admitted that they were unable to meet their target of having 40 children placed by the end of the first quarter of this year.
“But the process has begun; the children have started bonding with the parents…”
The ministers said they had advertised for the biological parents of children under four years old to come forward (most of these children live at the Red Cross Convalescent home). She said some of the parents have come forward and it is believed that those children are good “candidates” for foster care.
She said some of the babies were left at hospitals, while others were taken to private homes or even at the ministry.
There are 23 homes in Guyana housing just about 600 children and out of that number 100 are in the three homes operated by the ministry.
And according to the minister, 65% of all the children in homes can be adopted. “We have studied each child, even those who are not in our homes; so all 600 we have case files on them,” the minister said.
She said while they have advertised for foster parents there were prospective parents who they knew wanted to foster children, while some met the children at the various churches they attend.
And while Leroy will be placed in a foster home and he is going to school, two of his siblings who are older will remain in the state-run home because of their ages and they have also opted not to attend school but are receiving skills training. Their parents are still on the streets and their mother has since given birth to another child.
The minister has not ruled out finding a home for the family even though the parents seldom visit the children.
Meanwhile, the minister said picking up children off the street is a continuous exercise and she pointed out that when schools are closed many children are found on the streets and officials would learn that they are actually sent there by their parents.
She stated that the Child Protection Bill is with a special select committee at Parliament and once that bill is passed many persons would be held liable for exposing children to various things, including persons who put children on the streets to beg.
And the minister said she has seen children who they picked up from the streets moving away from being vicious. “Children who were sharpening their toothbrushes to stab the matron…” are now “perfectly normal” and want to do well in school and compete with others even as they are exposed to other things such as piano and dance lessons.
She said they have had cases of children escaping and initially they have had the children under lockdown and escorted to different sections of the home but now, while there are rules, the children are not under stringent restrictions. They have also had to send two children to the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) because they repeatedly escaped.