The Sunday Times looked at how the Western Provincial Department of Probation and Child Care operates to get an overview of the situation in the country.
The public, the police and the courts may inform our department of children who need care and protection, explained Commissioner G.P.D. Somaratna, stressing that his officers were working at grassroots level.
Then, if the need arises, the department has to place them in ‘Child Development Centres’, he says, explaining that no longer are they called children’s homes.
There are 97 such registered centres in the Western Province and 3,800 children, both boys and girls between the ages of 5-18 years have been placed in them. The usual practice is for a child to be kept at such an institution for two years and efforts made to hand him/her back to their parents or guardians if the environment is conducive to the child.
However, Placement Committees at these institutions may request that a child’s time be extended if they believe that leaving the institution will disrupt the child’s education or the child’s home is unsafe, etc. Many children stay at institutions for a long time. Some girls who are over 18 still remmain at these centres if they have no safe place to go to. The garment industry has offered about 500 jobs to children above 16 who are eligible to work and about 200 positions have already been filled, he said.
Abused children first undergo a physical and mental rehabilitation programme lasting a minimum of six weeks before they are sent to these centres, he said.
Meanwhile, referring to unregistered home in the Western Province, he said that currently, there are six in the process of being registered, with another 30 applications for registration being received by the department.
Firstly, those wishing to provide a home for children should register as a voluntary organization under the Social Welfare Ministry in accordance with the 1980 Act for the Registration of Voluntary Organizations. It is only, thereafter, that they may seek registration to run such an institution with the Department of Probation and Child Care Services.
Many things are looked into including their assets, management and administrative structure, location of the centre, space and land available, water and electricity supply and educational and sports facilities, he pointed out. They are also graded as A (excellent), B (good), C (normal) and D (weak). Most centres in the Western Province are satisfactory, with only one at Avissawella falling into the D category. We have instructed it to upgrade its standard.
The Western Province has been divided into 12 probation and child care regions with 17 points and 75 probation officers, said Mr. Somaratne, conceding that his officers have a heavy workload and scarce resources such as transport.
Referring to the NCPA-probation link, he says that the NCPA has the power to take “on the spot action”. If an institution does not meet the standards, the NCPA can get a court order and then hand over the children to us at probation and child care. Thereafter, we will place them in better centres, he said citing the case of the two homes in Thihariya that had not even applied for registration being raided by the NCPA and 37 children placed elsewhere by probation.