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NEWS | Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Newborn, and already suffering from withdrawal symptoms

Social workers have raised the alarm regarding an apparent increase in the number of babies born to drug addict mothers, who already suffer from withdrawal symptoms hours after their birth.
Apart from the immediate medical attention these babies require, further problems arise as their parents request foster homes for their children... only to find that stringent bureaucratic procedures make it difficult for such children to be matched with appropriate families.
In fact while the number of babies born in such environments has increased over the past five years, fewer children are currently being fostered. In 2007 there were 173 fostered children and 155 foster carers: this year, the number of fostered children went down to 160.
Ruth Sciberras, manager of the Children’s Services within Appogg, acknowledges that there are problems when it comes to allocating suitable homes to children with such exacerbated family backgrounds.
“One of the main problems we are currently facing involves biological parents who take drugs. We are having mothers who injecting themselves till their last day of their pregnancy. Then babies are born with withdrawal symptoms just like adults, and as a result they have to be put on morphine,” Sciberras said in an interview to be televised tomorrow.
Although Appogg constantly carries out information campaigns, and issues calls for prospective foster carers in order to meet the growing demand, foster carers have to pass through a matching process. This process ensures that the carers selected have the appropriate skills to meet the particular needs of the child concerned, and the family situation of the carers is conducive to the child’s wellbeing.
A foster placement only occurs if there is a suitable family that matches with the child. Thus, some children may have to wait until appropriate foster carers are matched with them; and considering the severity of the needs of children born with heroin addiction, this can prove difficult.
In fact this same problem was mentioned in sister newspaper Illum two weeks ago by Josanne Abela, Appogg’s Service Area Leader at Social Work Service in Mater Dei. According to Abela, the number of cases of babies born to mothers with drug problems has increased substantially in the past five years.
Nevertheless there is a positive side to the story, as there seems to be a shift in mentality about fostering.
“We are seeing a shift in biological parents who are unable to take care of their children, which means the mentality is changing,” Sciberras said. “Parents now ask you to find their children a family. However, we are not finding enough foster families to take care of these children. That is why we are working so much on awareness.”
However, it is proving to be an uphill struggle. From time to time Appogg experiences the phenomenon of receiving an number of phone calls when a story of an abandoned child makes it to the media. However, when these families are told the child is not up for adoption and there are other children who are in need of a family, they refuse to take any other child.
“People are emotional just like when they are during Christmas and feel they should take home a child from the orphanage for a few days. It is an emotional interest more than a real one, as they pity the child. However, in reality they do not see what all this entails,” Sciberras explained, “There is also the fact that, since adoption is next to impossible in Malta, they think that an abandoned child will be adopted automatically.”
Last month it was reported that 60 children are currently in need of foster care. Paradoxically, the number of registered foster carers has increased, apparently in inverse proportion to the amount of children actually being fostered.
This in turn might be explained by the fact that some of the children entrusted to foster carers in previous years have since reached adulthood, and are therefore no longer counted as “foster children” even if they still live with their foster families.



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