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Malta: Empowering Children and Investing in their Wellbeing

Malta has consolidated its efforts towards empowering children and investing in their wellbeing as underlined in Malta’s National Reform Programme (NRP), the National Report on Strategies for Social Protection and Social Inclusion (NSR) and the National Strategic Policy for Poverty Reduction and for Social Inclusion 2014-2024 (the document outlines Malta’s strategy to combat poverty and social exclusion in line with the Europe 2020 Strategy poverty reduction target).

Access to adequate resources

Acknowledging that child wellbeing strongly depends on the available opportunities and access to adequate resources, the Government has taken several steps towards this aim. Income for the family was consolidated through such measures as the tapering of benefits for long-term unemployed persons and single parents, granting of full widows’ pension to employed widows and full disability pension to persons with a disability when they enter the labour market. Other measures introduced to sustain income from social security benefits  include a weekly increase in disability allowance for children, an in-work benefit and an income suppliment for low-income working parents, social assistance and free childcare for unemployed single parents who enrol in the Youth Guarantee Scheme. On the other hand, free childcare has been available for parents in employment or education since 2014. Furthermore, the Government took measures which led to an increase in disposable income through: a reduction on household energy and water bills; broadening of tax bands for parental computation while putting into place measures designed to reconcile family and professional life such as through an increase in the maternity leave benefit (including self-employed women whilst extending it to adoptive parents); and the creation of a special maternity fund for women employed in the private sector.

The Maltese Public Employment Service (PES) offers several training programmes to assure both individuals’ needs and those of the economy, while encouraging lifelong learning. The PES, through its Jobseekers’ Advisory Services, employs a number of employment advisors whose main role is to offer personalised career guidance and create a personal action plan for the individual job seeker. Furthermore, the profiling of clients is considered as a useful tool to help identify the career needs of the individual.

Access to affordable quality services

The promotion from an early age of values having to do with social justice and equity amongst others is highlighted and endoresed in the ‘Framework for the Education Strategy for Malta 2014-2024’ which was launched in February 2014.

State kindergarten education (3-5 years) is free and accessible to all. An after-school hours’ service for children between 3 and 16 years of age is also offered in 30 state primary schools. This service bridges the gap between school hours and parents’ working hours while providing further opportunities for children to develop social, emotional and learning skills. During the summer holidays another scheme ‘SkolaSajf’ is available.

Following the conclusion of the ‘One Tablet per Child’ pilot project in June 2015, it is now envisaged that by October 2016 every student in Year 4 will be provided with a tablet.  Tablets will be used to promote more frequent and better reading, writing, numeracy and digital literacy skills. The Government also provides a grant to fund projects related to Entrepreneurship Education, implemented by Maltese primary and secondary schools that participate in this annual initiative.

In February 2015, the Ministry for Education and Employment published a policy document related to educational inclusion titled ‘Education for All: Special Needs and Inclusive Education in Malta.’ This policy document assessed not only the issue of inclusion in Maltese schools but also the whole educational system. This study which was carried out by the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education, particularly highlights the necessity that learners with special needs are catered for by all stakeholders.

The educational needs of children undergoing specialised long-term treatment in hospital are being met through enhanced collaboration with the Education Directorates.

Moreover, foster care continued to be prioritized as an alternative to residential care. The Government approved a scheme whereby Foster Carers of children with special needs, receive a substantial payment package as an incentive to encourage more persons to foster children with special needs. Training on ‘Contact with Birth Parents’ was delivered to the staff of children’s services at Aġenzija Appoġġ, the national welfare agency, to render contact with birth parents more effective while safeguarding the child’s best interests. The agency is also planning a strategy for Media Campaigns with the aim of encouraging other potential foster carers to join in such an initiative.

During 2014 and 2015, community-based services were consolidated through the implementation of the LEAP Project, an EU co-financed pilot initiative. Through its family resource centres, the LEAP project offers interdisciplinary and outreach services to cater for the various needs of children and their families within their regional communities. Such initiatives provide for a plethora of welfare services within disadvantaged communities, whilst facilitating access to affordable high quality services. Due to its success, the LEAP model will be sustained in the coming years.

Children’s right to participate

National Standards for the safety of indoor play areas for children were launched by the Government in collaboration with the Commissioner of Children and other stakeholders. Furthermore, a legal instrument to support this National Standard is being drafted. The Commissioner for Children is to be strengthened and given the right to implement decisions.

The Government is facilitating children’s participation in social, cultural, recreational, sporting and civic activities. Thus, it is building or upgrading sports facilities, installing new children’s play equipment and garden furniture while offering training to administrators working in the local sport sector.

The information in the country profile was last updated in December 2015.

The above information based on the three thematic issues of resources, services and participation, provides a brief overview of the main policies, service provision and programme implementation initiatives that have been undertaken by Malta during the course of 2014 and 2015, as well as the way forward for the coming years in order to promote greater visibility, understanding and consideration of children’s rights and wellbeing.