Concerned over fate of Lourdes Home children – Commissioner for Children
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The Commissioner for Children wishes to express her view on the children who were recently moved from Lourdes Home, following the controversy which emerged in recent weeks surrounding this residential institution.
The Commissioner for Children remains concerned over the fate of these children, and the effect which such a move has had on them. Based on the Commissioner for Children’s extensive experience in the field of residential care, the transition from the family home to a residential care institution is a traumatic occurrence in itself for the children involved, without having to be exacerbated by cutting the ties that the children would have formed whilst in Lourdes Home.
The children have not only changed their residence, but have also been separated from one another, changed schools in the run-up to the exam period, and moved to a neighbouring island. These factors already present difficulties when considered separately, and are magnified when they are imposed on these children simultaneously.
Prior to the children’s move, the Commissioner for Children attended a meeting in which she supported the suggestion that the Home be kept in operation by means of state assistance, with the conviction that this option would be in the best interests of the child. This was proposed as a temporary solution until a more stable long-term alternative was found, as a measure intended to avoid any sudden and unnecessary disruption in the lives of the young people. No weight was given to this suggestion by the relevant decision-makers, resulting in the move going ahead.
This action was taken notwithstanding the recommendations made by the Commissioner for Children, together with concerns raised following her consultation with the children involved in a visit to the Home. This severely compromises the ability of the Commissioner for Children “to seek to ensure that the rights and interests of children are properly taken into account by government departments, local authorities, other public bodies and voluntary and public organizations when decisions on policies affecting children are taken” [Commissioner for Children Act, 9f.].
In her recent publication of the Manifesto for Children, the Commissioner for Children has already highlighted the problem of the lack of residential care facilities in Gozo. Since the publication of the Manifesto, the problem has increased dramatically with the closure of the only residential care institution for children on the island. Gozitan children now have no facilities for out-of-home care where required. The Manifesto for Children specifically states that “every effort should be taken in order to provide alternative services for children who require out of home care, including the provision of fostering by professionally trained and adequately paid foster carers”.
The Commissioner for Children urges the authorities to take heed of this suggestion, and to take urgent steps to address this lacuna. The Commissioner also urges the immediate provision of all necessary professional support to the previous young residents of Lourdes Home, in order for the best interests of the child to be given due paramount importance.
Commissioner for Children