THE GLEANER: If a child in state care spends 12 months of a 15-month period without a parental visit, the Child Development Agency (CDA) is recommending that that should be specific grounds in law for a court to terminate parental rights.
Parental abandonment is one of three circumstances the CDA is proposing be "expressly iterated" in law to prevent children, outside of court intervention, from spending their lives in institutions.
The other two circumstances under which a parent could lose their rights are whether they have been deemed unfit due to long-term mental illness or mental incapacity or whether they have been found guilty of murder or manslaughter in relation to another child of the same home.
NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY
"The power to permanently and irrevocably end parental rights is not one that is taken lightly by any jurisdiction, and can, if applied loosely, contravene the rights of both the parent and the child," the CDA said this week in a submission to the parliamentary committee that is reviewing Jamaica's sex offences laws to enhance protection of vulnerable groups in society.
"Yet," it continued, "there are specific instances in which the rights of the child demand the abrogation of parental rights, particularly in order to secure a more stable, permanent placement arrangement for wards of the state."
The CDA pointed to the United States, where laws are clear about the grounds for terminating parental rights.
Jamaica, the agency said, needs to follow as there is "no clear or consistent approach" to guide childcare professionals or decision makers.
Termination of parental rights under Jamaican law is mostly on a voluntary basis, it said. This is either through abandonment or with the consent of the parents for their child to be adopted. Courts, too, can order the termination if it is determined that a parent "unreasonably" withheld consent.
... Clarifying law would speed up adoptions
The Child Development Agency (CDA) is arguing that clarifying the law as it relates to parental rights would help speed up adoptions, a process that Floyd Green, junior minister in the youth ministry, has said is being simplified.
Typically, adoption processes start when a prospective 'parent' makes an application. There is no established mechanism to make a child "legally available" for adoption.
"What this means in effect is that there are children who enter the system at a relatively young age, and while their circumstances suggest that they are a candidate for termination of parental rights, they remain in the system for years before this option is even considered," the CDA said.
It added that "as local adopters favour young children, this can result in children becoming stuck in institutions for life".
"There are approximately 4,700 children in state care," the CDA's chief executive officer, Rosalee Gage-Grey, told The Gleaner. She could not immediately provide the number fitting the proposed abandonment criteria.
CAPTION: Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Hon Floyd Green