There are 88 minor children under court-mandated protection as of this month, according to the Court of Guardianship.
Of those 88 children, 34 are still living at home with their parents, but will receive regular protection checkups. Seven children are with foster families and 47 are in foster homes operated by a number of foundations.
Court of Guardianship head Richelda Emmanuel told Parliament’s Justice Committee on Tuesday afternoon that Government was responsible only for the upkeep of children under court-mandated protection.
Children placed in foster homes by parents or guardians are not covered and their upkeep remains the responsibility of their parent or legal guardian as outlined in the Civil Code of the country. The code states that parents or guardians are responsible for the upkeep of their children until age 18 (adulthood) or age 21 if the child is still in school.
Foster families receive NAf. 250 per month per child from Government, while NAf. 500 per child is paid to foster homes. Emmanuel agreed with representatives of foster homes who appeared before the same committee earlier in the day that the amounts are low.
She said the foster homes had been requested to compile data about the cost per child. The figure submitted to Court of Guardianship by the foster homes totalled some NAf. 2,000 per child. Emmanuel said the foster homes had been requested to revise the figure and subtract the cost for medical care, which already is covered by the court, and the cost for school fees and uniforms, as these are covered by St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF).
The foster homes were also requested to present a list of their other donors and contributors to the Court of Guardianship. This has not yet been submitted.
Since 2014, the Court of Guardianship has been paying medical bills for children in foster care if they are not insured via parents or if the child is not a Dutch national. Covered are medication, services/care provided by the Mental Health Foundation, psychologist, psychiatrist, St. Maarten Medical Center (some outstanding bills a decade old have been cleared away), emergency dental care and eyeglasses.
Emmanuel outlined to Members of Parliament (MPs) some of the measures Government and the Court of Guardianship had taken to alleviate the challenges faced by the foster homes. She said a concerted effort was being made to find more foster families to ease the burden on the foster homes. However, the shortage of foster families is acute.
Justice Minister Dennis Richardson and his support staff were present for the Justice Committee meeting, which was suspended by Committee Chairman MP Johan Leonard after several MPs posed questions. He suspended the meeting due to a lack of quorum. Only MPs Sarah Wescot-Williams, Leona Marlin-Romeo, George Pantophlet and Maurice Lake were present for the session at the time of the suspension.
Minister Richardson was late to the meeting due to a break-in at his home earlier in the day. He told MPs the break-in showed that “crime does not discriminate” and could touch anyone, including the Justice Minister.