Children are an asset to any nation as they are tomorrow’s leaders, entrepreneurs and workforce as well as social activists.
They are the key drivers for economic development and modernisation of their country. Unfortunately, statistics compiled by Unicef show that the potential of children as future game-changers is not fulfilled.
The unpalatable truth is that poverty, gender discrimination, sexual abuse and violence as well as conflicts have derailed their journey to healthy and productive adulthood.
One area of great concern is the detrimental impact of institutionalisation on children.
The Government is aware of the plight of vulnerable children in institutions who may endure abuse and sufferings, and committed to implementing the family-based care as an alternative to placing children in institutions and shelter homes.
This will allow the placement of children in a family environment to allow them to grow their full potential.
The Government has incorporated the family-based care for children in the amended Child Act 2001.
The underlying reason is to ensure that they are protected and grow up in a family environment where love and warmth will nurture them.
Studies conducted and data compiled for the past 80 years show the detrimental impact of institutionalisation on the welfare and development of children.
Institutionalised children are more likely to suffer from poor cognitive development, low self-confidence and self-esteem, anti-social behaviour and lack of empathy.
When they grow up as adults, they are 10 times more likely to be involved in prostitution, 40 times more likely to be involved in crime-related activities, and 500 times more likely to commit suicide.
The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development together with OrphanCare Foundation are tasked to plan and implement the family-based care.
They are collaborating with Unicef, Lumos, Yayasan Hasanah, government agencies as well as NGO and local experts in social work and child development to undertake a planning reform of child care system based on family-based care.
It is estimated there are 64,000 children in Malaysia are who in institutional care and 90% of those who live and grow up in institutions are not orphans as they have at least one living parent.
Hence the family-based care aims to:
• Reintegrate children with their biological families;
• Place them with other family members, adoptive or parents; and
• Place special needs children in a family-based environment where they receive need-specific professional care.
In executing the plan to reintegrate children with biological or adoptive parents, the active participation of social workers, counsellors and child psychologists is crucial for a successful outcome.
They play a vital role in the rigorous assessment processes before the matching of biological or adoptive parents and children for adoption or fostering.
After the adoption, the social workers and counsellors must closely monitor the development, safety and well-being of the children. This is to ensure that they do not suffer abuse and violence in their new homes.
And most important of all is the role of lead agencies notably National Registration Department (JPN) and Social Welfare Department (JKM) in ensuring the successful implementation of family-based care for children.
There is an urgent need to ensure that both adoption and fostering procedures and guidelines should not be an encumbrance to prospective parents who want to adopt or foster children.
We cannot erase the sufferings and hardships the children may have endured in the existing child-care system.
But let us strive to create a better system to ensure a better tomorrow for them.
DATUK WEE BENG EE