PARLIAMENT has recommended that the Ministry of Public Service and Labour amends the Children’s Bill urgently so that there is upward review of the age of discharge of children domiciled in residential care from the current 18 years to 22 years.
The issue was raised by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Service in a report presented in the National Assembly recently in response to a petition by an organisation called the National Residential Care Leavers Network Trust on the Violation of Rights of Young Adults upon discharge from Residential Care Facilities.
They had petitioned Parliament lamenting that domestic policies, legislative instruments and programmes do not provide for the support of young people who are under the care of the State upon leaving residential care facilities when they reach 18 years of age.
As a result, they said the young adults leaving children’s homes ended up living in the streets or resorting to crime or drugs after they were discharged from those homes.
“The committee recommends that the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare should expeditiously submit a Bill amending the Children’s Act to Parliament by 31st August 2020. The Bill should clearly define the age and conditions under which a child in residential care becomes eligible for discharge, among other key issues,” read the Public Service Committee report.
“The Committee recommends an upwards review of the age of discharge from 18 to 22 years. In addition, the Bill should provide for establishment of half-way homes to accommodate these young adults post residential care until they can independently care for themselves,” they said.
During their investigations of conditions of living at children’s homes, the committee said they were told by Ministry of Social Welfare officials that government had reviewed grants for these children from $15 to $200 per month and backdated the payments to January 2019.
“Additionally, Ministry officials informed the Committee that Government pays tuition fees for institutionalised children under the Children in Difficulty Circumstances Programme. Furthermore, the government donates food and clothing to children’s homes.
“It is also pertinent to note that, apart from the mainstream education, these young adults commonly lack any other specialised life skills to deal with the challenges of independent living.
“Thus, discharge from residential care at 18 years of age is generally too early for these young adults and is tantamount to threatening their survival. If the policy is applied in its ‘blanket’ form, young adults will be discharged from residential care upon attaining 18 years with grave consequences on their lives such as homelessness and disruption of academic studies, amongst others.”
Parliament also felt that the $200 was still meagre and must be increased.
“The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in consultation with the Ministry of Finance should review monthly child per capita grants from $200 to an equivalent of US$30 in local currency by January 2021. In addition, Treasury should prioritise timely disbursement of administrative and child per capita grants to all residential child care facilities by August 31, 2020.”
MPs applauded some residential care facilities that had established half-way homes for children aged 18 and above, where they are provided for basic necessities such as food and tuition fees.
They said considering the precarious circumstances of the young adults raised in residential care facilities, government should prioritise employing them in the public sector.
“The Public Service Commission, Health Services Board and the Police Service Commission and other public sector employment agencies should introduce a 3% quota system for recruitment of qualified persons raised in residential child care facilities by September 30, 2020,” the committee said.
Parliament also called for the prioritisation of children or young adults in residential child care in the Presidential Scholarship Programme and other similar initiatives so that the challenges they face of tuition fees can be reduced.