New law to provide stronger protections to children in care

Clodagh O'Neill (DOI)

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Vulnerable children are set to receive greater legal protections as from next week, with a new law set to take effect as from 1 July.

The Minor Protection (Alternative Care) Act of 2020 seeks to update legislation that dates back to the 1980s. According to the Family Ministry, the greatest issue that needed to be addressed was that minors protected by a care order would end up stuck in the system until they became of age, with their future reviewed every six months.

Judgments by the European Court of Human Rights have also flagged concerns that Malta does not protect the interest of all the parties involved in the process to the same extent, while on a more practical level, professionals in the field were hindered from performing their duties since they were not being provided with the necessary

Juvenile Court to handle care orders

Care orders are presently the minister’s responsibility, but they will now be the responsibility of a Juvenile Court. Three alternatives to care orders are also being introduced, to avoid care orders serving as a catch-all solution.

The children involved will now participate at every stage of the process, with a Children’s Advocate representing their interests. To offer them a feeling of security, they will not need to be heard in court, but can do so in a suitably calm environment.

Every professional involved in the process will now receive specialised training, while the law introduces new offences for anyone who hinders or obstructs their work or who acts in a violent manner towards them.

A time period for the minor to return to their natural family will be set, while further amendments seek to provide a sense of permanency and stability in cases where such a return will not be possible.

The new act will also introduce a right to appeal at every stage of proceedings.

Law expected to facilitate local adoptions

In a press conference held at Dar Frate Jacoba in Marsascala – a residential facility run by the Youth Alive Foundation to provide shelter to homeless youths who find themselves at the margins of society – Family Minister Michael Falzon emphasised that the new law would put the rights of the children involved first and foremost.

He also said that the law would facilitate local adoptions, noting that at present, around 450 children lived in children’s homes in Malta.