THE FATE of the four children who were in the house in which police caught two wanted fugitives last week is a test case for the State’s child support systems. Unfortunately, the signs are not good. It is only natural for there to be a degree of delay in any bureaucratic state process. However, that up to this week the children, who are between the ages of two and 16, were still at a police station does not give the impression of a system that is working as expeditiously as it should.
These are sensitive matters and the children are entitled to privacy. However, senior police sources said the Children’s Authority had yet to find a place to house them up to this week.
“Government passed legislation and put policies in place but there is no infrastructure,” one police officer told Newsday. “Nothing has been set aside for this and the unit depends on NGOs to take these children off our hands.”
None of this will come as a surprise to those who have followed the legal action taken against the State over the implementation of child laws. Litigation in the High Court has confirmed what workers on the ground will tell you: the State has struggled to keep up with the laws, to the extent that serious questions arise over the suitability of some residences as well as the availability of resources generally.
We cannot have half of a Children’s Authority. Laws have been passed, but vital infrastructure is needed, especially in the context of the large number of matters agencies now have to deal with. Since the inception of the Children’s Authority in 2015, there have been more than 55,000 calls for child protection, of which 13,500 required intervention.
Equally unsatisfactory is the fact that civil society organisations and religious bodies, too, are struggling to keep up with the numbers. One example of an entity that deals with children that is struggling to stay afloat is the Corpus Christi Carmelite Sisters. A report published yesterday detailed how the Carmelites are finding it increasingly difficult to continue running their 12 children’s homes and nurseries. They are currently experiencing a shortfall of $1.95 million. Over 1,167 children are potentially affected, according to a review of the number of children in institutions linked to this entity.
So that in addition to the need for a review of the structures of state agencies when it comes to handling emergency cases like the one that arose last Friday, there is a dire need for the State to audit available resources as well as levels of subvention funding to religious and civil society bodies that take up the slack. Additionally, the business community and the general public should be encouraged to help as much as possible to fill this half-empty glass.