Claudine Cassar | Sunday, 05 July 2009
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Dar Niki Cassar shutting down

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about the serious problems that are currently being encountered by social workers and other people who work in Child Protection services.
The response to my article was overwhelming. I received emails from various people who work in the field, and they all had a different story to tell. One of them, the head of a residential home, explained that he only has one space currently available, but that there are 17 children on the home’s waiting list. Each of these 17 children come from abusive families, and desperately need a new place to stay. However he can only help one – the other 16 will be left out in the cold.
My heart went out to that man, because how on earth do you choose which child to help, or more terribly, which children to abandon? What do you do, draw a name out of a hat? Is that what stands between these children and hope – a flip of a coin?
Another organisation that is encountering such difficulties is YMCA Homeless, a charity that provides shelter for homeless people, including children. This NGO provides shelter for 22 people in a home called Dar Niki Cassar. However YMCA is not managing to cope with the scale of the problem – more than 300 people are homeless every day in Malta, of which 64 are children.
The growing number of homeless and abandoned children led the charity to set up a new specialised shelter for homeless girls aged 14 to 18. These are the girls that the State could not help directly, and the YMCA shelter is the last hope for them. They live in small apartments, consisting of two bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen with a small living area. Each apartment houses two girls, who are cared for 24/7 by carers and social workers.
At the time I visited, the YMCA team was going through a stressful time. One of the girls in their new shelter had been missing for over 16 days. The girl is 14, and is severely troubled. Pimped out for a fix by her mother at the young age of 9, she is today addicted to drugs, and will do anything to procure them. Jean Paul told me that the likelihood was that the girl had fallen in the clutches of ruthless individuals who were making her sell herself in return for drugs – “Her mother did the same thing, so how can we expect her to know any better?”.
These girls’ stories are horrific, and it hurts to hear how the system failed them. I met a young girl who has just turned 16. She has been living in the shelter for over a year now, and is responding well to the programme – she is slowly starting to form relationships with the carers, and with that comes hope. I felt helpless, and angry – very, very angry – when I heard her story. Abused by family members, she developed behavioural problems. The State did not have the resources necessary to help her, so she ended up, aged 14, in the Adult Female Ward at Mt Carmel Hospital. She would still be there if YMCA had not stepped in to help her.
The stories all follow the same pattern. Children abused at a young age, developing behavioural problems, and then abandoned and thrown on the rubbish heap of life – judged to be too far gone to deserve any help.
Children grow up, and troubled children become troubled adolescents, who end up getting in trouble with the law. One such case came to light recently in juvenile court. Magistrate Anthony Vella was passing judgement on a 17-year-old who stood accused of injuring his mother during an altercation. The Magistrate was scathing in his comments – this boy was not a criminal but a victim. If he had been properly cared for, he would never have ended up in such a situation.
The Magistrate called on the authorities to implement the recommendations made by the Commissioner for Children in 2007 – young people who live in a difficult environment should be helped and supported, and not accused of being criminals!
First we reject them and abandon them, and then we have the gall to brand them as criminals when they react in anger and frustration. I guess it makes us feel better to dismiss them as delinquents, instead of facing up to the fact that we have failed in our duty to protect them, and that it is ultimately our fault that they have ended up in a prison cell.
As Jean Paul said –“There are several valid professionals in the field hailing from both NGOs and state agencies. Minister Dalli is trying to help us out, and we all want to do good work with these kids but the country’s resources are apparently not enough. So at this point we have to decide.... Do we just want to pay lip service to helping these kids, or are we going to put our money where our mouth is? Passing the buck onto charity is just not good enough. These kids need help, and they need it now!”
I asked Jean Paul about finances. It must cost money to care for over 60 social cases daily. He explained that YMCA does not only offer them a roof over their head and food to eat. The charity employs a small army of social workers and assistants – and this comes at a cost. In all, the organisation needs around €270,000 per annum, of which government provides €40,000. The remaining €230,000 must be raised through donations, a feat which is proving to be very difficult.
In fact, the likelihood is that YMCA will have to shut down Dar Niki Cassar at the end of July because of lack of funds. Not only will the homeless end up once again without a roof over their heads, but all the members of staff will loose their jobs.
There are four weeks to try to save it.
In November 2008, YMCA launched a new fundraising drive called YMCA 365. The aim was to find 365 people who would donate €365 a year, thus guaranteeing the organisation an income of around €130,000 per annum – for full information, including the donation form, go to This campaign has been ongoing for eight months now – and the result? Eleven people have signed on.
This number threw me. How on earth is it possible that out of a population of almost half a million people, only 11 good souls were willing to help YMCA with a regular commitment of €1 a day? Is it possible that we are so removed from the daily suffering of people who are homeless and abandoned, that we manage to shrug them off without a care?
I was also disgusted at myself – because that short list of 11 people did not include MY name either. Thank goodness I am not too late to lend a hand, so I hereby pledge to be the 12th person on the list. I hope that you, my reader, will be the 13th.


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