Foster parents kept away by a system where kids are not yet at its heart

Social worker Daniella Zerafa says before children are taken out of home care, the biological family are given multiple chances to remedy the domestic situation. When a decision is reached, 'the child would have suffered significantly'

Malta’s fostered children are suffering from uncertainty when taken in by their carers, because of a complex decision-making process.

Dr Daniella Zerafa, a social worker who has fostered three children in the last six years, says children considered for foster care are not yet at the centre of the decision taken to move these children into stable homes.

“Although removing a child from their biological family should be the last resort, they should not suffer the consequences of waiting… Children should be in the centre, their voice should not be muffled by any other voices in this process,” Zerafa said, in a doctorate she presented to a fostering conference where she urged policy-makers to give foster children permanence, rather than constant change and questioning.

Specifically, before children are finally taken out of home care, their biological family are given numerous chances to remedy their domestic situation. “When a decision is finally reached, the child would have suffered significantly,” she said.

“The study suggests that these assessments need to be made early on in the trajectory of the child’s life in social services… Children are individuals with individual rights. If something is threatening those individual rights, the State should intervene in time for the child’s rights to be safeguarded and for that child to be able to move through childhood and life without significant harm.”

Zerafa said she wants policy-makers to allow foster carers to be safe ports for these children. “Help children build permanent relationships of safety and security rather than continuous questioning.”

Zerafa called out what she described as constant waiting and questioning that comes with being in foster care. “These children want a real second chance, not a token second chance,” she said.

The process of placing a child into foster care might take years, leaving the child to struggle while waiting for progress. On top of that, some children are not placed into care because there are not enough foster carers and residential homes around.

“How long are we going to wait before a child should settle down in permanent foster care?” Zerafa asked. “Permanency is not only about making sure that children stay in foster care; permanency is also about taking timely decisions for children to return home if that is in their interest.”

Even when placed in care, the child is questioned on a six-month review basis, even though the child makes it clear they do not want to return to their biological partners.

“They never settle down, and so neither do the biological parents or foster carers,” Zerafa said. “No human being, adult or child, functions well in an unstable situation.”

Zerafa is seeking that policy-makers allow a decision on permanency to be made after 24 months in foster care. The wording of the Child Protection Act in fact only suggests that such a decision be “considered”, rather than effectively taken.

“While social workers do have the opportunity to make a decision, they often have various cases at a time due to the lack of social workers. Because of this, social workers are often not too familiar with the case and so cannot make the decision.

“This creates a lot of instability for the children, which leaves its mark on the child’s. These children are living on ever shifting ground.”

Zerafa also insisted that while there is a lack of foster carers, “the system doesn’t encourage people to become foster carers.”

“People often ask, ‘Does the situation ever settle down?’ If we could say yes, there would be more people interested in becoming foster parents. I think that if people knew that the system will provide for the children to settle down, it would make the biggest difference,” Zerafa insisted.

At the International Foster Care Organisation’s conference where Zerafa has just presented her views on the need for permanence in foster children’s lives, the President of the Republic Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca echoes her concerns.

“We must remember that each decision which is taken, regarding the well-being of our children, has direct impact on the overall well-being of our communities, and our societies too. We must also remember that children’s rights are, fundamentally, human rights,” Coleiro Preca said.

“Our children are individuals with a voice, and their voices must be heard,” she said. “Unfortunately, we are far from being able to confidently state that all our children are really being safeguarded, at every stage of their journey through care.”

Source : http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/81944/foster_parents_kept_away_by_a_system_where_kids_are_not_yet_at_its_heart#.WgRO_onSWEd




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