03 September 2003

Search all issues

powered by FreeFind

Send Your Feedback!

Urging the corporate sector to sponsor volunteer care initiatives

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Social Policy Dr Lawrence Gonzi addresses a seminar on ‘Emerging challenges of looking after children in residential care’ organised by the APPOGG agency yesterday. In his address, Dr Gonzi called on the corporate sector to look closely at projects like Home Start and urged corporate support for these programmes.

Children’s issues and needs have for a long time been the focus of a number of initiatives. Both Government and the church have been active in this sector although the church has been directly involved for a longer period. The Children’s Homes are a clear legacy of the involvement of the church in the care for children.
However times are changing fast. Previously, children that were admitted into care were children whose parents were of limited means but still provided the emotional support needed by children. Today most of the children that reside in Children’s Homes are children who have experienced some kind of trauma or have a psychological or physical condition. This effectively means that the way we care for these children is changing and needs to change even further.
Children needing protection are everybody’s problem. It is a societal problem and the first thing that we need to do is to create the necessary structures and community support to avoid children needing to go into care. I am pleased to note that APPOGG is providing social work support in Cottonera as well as the Programme Ulied Darna which provides volunteer support to families needing long term support. I do hope that the Agency will manage to launch the Home Start programme in the near future so that there will be more intensive work done with families.
In this respect I call on the corporate world to look closely at projects like Home Start and I urge them to support these programmes. Corporate sponsors have traditionally focused on sponsoring building, upgrades of physical environments and one off initiatives. These are important aspects and I take this opportunity to acknowledge publicly the contribution that they have made because it expresses in concrete terms the value of solidarity in our society. However I must stress that most families need the support of social workers and trained volunteers who have the time to spend with families and children in need. I therefore urge corporate and private sponsors to include these initiatives when deciding what initiatives to sponsor.
APPOGG has in the last years established the Looked after Children Service as a means of support to the children who are already in care and also to compliment the work done by the religious orders. To start with I want to thank the nuns and the priests who have dedicated their lives for these children and I also welcome the new policy that the church has developed for its Homes. However I call for an integration of services between the state agency and the children’s homes. I know that there already exist a very good working relationship and contact and discussions are a daily occurrence. However the complexity of the cases require constant evaluation and a lot of creativity and flexibility in taking decisions and handling situations.
Government is considering a proposal from APPOGG regarding the setting up of a service for children with severe behavioural problems as well as an outreach service to families who experience similar problems. These are currently under evaluation. The High Support Service has worked relatively well and this was one good example of the level of integration that already exists between the Children’s Homes and APPOGG.
It is a challenge for both the agency and the religious orders. On one hand the agency never worked so close with the Homes while the Homes never had so many lay workers working in their Homes. These are changing times and we need to adapt to them in order to continue to deliver an effective service.
I am also pleased to learn that the office of the Children’s homes and APPOGG are together working on a policy to regulate the social contacts. I strongly commend this initiative and urge every stakeholder to move forward on this issue because it is crucial for us to be able to offer a viable alternative to children who are innocent victims of events that are often dramatic and traumatic.
Children’s issues are not limited to the responsibility that we have towards them as children who need care and support but the concept of children’s rights that has emerged in recent years, should be our driving force in policy development and service development. The responsibilities that we have do not only come from the fact that we have the authority as parents or the State but stems from the fact that children are no less important than any other citizen. They have rights and as such parents and the State do not only have the authority but, more importantly, have the responsibilities and obligations towards children.
Malta is fortunate because it continues to have a strong family unit. This is no coincidence but is the result of a government policy that is built on family friendly policies. The recent amendments to the employment legislation is a typical example of our strong commitment in this sense. But there is still so much more that has to be done, especially because we have to adapt to the new challenges that our society faces in these modern times. Again, please allow me to take this opportunity to encourage parents to continue to invest quality time in their children’s upbringing, and to keep themselves abreast with the changing trends, challenges and opportunities that their children face.
The recent bill bringing into force the office of the Children’s Commissioner was a confirmation of the government’s commitment to bring children’s issues to the fore. The State wanted to ensure that children’s issues are mainstreamed in all national policies and due attention will be given to the rights and needs of children. We consider this innovation as a milestone but we also realise that there are other areas in our legislation that deal with issues related to children, and which need to be updated to modern day realities. These areas will soon be tackled by means of specific legislation.
The setting up of the Family Court will also accentuate the rights of the child in the deliberations before the courts in separation cases and I am pleased to report progress in this area, as was announced last week by the Minister responsible for Justice and Home Affairs.
However a higher profile for children’s issues is needed. The old premise that children should be seen but not heard is no longer valid. Children should be heard loud and clear and their opinions and considerations taken into account when developing policy and services.
Social policy is not merely an exercise in providing for those who are amongst the most needy in our society. It is also an exercise to provide a vision for the future of our society and for the common good of present and future generations. It represents the action we must take today to address the future challenges of our society. In this sense, therefore, the decisions that we take today in order to address the needs of our children, represent an investment for the future of our country.
To achieve this, government needs the input of people such as yourselves – experts in your own fields, professionals who are dedicated to this area and voluntary people who are prepared to dedicate their time for the benefit of those who are most vulnerable in our society.
This is why the outcome of this seminar is important to us all and I therefore wish you every success.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | E-mail