I had a déjà vu feeling last week on hearing the news of another fire at a children’s home. Fortunately, no lives were lost but the The human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) – currently celebrating its twentieth anniversary – has consistently lobbied on behalf of Jamaican citizens in state care, including children in homes and “places of safety.” Several reasons for these recent fires have been cited in the media – but I wonder, what are the underlying factors in these institutions? Columnist Barbara Gloudon has some questions, here.
Children’s rights are a burning issue for Jamaica (or should be). JFJ’s graphic (and disturbing) videos, documenting actual incidents in children’s homes point to serious issues of concern. Let us think about how we can improve the lives of our most vulnerable young citizens.
And then the fires. In February – just six months ago – the Government signed a two-year partnership agreement with Supreme Ventures Limited for a fire safety program in children’s homes. The Jamaica Fire Brigade had held a fire drill at this particular home just four days before the fire.
Here is JFJ’s press release:
JFJ calls for investigation into recent fire at Jamaica National Children’s Home and improvements in state care
August 17, 2019
JFJ is expressing concern about the frequency of fires that have occurred in childcare facilities, including the fire that ravaged the Jamaica National Children’s Home in St Andrew on Friday, August 9, 2019. JFJ is alarmed that this is the sixth fire at a childcare institution in ten years and that it occurred a mere 18 months after a fire at the Walkers Place of Safety resulted in the deaths of two children and the disruption of the lives of another 34 wards of state.
JFJ is heartened by the fact that no lives were lost in this latest tragedy and we applaud the staff, volunteers and wards whose quick action prevented injury and loss of life in the blaze. We also commend the firefighters and other first responders on the scene who went above and beyond to save lives and property.
Government must be held to commitments to improve state care
JFJ, however, is troubled by the frequency and severity of fires in childcare facilities. While we welcome the comments made by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the Government will be “taking a closer look at state homes to ensure that our wards are safely housed,” we urge the Government to ensure that this review of state homes be swift and thorough, and the results be made publicly available in a timely manner. We also urge them to make clear commitments to implement the recommendations arising from the review. Jamaica’s state care arrangements have been reviewed many times before, but without a commitment to implementation and enforcement, reviews and audits achieve little on their own.
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 cognizant 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 Walkers 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 the illegal electricity connection at the facility contributed to the blaze.
The families of those affected by these fires, national stakeholders in the child protection sector, and the public deserve a full report on what occurred and clear commitments from the Government to implement measures to prevent recurrence.
Family Based Care is the ideal setting for children in need of alternative care
JFJ strongly believes that housing large amounts of children in childcare institutions is not in their best interest. 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 strongly urges the government and relevant authorities to treat the safety of our children in state care as paramount in protecting their rights. To achieve this the state must publicly account for serious incidents such as this and appropriately resource the child protection sector and take all necessary steps to improve the lives and realities of children in state care.
CONTACT: Monique Long – Policy & Advocacy Manager, JFJ | (876) 324-5340