Maria* would wait until the last minute to tell her daughter, fostered for nearly 10 years, that the following day she would have to sit in front of a board that will decide her future for the next few months.

“She would be so worried and anxious that she would not sleep a wink and repeatedly ask whether she is going to ‘stay with us forever’,” Maria said of her daughter, whom she has cared for since she was a few weeks old.

The questions stopped when the girl was recently told she would remain with her foster parents as one of the children in care who finally have a ‘permanency plan’.

Nearly one in 10 children under a care order were given a permanency plan in the first six months since the implementation of a new law on the protection of minors.

Child advocates have long called for some form of permanency for children who cannot live with their biological parents.

Before the Minor Protection (Alternative Care) Act was implemented in July, concerned stakeholders spoke of children living from one advisory board meeting to another, unsure of their future.

Maria said her daughter finally has some stability, and can focus on just being a child, rather than wondering how to express her feelings, at least twice a year, with a board made up of people she did not know.

The new permanency plans ensure children are provided with some peace of mind about their future, and, as a result, a stable environment, whether in a children’s home or with their foster parents.

The board will still review the child’s situation and well-being in their placement every year.

Her daughter finally has some stability, and can focus on just being a child

“A permanency plan is submitted solely when all interventions with the biological families for reintegration, within the stipulated time, fail,” a Children’s Rights Ministry spokesperson told Times of Malta.

“Hence permanency plans are submitted to recommend that the minor keeps living in out-of-home care.”

In all, 66 such plans were submitted to the review board between July and December.

Most of the recommended plans – 54 – were for children in foster care.

By December, a total of 21 were approved by the board and consequently, court.

Two of these children live in a residential home, while the remaining 19 with foster parents. Another 33 children were waiting on the court to take a decision.

Apart from permanency plans and ensuring that children who have been in foster care for more than five years can be adopted by their carers, the new legislation has also seen re-integration attempts with the biological families.

So far, five re-unification plans have been submitted to the review board, four of which relate to children who live in a residential home. The decision is still pending.

There are currently 269 children under a care order. The number of care orders issued last year dropped to 14 from 39 in 2019.

This was already lower than the 50 issued in 2018, however, the largest drop had been registered in 2016.

Back then only nine children had been issued a care order despite referrals of children for protection having increased.

*Name has been changed

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