Draft law outlines changes to child protection policy

Law aims to overhaul care orders, introduce permanent fostering and improve child court services

Parliamentary secretary Owen Bonnici with social policy minister Marie Louise Coleiro Preca
Parliamentary secretary Owen Bonnici with social policy minister Marie Louise Coleiro Preca

Family and Social Solidarity minister Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca this morning presented the draft of 'Child Protection: Out-of-Home-Care Act' to Parliamentary Secretary for Justice Owen Bonnici.

In a press conference held in Valletta, the family minister said the first chapter of the national policy on children was "innovative" not only in content, but also in the manner it was drafted which she said was a "bottom-up approach."

She added that the draft law stemmed from a far-reaching consultation process in which parents, children, carers and professionals were involved.

Coleiro Preca, who next month becomes President of Malta, added that the most fundamental change being proposed was that of shifting the responsibilities of care orders "from the minister to the courts." 

Ruth Farrugia, the chairperson of the National Commission for the Development of Strategy and Policy for Children explained that the draft law also proposes a number of sweeping changes such as the introduction of permanent foster care, shared parenting and the possibility of freeing children up for adoption.

Other proposals, Farrugia noted, include the creation of a court registry on cases of child protection and the introduction of mandatory reports on individual cases by professionals and care workers.

The law also suggests the creation up of a Child Court Services, a Child Assessment Centre and a Children’s House which centralises services in one place.

On his part, Bonnici thanked the minister and the national commission for the development of children's policies which he said "delivered a very good piece of legislation" in a very short time.

He stressed that government has a "duty to prioritize child protection over anything else."

The parliamentary secretary for justice added that following the introduction of two “emergency laws” which brought Malta in line with international obligations, the government was now introducing a “forward looking” law.

“We’re now looking ahead rather than introducing emergency laws to resolve impending crises,” Bonnici said.