Thursday 19 September, 2019

JFJ makes recommendations amid ‘alarm’ at frequency of childcare fires

The Jamaica National Children's Home in Papine, St Andrew on fire on August 9.

The Jamaica National Children's Home in Papine, St Andrew on fire on August 9.

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) has expressed concern about the frequency of fires that have occurred in childcare facilities nationally, the latest being the fire that ravaged the Jamaica National Children’s Home (JNCH) in St Andrew on August 9.

JFJ, in a statement, expressed alarmed that it was the sixth fire at a childcare institution within the last 10 years, “and it occurred a mere 18 months after a fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety (also in St Andrew) resulted in the deaths of two children and the disruption of the lives of another 34 wards of the state.”

JFJ said it is heartened by the fact that no live was lost in the latest tragedy, and applauded the staff, volunteers and wards of the JNCH, “whose quick action prevented injury and loss of life in the blaze.”

JFJ also commended the firefighters and other first responders on the scene, “who went above and beyond (the call of duty) to save lives and property.”

It said the Government must be held to commitments to improve state care, and while welcoming comments from Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the Administration will be “taking a closer look at state homes to ensure that our wards are safely housed,” urged the Government to ensure that the review of state homes be swift and thorough, and the results be made publicly available in a timely manner.

JFJ also urged the Government to make a clear commitment to implement the recommendations arising from the review, noting that the country’s state care arrangements have been reviewed many times before, “but without a commitment to implementation and enforcement, reviews and audits (have) achieve little on their own.”

 

The civic group said in the interest of transparency and public accountability, “we urge the Government to probe the specific circumstances surrounding the fire at the Jamaica National Children’s Home, and publish a fulsome report. We are cognisant of a trend where though an investigation is done and a report is published, we find that there are still a number of unanswered questions. In the case of the fire at Walker’s Place of Safety, despite the production of a report, we are still unclear as to the specific circumstances under which the two children died, and whether… illegal electricity connection at the facility contributed to the blaze.”

JFJ said the families of those directly affected by the fires, national stakeholders in the child protection fraternity, and the public deserve a full report on what occurred and clear commitments from the Government to implement measures to prevent recurrence.

The group said it strongly believes that housing large numbers of children in childcare institutions is not in their best interest. It said research has shown that children in institutional settings are disproportionately exposed to higher levels of harm and threats to their safety and well-being.

“We reiterate our position that greater efforts must be made to ensure that where children are in need of alternative care, they are placed in family-based settings, rather than in institutions, and the relevant authorities must take steps to reunite children with their families, where possible, or place them in foster homes, small group or family home settings, or find them adoptive homes,” JFJ recommended.

The group said it strongly urges the Government and other relevant authorities to treat the safety of children in state care as paramount in protecting their rights. It said to achieve this, the state must publicly account for serious incidents such as this latest one, “and appropriately resource the child protection sector and take all necessary steps to improve the lives and realities of children in state care.”

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