The Malta Independent 5 December 2023, Tuesday
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More children in foster care than in other placements in the past two years – government

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 19 November 2023, 09:30 Last update: about 16 days ago

The number of children in foster care has surpassed the number of children living in other placements, the Ministry for Social Policy and Children’s Rights has said.

The Malta Independent on Sunday sent questions to the Social Policy Ministry following an interview this newspaper had conducted with a clinical psychologist and former child protection officer, where some shocking revelations came out with regards to children who have been abused.

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Dr Roberta Attard had said that there is a situation of “utter panic” within the services, as there is a "huge" lack of therapeutic facilities and permanent residences for victims of child abuse in Malta, and nowhere to place children who should not remain in their normal environment.

In reply, the ministry said that within the scenario of working with families, the first fundamental notion that has to be considered is that every intervention is focused on family preservation, as each child has the right to live with their own biological family, wherever this is possible.

A spokesperson for the Ministry said that the first option will not be to remove the children from home, since this intervention itself further enhances the trauma experienced by children and young people.

“The Directorate for Child Protection Services seeks alternative placements other than residential care or foster care whenever possible as stipulated by Chapter 602 whereby it demands that other family members are also considered if they are deemed as safe enough to protect the wellbeing of the minor. One has to keep in mind that when a minor needs to be moved out into alternative care, a placement is sought according to his/her needs,” the spokesperson said.

She continued that government has also entered into a number of PSP (Public Social Partnerships) agreements, investing millions of euros with NGOs and Church-run organisations to help them enhance their standards of care and offer more opportunities for placements.

Apart from this, the government has also opened seven new community homes for adolescents, two residences to support young adults and is in the process of strengthening these homes through the introduction of more community homes for young people.

With regards to child abuse, the spokesperson said that the Directorate for Child Protection Services holds regular meetings with relevant entities such as education, health, police and other services involved in addressing the wellbeing of children, to monitor and evaluate the situation at hand while also investigating cases and taking the necessary decisions to ensure that children are safe.

“Furthermore, through the CAP 602 law, we have also introduced Mandatory Reporting whereby professionals in formal or informal settings in contact with children are obliged by law to report knowledge or strong suspicions of child maltreatment,” she said.

Additionally, back in 2021 there was also an amend in the time-barring factor, in order for abuse victims to have more time to report the alleged crime.

The spokesperson said that there are also other forms of resources and help, which are either offered by the Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS) or are being financed by government, which include the National Helpline 179, Kellimni.com and Therapeutic and Community Services.

The Ministry was also asked about foster services, which according to Attard, are extremely difficult to come by in Malta.

“These past two years, for the first time, we have seen the number of children in foster care surpass the number of children living in other placements,” the spokesperson said.

“While we understand that fostering is indeed a vocation, the Directorate for Alternative Care offers intense training and support to foster carers and constant support for all their needs. Moreover, changes in the Child Protection Act have increased more permanency cases during the last three years. In fact, the court has issued 144 decrees of permanency and these children are now living in stable environments,” she said.

The spokesperson continued that it is important to note that for two consecutive years, there was an increase in the foster care allowance.

“The introduction of the new law also ensured that wherever is in the best interest of the children, stability is sought for the well-being of the children involved,” she said.

The Ministry was also asked about social work not being considered as an attractive profession in Malta.

On this, the spokesperson said that one has to start by noting that the caring professions are on a decline.

“This is a global phenomenon, which is being experienced not only in Malta, but also in the rest of the world. As a government, we have recently announced an increase in stipends for students of social work in order to attract more students to follow the social work course,” the spokesperson said.

Additionally, the spokesperson said that government, through the FSWS and other entities, is giving the assurance of a job as soon as a student graduates from university.

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