Foster Care Act of 2010

Sponsorship Speech
Foster Care Act of 2010
(SB No. 2485 Committee Report No. 1)
By: SEN. PIA S. CAYETANO

Mr. President, it is my pleasure to stand here and sponsor the very first committee report filed in the 15th Congress. This measure seeks to protect our children, especially those who unfortunately, do not have parents willing and able to take care of them.

Background
Mr. President, based on the 2009 Annual Report submitted by the DSWD, there are 10,815 children placed under institutional care in 42 facilities managed by the Department. This number represents children who are abandoned, neglected or in conflict with the law, and girls undergoing difficult circumstances. Also, in 2009, the DSWD has helped 42,672 cases of children who are in need of special protection, noticeably the highest among their community-based services.
It is disheartening and alarming to hear of such news, especially in a country where people are proud of having strong ties with, and high regard for, the family. Acts of abandonment such as these are considered taboo in our society.

But still, we continue to receive reports of abandoned children, most of them ending up in our streets.

Under Article XV of the Constitution, “the State shall defend the right of children to assistance, including proper care and nutrition, and special protection from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation, and other conditions prejudicial to their development.” It then, Mr. President, becomes the State’s obligation to protect these children.

RA 7610, or the “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act,” mandates the formulation of a comprehensive program to protect children against any form of abuse which could endanger their survival and normal development. [i]

RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 promotes the protection of the child’s best interest through measures that will ensure the observance of international standards of child protection involving children at risk and children in conflict with the law.

Further, under RA 7160 or the Local Government Code, local government units have a primary role in the development and growth of communities, vesting in them the exercise of service delivery functions such as delivery of health and welfare services and the implementation of programs and projects for street children. [ii]

Mr. President, there is an alarming number of children in the streets. [iii] No study has pegged the exact number, but in a study commissioned by UNICEF in 2002, there is an estimated number of 45,000 to 50,000 “highly visible children on the streets” in 22 major cities of the country. [iv] These street children are considered to be those that are in need of priority action.

In 1998, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), through its “Ahon sa Lansangan” (Rescue Operation/Program of DSWD) document, reported an estimate of 222,417 street children in 65 major cities in the country.

Given this alarming number, the DSWD, in the year 2000, issued Department Order No. 13 which outlined guiding principles for policies and program interventions that promote and safeguard the rights of street children. This involves a multi-sectoral initiative to enable government, non-government agencies, business sectors, socio-civic-religious groups and communities to assume collective responsibility in protecting children. [5]

Foster Care
Traditionally, our government has sought to care for homeless children through institutional care by placing them in orphanages and youth centers. However, in addition to the fact that there are not enough institutions to cater to the needs of the numerous abandoned and neglected children, these institutions, no matter how well-meaning they may be in taking care of our children, can never give the warmth and affection that only a family could provide.

In European countries such as Spain and Italy, measures have already been explored and undertaken to avoid placing children in institutions. Similarly, in South American countries such as Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, non-governmental organizations help out in finding ways to avoid placing children under institutional care. [vi]

As a result, the DSWD issued Administrative Order No. 63 setting out the philosophical base, objectives, policies and standards for Foster Care Service. Pursuant to this Order, the DSWD, along with accredited non-governmental organizations, provides home care to neglected and abandoned children by placing them in foster care.

Studies show that foster care creates a better living environment and develops better individuals as opposed to institutional care. Through foster care, children are given more attention and care in a home setting, thus providing more opportunities for normal mental, spiritual, emotional and physical growth. [vii]

Under foster care, abused, abandoned, and neglected children are placed in foster families for a certain period of time. The goal of foster care is to prepare such children for eventual reunion with their biological families or for possible adoption, with priority given to their foster families.

Unfortunately, Mr. President, foster care has not been given much attention and consideration as a primary child care program for abused, abandoned and neglected children in the country.

In the Philippines, the Child and Youth Welfare Code declares that the assignment of a child to a foster home is preferred over institutional care. However, during the hearing conducted by the Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations, it was revealed that, in addition to the DSWD, there are only six licensed/accredited child placements agencies which implement Foster Care programs in the country, most of which are based only in the major cities.

Salient features of SB 2486
Mr. President, SB 2486 promotes and institutionalizes foster care as a preferred way of caring for children. By pairing them with a family, foster children are given the proper care and attention that only families can provide.

The bill also aims to recognize foster care as an important step towards the child’s return and reintegration to his biological family, if possible or placement with an adoptive family.

To ensure that his health will be well cared for, a foster child also automatically becomes a PhilHealth beneficiary of his foster parent under the bill.

Foster families are likewise given subsidies to ensure that the needs of the child will be met and to lighten the additional burden on the foster parents who willing to provide foster children the love and care of a family.

A foster child is also considered a dependent under the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997 granting foster parents an additional tax exemption.

The bill also mandates the DSWD, Local Government Units and Agencies to assist foster families by providing support care services such as counseling, visits, training on child care and development, skills trainings and livelihood assistance.

Local Government Units will also be utilized to help the DSWD in creating programs to ensure that a foster care system will be established in every city, municipality and barangay in the country.

Conclusion
Mr. President, the current program of government for children who are abused, abandoned and otherwise neglected could be strengthened through foster care. Let us help these abused, abandoned and neglected children experience the joy of being in a loving family. It is about time that we encourage Filipino families to help in rearing the future of our country in a proactive way.

Let us open the doors for these children.

For these reasons, Mr. President and distinguished colleagues, I urge for the immediate approval of Senate Bill No. 2486 under Committee Report No. 1.

Thank you.

[i] Article 1, Section 2

[ii] DSWD Administrative Order No. 8, series of 2009.

[iii] Research efforts in the past have come up only with estimates and with some variations.

[iv] The study was conducted by Dr. Exaltacion E. Lamberte of the Social Development Research Center of De la Salle University in 2002 and entitled “Ours to Protect and Nurture, The Case of Children Needing Special Attention”.

[v] Among the programs developed by the DSWD are:
1. Rescue operations wherein LGU social workers, street educators, barangay officials and law enforcement authorities among others work together to take street children away from the streets;
2. Social mobilization and networking which involves the formation and strengthening of core groups composed of LGUs, national government agencies, NGOs and other stakeholders;
3. Delivery of basic services needed by street children such as residential care services, educational assistance programs, life skills development, peer support group and alternative family care, and basic services needed by the children’s families such as parent effectiveness sessions, livelihood development and family counseling;
4. Capability building of implementors and beneficiaries by providing seminars, sessions and workshops to equip leaders, volunteers and families of street children with the necessary knowledge, attitudes and skills; and
5. Data-banking, documentation and research which entails continuous surveys and studies on street children, trainings and seminars conducted, and number of service providers trained in order to strengthen and develop the information management system which could be used and shared with various stakeholders.

[vi] CHILDREN IN INSTITUTIONS: THE BEGINNING OF THE END? The cases of Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay UNICEF Inocenti Research Center, April 2003

[vii] Williamson, John. Residential Institutions Are Not the Answer. January 16, 2004

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