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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 21 OCTOBER 2000 / BACK
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postcard from leon fulcher

From Pulau Pinang

Greetings from Pulau Pinang, the Island of Penang, in West Malaysia located just south of Thailand opposite the Malacca Straits from Indonesia. I came here at the invitation of Majlis Kebajikan Masyarakat Negeri Penang, the state Social Welfare Council, to take part in a two-day workshop for staff working in children's homes and residential youth care centres. Penang is the site of Malaysia’s oldest Children's Home, Rumah Kanak Kanak St Joseph, established in 1865 by Catholic missionaries to care for orphans and abandoned children. A new purpose built children's home is sited nearby, continuing a legacy of child and youth care by non-government organizations in Malaysia today. During WWII, Japanese forces occupying the Malay peninsula used St Joseph’s as a barracks for soldiers defending Penang.

Original Rumah Kanak Kanak St Joseph housed WWII Japanese soldiers

40 workers attended the workshop Managing to Care in Residential Child and Youth Care Centres from both government and non-government agencies involved with the care of children and young people. In addition to St Joseph’s Home, workers came from Penang Adventist Hospital, Sri Mamakrishna Ashrama, Cheshire Home for Handicapped Children, the Mitra Welfare Centre, St Nicholas Home for the Blind, Ananada Asitima Welfare Society Children's Home, the Paya Terubong Juvenile Hostel, the Kepala Batas Children's Home, the Sebarang Prai Children's Homes from North and South Penang, the Salvation Army Children's Home, the Handicapped Children's Day Centre and officers from the state Social Welfare Department.

Issues highlighted during the two days will be familiar to child and youth care workers elsewhere. These included questions about the custody and rights of young children placed in care voluntarily by their parent(s); participation of handicapped children and young people in community life; assisting victims of sexual abuse to feel safe and become survivors; offering quality residential services that share common goals and respond to the needs of individual children; and overcoming the negative effects of institutional routines that restrict autonomy for young people in care.

Needs of Malaysian children & young people in care are a national concern

This Penang workshop coincided with major policy and practice issues highlighted in the media and receiving attention at the highest levels of the Malaysian government. The most significant issue concerned the plight of juveniles aged 12-20 being held on remand in adult prisons. This issue is closely aligned with reform of the Juvenile Courts Act (1947) – introduced under British colonial administration 10 years before Malaysia became an independent state – that still imposes mandatory 3-year sentences in residential approved schools for 12-18 year olds, in spite of best practices recommended internationally. Malaysia is also planning to establish Family Courts to handle marital and domestic cases, and decisions about guardianship of children.

Translating a 2020 Vision for the care of Malaysian children, young people and their families has presented everyone with major challenges. We wish everyone success in finding indigenous solutions to very complex development issues. Take care!

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