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Legislation tabled to allow children in care to get say about their welfare

Tinee Furbert, the Minister of Social Affairs and Seniors (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Children in care will get a say in decisions made about their welfare if a new advisory council gets the go-ahead, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors said yesterday.

Tinée Furbert told MPs: “The innovative proposed enhancements take into account furthering the best interest and wellbeing of children in care by introducing a new legislative framework that will be enshrined in the Children Act 1998.

“This proposed framework guarantees the voice of children in care, who are capable of forming their own views, is heard on matters affecting them, including issues relating to their social development and wellbeing to enhance their experiences while in care.”

She was speaking as she tabled the Children Amendment Act 2022 in the House of Assembly.

Ms Furbert said that the Bill was part of a 2020 Throne Speech pledge to replace the Child Care Placement Board with a Children’s Commission.

She explained: “There is no legal framework in place to ensure that the voice of children in care who are capable of forming their own views are heard and considered by the board.

“These matters could relate to the child’s social development and wellbeing, which affects them while in the care of the Director of Child and Family Services.

“The proposed legislative framework will guarantee the voice of children in care is being heard, respected and considered by a body, which will be implemented as a standing committee.”

Ms Furbert explained that research of children’s commissions in other jurisdictions including England and Jamaica showed that most were not specific to children in care.

She said that they usually had a full time commissioner with support staff.

Ms Furbert highlighted legislation and organisations that already operated in Bermuda to protect children’s rights.

She said: “The Bill sets out for the establishment of a Children In Care Advisory Council whose aim, similarly to a children’s commission, is for children in care to have a better understanding of their rights and to create opportunities for children to have a voice on matters.

“The Bill guarantees this aim is achieved and conveyed in law ensuring the Advisory Council Committee will have the remit to advocate for children in care, and the Children In Care Advisory Council will promote best-practice policy, programmes and service responses to meet the needs of children in care.”

MPs heard that the proposed amendments would allow the council to make recommendations to the minister “after considering the potential effects of existing and proposed government standards, programmes, policies, and legislation have on the rights of children in care”.

Ms Furbert said that the council’s membership would include people with experience in the fields of education, law and medicine.

She added that the Advisory Council Committee would “provide an opportunity for children in care to have a voice, access to the council and, if need be, ultimately access to the minister”.

Ms Furbert said that the Child Care Placement Board’s responsibilities would be transferred to the proposed council, which would also have greater scope.

She added that the council would be able to advise the minister on matters related to the social development and wellbeing of children in care, inquire into and report on anything referred to it by the minister and consider the effect proposed legislation or government policy could have on children in care.

MPs were told that the Advisory Council Committee would offer a “smaller non-intimidating environment” so that children in care could make their views known.

Ms Furbert said: “The Government has listened to the concerns of child advocacy organisations, independent child advocates and members of the general public.

“The Government continues to ensure that children in care of the Director of Child and Family Services best interests and wellbeing are paramount and protected in law.”

She added: “I am confident the provisions in the Bill will be beneficial to Bermuda’s vulnerable population – children in care – by empowering them to exercise their right to have a voice on matters impacting them.”

* To read the minister’s remarks in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

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Published March 19, 2022 at 7:43 am (Updated March 19, 2022 at 7:43 am)

Legislation tabled to allow children in care to get say about their welfare

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