Despite parliament having enacted the Child Protection (Alternative Care) Act in 2017 (Chapter 569 - Laws of Malta) this law not is still not yet in force. Therefore, Children subject to harm and their caregivers are only protected with outdated laws that were hastily enacted in the 1980s through the Children and Young Persons (Care Orders) Act (Chapter 285 - Laws of Malta)
Through a Care Order (ordni għall-ħarsien) a child is removed from the family environment he or she is currently living in and placed into the care and custody of welfare services. A Care Order is issued to protect the child from the environment s/he is currently in since this is deemed to be detrimental to his or her health or upbringing.
A child is subject to the provisions of the Care Orders act if he or she is under the age of 16 (Article 2, Care Orders Act).
Whenever a Care or Interim Order is issued, the child or young person is admitted into the care of the Minister responsible for welfare. In effect the child or young person is forcibly removed from his parents and is placed in a public home. In such case the Minister would have the care and custody as an ordinary parent or guardian of the child.
The law authorizes the Minister to take care and custody of a child or young person if the Ministers deem that such child or young person is “in need of care, protection or control”. In particular this means that the child is:
- beyond the control of his or her parents of guardians, or
- not receiving good parenting and he or she is falling into bad association or exposed to moral danger, or
- not receiving good parenting and he or she is unnecessary suffering, or
- the health or proper development of the child is at risk.
(Article 7, Care Orders Act)
Once a Care Order has been issued the child or young person will be placed to live either in a home that caters for children in such circumstances or given to a foster family. In certain circumstances, the child may also be placed to live with relatives (e.g. the child’s grandmother) if it is assured that these persons will ensure the proper upbringing of the child.
Usually, before issuing a Care Order an Interim Order is issued. This has the same effects as a Care Order, however, it has a maximum duration of 21 days. During this period (i.e. while the Interim Order lasts) the social workers and child psychologists involved in the case will draw up evidence for the purpose of supporting the issuing of the Care Order.
More about Care Order
Unlike the Interim Order, a Care Order does not expire automatically and will continue to take effect:
- unless it is revoked by the Juvenile Court (there is only a limited possibility for challenging the Care Order before the Juvenile Court);
- until it is revoked by the Minister (who usually acts on the advice of the Children and Young Persons Advisory Board);
- until the child reaches the age of eighteen (Article 4, Chapter 285 – Care Orders Act)
A person against whom a Care Order has been served can object to the said Care Order and in such case, the matter will be brought before the Juvenile Court. If the Juvenile Court deems fit it shall uphold the Care Order, otherwise, it shall revoke it.
Any person who encourages or assists a child or young person who is currently under a care order may be punished with up to six months imprisonment or fined for up to 233€ or punished with both penalties.
Contesting Care Orders
More information on how to contest a care order can be obtained from here