[WATCH] Political responsibility must be shouldered for decision taken by Children’s board – PN

The Nationalist Party has said that the findings of an inquiry into the consultative board on youths and children showed that decisions were not taken in children’s best interest

PN MPs Ivan Bartolo and Claudio Grech with then Opposition spokesperson on social affairs Robert Cutajar
PN MPs Ivan Bartolo and Claudio Grech with then Opposition spokesperson on social affairs Robert Cutajar

The Nationalist Party has called on the former Family minister Michael Farrugia to shoulder political responsibility over the findings of an inquiry into the operation of a consultative board on the youths and children which was set up during his time as minister.

The inquiry was carried out after a request by the then Opposition spokesperson on social affairs Robert Cutajar.

In his report tabled last week, Judge Michael Mallia warned that the board should never risk the children's future. The board, he said, should only have the children's interests at heart.

Justice Mallia also referred to complaints of intimidation by the board, suggesting that foster carers gain access to social workers' reports about children under their care, enabling them to voice their concerns on situations which they consider to be improper.

Addressing a press conference this afternoon together with family spokesperson Claudio Grech and MP Ivan Bartolo, Cutajar stressed that his request was prompted by a number of reports back in 2015, of decisions being taken by the board, which went against the best interest of children placed under a care order.

He said he was satisfied because the report vindicated what the Opposition had been saying all along. “Who will now shoulder political responsibility for these decisions taken by this board?”

Moreover, Cutajar said that the law on protection of children “ which was drafted by her excellency Marie Louise Coleiro Preca took three years to make it to parliament”. Furthermore, he said that one it did, it was approved despite criticism from a number of stakeholders, while amendments put forward by the Opposition had also been rejected.

Cutajar insisted that the fact that current minister Michael Falzon had stopped the law from being introduced, and the fact that he had asked the Opposition to put forward its amendments once again, showed that it was right to question the law in the first place.

Grech said that the report clearly stated that in cases dealing with children under a care order, decisions should be taken in the best interest. Despite this, he said the inquiry had concluded that this had not happened in a number of occasions.

The board, which he said decided the faith of children in sensitive social situations, needed to act independently in the way it evaluated different cases, and decided whether children under a care order would be returned to their biological parents or placed in foster care.

He stressed that care orders were the result of a long process and that the circumstances leading to their issuance were very sensitive. “One must understand therefore that society needs to recognise and support those families, and the parents willing to give this sort of care,” he said, adding that foster parents gave a great contribution to society.

“We are worried by the point underscored by the report, that foster carers aren’t always given the respect they deserve,” he said. “There were occasions where they felt so intimidated that they took a lawyer with them to make representations to the board.”

He said the conclusions were very important and should be outline the principles that guide overdue changes to the law.

“Without further delay, the law should recognise the findings of this report and the government needs to sit with the Opposition and all stakeholders so that for once we can work on a law that reflects practicality and reality, as well as the interests of children.”

He expressed confidence in that under minister Michael Falzon, common ground could be found.

Furthermore, Grech said the framework for supporting foster carers also needed to be changed and that permanent fostering should be introduced. “We need to find the best models to protect these carers.”

Finally, he stressed that biological parents could also not be ignored, especially since in many cases the parents found themselves in very difficult social situations.   

He said it was time for the law to be changed to ensure that those placed on such boards are not politically motivated. “This a failure across party lines. This is definitely not an area for political appointees.”

Finally, he said the PN would be requesting a parliamentary debate on the report and on the sector as a whole in the coming days.