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Regional News of Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Source: Bright Appiah

‘Let’s protect rights of orphans, foster children’

The Children’s Act Act, 1998 (Act 560) envisages a situation where children will find themselves in a condition where temporary homes will be the option for their maintenance and rehabilitation.

This will deny them their natural environment but the state is under obligation to create a home that is expected to be same or better for the welfare of children in this category.

This is to ensure that whether man-made or natural disasters occur, the interest of children will be protected by the state and any other avenue the state uses to achieve this objective.

The right of every child needs to be protected. For this reason, the state has made provision under the Children’s Act, to ensure that these rights are protected and the best interest of the child is taken into consideration when matters of children are raised.

Children who have no parental care, orphans and foster children also need to have their rights protected, hence the importance of the establishment of residential homes for such children.

The state has, therefore, placed the necessary measures for the establishment and maintenance of these residential homes through the enactment of the Legislative Instrument (LI), Child’s Right Regulations, 2002 (L.I. 1705) to regulate the activities of these residential homes for the best interest of children. Who can establish a home

The Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) makes provision for the establishment of a place which will be referred to as ‘a home’ for the care of children. Section 105 (2) of the Act implies that any person or any non-governmental organisation (NGO) may establish and operate a home for the care of children. The establishment of a home is, however, subject to the approval of the minister, in this case the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection. Place of establishment

The place of establishment of a home to care for children under section 105(1) is subject to the determination of the minister. In effect, homes can only be established at places or areas determined by the minister.

In view of this, establishment of children’s homes or orphanages must follow laid-down procedure. Processes to follow

There must be an application submitted to the minister. The minister shall cause the home to be inspected by the Department of Social Welfare, the agency in charge of inspecting such facilities, and if the home meets the required standards, it shall be approved by notice and published in the Gazette.

After the approval has been given by the minister, the home shall be given a licence to operate. This licence is issued by the minister (where the home is operated by a non-governmental organisation) after the payment of a prescribed fee. However, governmental homes are not allowed or are exempted from paying any prescribed fees. The payment of prescribed fees is, therefore, limited only to private homes.

The heads of any non-governmental home established prior to the commencement of the Children’s Act, shall apply to the minister for an approval. Upon application for approval, a licence is issued within a period of six (6) months from the commencement of the Act. Requirements

Before the minister would issue the licence, the minister would cause the home to be inspected. The objective for the inspection before the issuance of the licence is to verify the suitability of the premises as an approved residential home, to assess the capability of the management and also to determine if the policy of the home accords to the Act.

The minister under section 113 of the Act, may by legislative instrument, make regulations for homes. The Legislative Instrument that regulates the homes and gives the requirement for their establishment is the Child’s Right Regulations, 2002 (L.I. 1705). Under regulation 47 of the L.I. 1705, the required house for a home must be the ground floor of a building unless otherwise approved by the Department of Social Welfare and where the home is not located on the ground floor of the building, the home must have grills on the windows.

Secondly, the location of the home shall be away from public toilets, rubbish dumps, main roads and anything which may pose health or safety hazards to the occupants.

Thirdly, the home must have no swing door installed and the floor of the home shall not be bare concrete and shall be level washable damp proof with a non-slip surface.

All drains in the home must be covered and where there are staircases in the home, safety gates shall be installed at both ends of the staircase.

Electronic sockets in a home shall be raised to a level which is out of a child’s reach or shall be rendered harmless or ineffective to children.

Regulation 48 of the L.I. 1705 also gives the special requirement for a dormitory which should give a minimum floor area of 9m2 for every three (3) children from birth to six months,13m2 for every six (6) children from six months to three and half years and 20.5m for children aged three years to eighteen years.

After all these requirement have been met, the licence is issued for the operation of the home under regulation 45 of the L.I.1705 and the licence is normally issued by the minister. Inspection

Regulation 45 (2) of the L.I. 1705 implies that after the licence has been issued to a home, the approved home shall be inspected quarterly by the Department of Social Welfare accompanied by a public health nurse. The objective of the inspection after the issuance of the licence is to determine the public health standards of the approved residential home. Where the public health standards are not met, the licence for the home shall be cancelled.

The books of accounts and also other records must be available for inspection by the department of Social Welfare. Where after inspection shortcomings are detected, the home shall be given time to remedy those shortcomings or the situation.

Anyone who obstructs or hinders any person conducting an inspection commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding GH¢500.00 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or to both and in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine not exceeding GH¢10.00 for each day on which the offence continues. Monitoring of Homes

Under section 106 of the Children’s Act, the Department of Social Welfare of a District Assembly shall monitor homes within its district.

Under the Children’s Act, the law states clearly under section 109 that a child is admitted to a home where the child was recommended by a social welfare officer or a probation officer.

The social welfare officer or the probation officer will examine the home and if he/she finds it most suitable place for the child, will recommend it as a home for the child. Secondly, where the child is an orphan and family care, as well as fosterage are not available, such a child would be admitted to a home. Also, where there is a pending determination of a family tribunal, a child can be admitted to a home till the final issues are settled.

Children from other homes may be admitted to new homes where the homes failed to maintain the required standards and this could result in the withdrawal of the licence by the minister. When such situations happen, the child is admitted to a new home. Duties of the social welfare or probation officer in a home

It shall be the responsibility of the staff of a home, the probation and social welfare officer and any other person to assist a child resident in the home to be reunited with its parents, guardian or relatives.

After a child has been returned to his family home from a home, the probation and social welfare officer shall keep in regular contact with the child and his family to ensure that the best interest of the child is sustained.

Under section 110 of the Act, the social welfare officer shall assume parental responsibility for the child and ensure that the rights of the child under the Children’s Act are protected.

However, the parents, guardian or relatives of a child in a home shall supplement the efforts of the home to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child by visiting the child and otherwise protecting the interest of the child. It should be noted; the parental responsibility of a child in a home shall include an application to a Family Tribunal to protect the best interest of the child where necessary. Closure of a home

Under regulations 62 of the L.I.1705 the Residential home can be closed or will have its licence withdrawn or cancelled upon three months of notice issued in consultation with the Department of Social Welfare.

Below are some of the reasons why a residential home will be closed.

First of all, where the public health standards fall below the expectation of the Department of Social Welfare, secondly, where the structural, spatial and sleeping arrangement are unsatisfactory and also, where the staff ratio does not meet the regulations and the health needs of the children in the home are not met. The residential home can be closed down if it is considered not offering services that are in the best interest of the child.

In conclusion, it appears that the state needs to do more to elevate our homes to a level that will honour the dignity and respect of our children. Beyond the supervision of the home by the Department of Social Welfare, the government must show the political will to resource the department to deliver on its mandate and the enormous responsibilities we have accorded them.

The worse of it all is that the punishment ascribed by the law for operating unauthorised home is nothing but avenue for continuous disrespect for the right of the child if only you can pay. The essence of establishing a home is to serve the very best interest of children. The law provides that any person who operates a home without a licence issued by the minister or continues to operate a home without a licence is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding GH¢ 500.00 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or to both and in the case of a continuing offence to a further fine not exceeding ¢10.00 for each day on which the offence continues.

This article was compiled and written by, Child Rights International, a non-governmental organisation, concerned about children’s rights

Signed by Bright Appiah

Executive Director