Friday 22 March 2019

Children in care deserve better

This article first appeared in the Sunday edition of Malta Today

Just when you think human behaviour cannot get any worse, you read a story that leaves you speechless with disbelief and disgust. I am referring to the story of a “father” who took his six-year-old boy to prostitutes to allegedly prevent him from becoming a homosexual.

According to The Times report, “The accused would take a prostitute friend to Marsa, the court heard, but he sometimes also forced her to have sex with his son. The father also wanted to involve his son in joint sex acts with the woman. The man reasoned out that he did not want his son to be gay because he already had two gay cousins, the court heard.”

The matter was anonymously reported by the prostitutes themselves to Agenzija Appogg, who then called in the police.

Let us leave aside this man’s warped reasoning about what makes a boy “become gay” and what he believes is the appropriate “cure”. I just have no words for that. What really gets me is that this man thinks that the prospect of his son becoming gay is worse than deliberately corrupting him by exposing him to sexual depravity at such a young age. So, sexual abuse and pedophilia are OK. But being gay…no, Heavens, we can’t have that now can we?

It’s also the height of irony that the prostitutes seemed to have a greater sense of common decency than their client who, apparently, could not see why what he did was so obscene on so many levels. Or maybe he did know it was wrong but figured the prostitutes would not speak up. Thank God they did. I was going to rhetorically ask in what world would this ever be OK, but then I realized that it is in our world, in this Malta, that these very things are happening. There are regular cases of child sexual abuse being reported almost every week, with the culprit often being a family member or acquaintance.

Most of all, however, ever since I read the article I have been wondering what is to become of the child. According to the report, he is in a Home and his father has been prevented from making contact. I sincerely hope it stays that way. Although, according to the law which states that biological parents are entitled to have visitation rights with their children who have been taken away by a Care Order, who knows. This father may potentially be allowed to have supervised contact with his son further down the line. Who cares if the child has been forever psychologically scarred by the very person who was meant to protect him, right? (Hopefully, I am wrong and this will never happen.)

This is just one case, out of the many cases of children who end up in Children’s Homes indefinitely for different reasons. Resources all across the board are stretched in this sector with social workers suffering burnout, and foster carers who are willing to take on children dwindling in numbers due to various factors. I wonder if anyone is asking why foster carers are so difficult to find? It could be because it takes someone extremely altruistic to take on a child for a temporary period of time, knowing that they will have to “let them go” when it is time for the child to one day go back to their parents. It must be gut-wrenching to see a child you have loved and cared for, and whom you have treated as your own, leave, and that is why fostering is not for everyone. However, there are also other issues at play, where foster parents often feel that their opinion does not count, even though they are the ones who are bearing the brunt of dealing with children who are extremely traumatized because of their experiences.

Next week the Child Protection Bill will start being debated in Parliament and hopefully, one of the main issues on the agenda should be the need to make it possible for at least some of the Maltese children who are in care to be adopted. While researching this topic, I realized that consultations and recommendations for this Bill have been under discussion for over two years, and we are still talking about it. That represents two years in the lives of children who are in care and whose future is still uncertain.

As pointed out recently by Mr Andrew Azzopardi Director of the Children’s Homes Commission, “It was painful to see children remain in care from birth to their teen years when they could have been adopted.”

And, in a previous interview, the plight of these children who seem to have been forgotten in the system was made clear by Joe Antoncich, the chairman of the Malta Association of Social Workers, “We cannot have children lost in out-of-home care. Children cannot spend years in care, waiting for someone to decide about their future… waiting for their parents to one day wake up and do something about their issues”


It is in stark contrast to this issue of children in care that I read that “no money had been transferred yet to the development fund from Identity Malta, the agency receiving the money from the Individual Investor Programme (commonly known as the sale of passports scheme) introduced in 2014.”

And yet, I have often seen boastful comments about how many millions this scheme has managed to generate. There is something very wrong with a society which has all this cash piling up from the dubious practice of selling its passports but has not yet managed to carry out the simple exercise of using this money where it is most needed. What are they waiting for? How long does it take to put something like this into effect? When I see the way so many fancy projects are fast-tracked and given the green light, all designed to make already wealthy people, even wealthier, it is shameful that this money is just sitting there instead of being used where it is most needed.

Use the money to give social workers very good working conditions and excellent pay to attract more people to the profession. Use it to provide foster carers with decent renumeration. Use it for more therapeutic programmes so that children who have undergone trauma are given the emotional and psychological help which is needed. Invest it in compulsory educational parenting programmes for parents who have failed their children but are willing to show a desire to get help. Use it to teach and educate young woman within the community who are drug addicts about proper contraception instead of continuing to bring coke and heroin addicted babies into the world, only to put them into a Children’s Home at birth.

There is so much that could be done, if only we would get our priorities straight.

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