Children’s Bill and National Policy Framework: briefing by Department

Social Development

19 August 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
20 August 2004
CHILDREN’S BILL AND NATIONAL POLICY FRAMEWORK: BRIEFING BY DEPARTMENT

Chairperson: Ms J Tshivase (ANC)

Documents handed out
Department of Social Development: Context of the Children’s Bill
Department of Social Development: Arguments for and against the inclusion of National Policy Framework in the Children’s Bill

SUMMARY
The Department briefed the Committee on their vision and objectives, particularly as these related to the Children’s Bill. The Committee discussed the delay in the costing of the Bill. There was an emphasis on the need to extend social development services to rural areas and on the need for departments to act co-operatively. The shortage of social workers was again raised as a significant stumbling block for implementation of policy.
 
MINUTES
Department Briefing
Mr V Madonsela (Department Director-General) explained that the delegation from the Department was accompanied by a delegation from the South African Law Reform Commission and the State Law Advisor’s Office.

He gave a brief explanation of the vision and mission of the Department, its social development priorities, strategic goals and Medium-term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) priorities. He stressed the need for a development approach to social work and reiterated that social workers were a critical force in welfare services. Strategies also had to be developed to retain and develop auxiliary workers such as childcare workers. Inter-sectoral collaboration was essential, not just within Government but with NGOs, for example.

The challenges included a shortage of human resources, infrastructure and the fragmented legislative framework. This fragmentation was something that the Children’s Bill sought to remedy.

He pointed out advances made in the payment times for grant beneficiaries and the increase in access to social services. There were approximately five million child support grant beneficiaries on the system, out of a total of 15.5 million grants across the board. Approximately 227 861 people received the foster care grant and 82 257 received the care development grant. Turnaround time had been dramatically reduced although it was still over the 48 hours and 45 minutes target.

The Bill had not yet been costed. Early in the year, tenders had been invited, but the replies had returned costs far in excess of those estimated. The proposal had been revised and the process had been restarted. A new tender document would be released on Monday 23 August 2004.

Discussion
Ms M Magazi (ANC) asked why the Bill had not been costed before the date of the Briefing. The Bill was now being reintroduced.

Mr Madonsela replied that a costing exercise had been conducted when the unified Bill was first introduced. They now intended to do a full costing exercise as soon as the content of separated bills was absolutely clear. A number of processes had complicated this, such as the debate on the legality of a combined Bill. The short sitting of Parliament owing to the national election had also slowed the process. The costing tender had been put out and the replies had exposed the need to review monies available. After this review, a new closed tender had been put out. The Department’s regretted the delays.

Ms H Weber (DA) asked whether school feeding had been ignored or could be reintroduced. She also enquired whether teachers and schools could be assisted to acquire Identity Documents (IDs) on behalf of children, to avoid the delays experienced by those expected to travel long distances.

Ms I Ludwabe Gcina (ANC) related that there are no feeding schemes for children in the rural areas near her home city of Port Elizabeth. Many children lived in dire poverty and without transport. She made a special appeal for food support for Rocklands and St Albans.

Ms Madonsela said that the Department of Education responsible for schools feeding scheme would soon brief the Committee. He suggested Ms Ludwabe Gcina address her appeal to them as well. The Department of Social Development had very limited interventions, and had only one programme for the distribution of food parcels. This targeted children who did not attend school. It was intended to complement the schools feeding scheme, and should result in children receiving three meals a day for at least three months of the year.

He added that educators could play a role in facilitating the acquisition of children’s identity documents. This question that might again be better answered by the Departments of Education and Home Affairs.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) complimented the Department on the advances made in granting the child support grant (CSG). She queried Mr Madonsela’s figure of 15.5 million children, and said that Statistics SA had given a number of 19 million children under the age of 18, 11 million of whom lived in dire poverty. She realised that the age limit for the CSG would go up to 14 next April, but pointed out that a substantial number of children under the age of 18 were still without child support. She asked whether the old system of ‘apprenticeships’ could be re-established as it had worked well in the past and been beneficial to all parties.

Mr Madonsela replied that the figure of 15.5 million was correct as at the end of October 2003, but it was limited to the categories of children eligible for the CSG - he would cross-check the statistics. Social grants were not the only solution to child care needs. The Department recognised other interventions, entrepreneurship, all targeting youth under the age of 15, but also understood that these did not offer immediate respite. The Department was also aware that the Constitution defined a child as being a person under the age of 18 years.

Ms F Batyi (ID) said that Section 28(1) stated every child’s right to proper care. She asked what the Government was doing about the welfare of children in detention.

Mr Madonsela replied that children did not belong in prisons, but in secure care facilities if they had committed serious offences. In reality, there were a sizeable number of children in overcrowded correctional facilities. There was a need to build secure care facilities, but the Department’s emphasis was on preventative interventions. Other departments, such as the Department of Education, were also involved as children in detention had not lost their right to basic education. In the past, children who had committed offences had been placed in reform schools. Positive aspects of these schools should be incorporated in secure care facilities.

Mr T Masutha (ANC) said it was important to understand the existing delivery reach of the Policy Framework, and to target barriers to access. He asked what had been omitted from the Bill and how the Bill could be extended.

Mr M Diko (UDM) raised the concern that no timeframes had been given on some issues. He also asked if the salary increase for social workers would apply to social workers in other departments.

Mr Madonsela replied that the strategic plan, outputs and timeframes of the Department had been presented before the Budget Vote. He offered to make a copy of the strategic plan available to any Members if needed. All social workers in the Public Service would receive the increase.

Ms Tshivase remarked that most facilities, including human resources, related to urban areas. The deep rural areas had huge shortages. She gave an example of a boy who had been badly abused by his parents in 2001, and where there had been no social workers to assist.

Ms Ludwabe Gcina questioned how the poor rural areas could receive the mentioned three meals a day.

Mr Madonsela said that food parcels had been delivered to drop-in centres in communities, and also given to households. This was also care for the elderly. Part of the expanded public works programme was the rollout of infrastructures to outlying areas. It was also important for community members to put together projects to assist government.

Ms I Mars (IFP) agreed with the policy but experience showed that implementation was lacking. She asked whether the Committee could organise an audit.

Ms W Direko (ANC) said that her question related specifically to rural areas where drop-in centres or places of safety did not exist. There was a need to shift focus to the rural areas where the need was greatest. In her experience in the Free State, there were a few drop-in centres, but none in rural areas.

Mr Madonsela said that drop-in centres had largely been driven by home care based programmes, and acknowledged that there were few centres in rural areas, mostly run by NGOs. He reiterated the need for support for rural organisations.

Mr Diko said that specific mention had been made of a new funding policy. Rural areas were not accessing this funding. He asked how it was possible to assist if no funding policy was in place.

Mr Madonsela replied that it was expected that the funding policy would be finalised by the end of 2004.

Mr Masutha referred to inter-sectoral collaboration and asked whether it was assumed that the social security area would be able to monitor the issues arising out of the Bill, such as a revised foster care system. A comprehensive framework was needed that included matters regulated elsewhere.

Mr Madonsela said that his understanding from Cabinet was that it was important to have one piece of legislation to deal with social assistance. It was therefore not desirable to have the Children’s Bill dealing with social assistance matters. The Department would hold a policy indaba in October and November 2004 that would look at all matters relating to social security. They accepted that adoption was preferable to temporary foster care. There was a question of whether the adoptive parent was entitled to an adoption grant equivalent to the foster care grant. There would be interaction with the Policy Committee on this point. Other aspects were also of great concern to the Cabinet, including the issue of informal kinship. The Children’s Bill regulated this and does not leave it to the individual discretion of magistrates.

Mr Masutha thought the foster care system would have to expand and asked whether this was being catered for financially. There was a very slow intake of foster care placements in some areas and asked whether this was being addressed.

Mr Madonsela said that there were obviously cost implications. As the costs of running children’s courts would be very high, existing structures should be made as child friendly as possible. He referred Mr Masutha to the Department of Justice.

Mr M Waters (DA) said that he did not accept Mr Madonsela’s answer about the costing of the Bill. The Bill was initially gazetted on 1 August 2003. It was essential for the Committee to know the cost of a Bill to be able to make an informed decision. He asked why the Department could not do its own costing. He also asked whether any costing had been done on the concept of children’s courts before its removal from the Bill.

Mr Madonsela replied that scoping had been done at the outset. This gave indicative ballpark figures only, rather than details. The judiciary was increasingly concerned about the number of specialised courts in the country, but he was unsure of the influence of this concern. It was unsure whether it would be possible to accommodate the concept in the short- to medium term. If the Department was to do its own costing, it would cause other processes to stop. It was thus better to have experts doing the costing, rather than run the risk of missing important details.

Mr Waters said that the envisaged 48 hours, 45 minutes timeframe would be brilliant, but asked what the Department’s timeframe was for actually turning the system around.

Mr Madonsela said that the Department was working towards the 48:45 norm. In the past, applicants in the Eastern Cape, for example, had waited two to three years for grant approval, and people in the Western Cape and Gauteng for 90 days. This had dropped to 30 days for the Western Cape and 32 days for Gauteng. A number of factors were involved, one of the most important was the staff to beneficiary ratio, which was 1:800 in Gauteng and the Western Cape, and 1:2 000 in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. Staff shortages in the provinces were also recognised as a concern issue. Social grants planners had been cautioned not to ‘crowd out’ other services.

Mr Waters related that some NGOs had said that child headed households should not be recognised at all because children should not running households. He asked the Department’s view on whether acceptance of such households was admitting defeat.

Mr Madonsela said that the Department and the Government were generally not in favour of institutionalisation - this was a last resort as children should grow up in communities. Siblings preferred to live as a unit and these interests needed to be considered. Child-headed households were a reality so they needed to assist suchj households to function. Proposals had been received for family clusters with caregivers able to assist with parenting.

Dr M Mabetoa (Chief Director: Children) said that the Bill provided for the appointment of an adult in the community to take care of children. The adult would be accountable to social workers or an accredited NGO.

Mr Waters said that if the National Treasury would not be presenting the scoping cost of the Bill, he would request to be furnished with the scoping costs.

The Chairperson then welcomed Mr D Plaatjies (Director: Social Security and Welfare Services, National Treasury) who would brief the Committee next week. Mr Plaatjies said that the role of the National Treasury was to look at the cost drivers in the Bill, not the costing itself. The costing was big exercise because it did not only involve Social Development, and would therefore require patience. Close attention would be paid to the costing implications for the provinces and the need to look at different types of programmes. The National Treasury would have to consider choices for the way forward.

Mr Waters asked whether he could have scoping cost rough estimates.

Mr Madonsela said that he would make the scoping figures available but asked the National Treasury to make a detailed presentation on the costing.

Ms M Nxumalo (ANC) was worried that foster care was becoming an ‘employment option’ and felt that children were suffering. She asked whether there were programmes to monitor the situation. It was a struggle to open drop-in centres because of the need to deal with a variety of departments.

Mr Madonsela said that the Department was very concerned about the perverse incentives or unintended consequences of good policies, and asked for community assistance in bringing attention to misuse. Caseloads were staggering due to the shortage of social workers so the Department was designing a retention strategy for social workers. With regards to drop-in centres, where households were sparsely located and it was difficult for the community to come together, the Department needed to be proactive.

Ms Direko said that the CSG was a nightmare for the Provinces to administer. She asked whether there were gaps in the Bill that would only be obvious after the policy indaba.

Mr Madonsela said that the ten-year review indicated that, were it not for the CSG, scores of children would be living in abject poverty. He did realise that the money was sometimes abused, but felt that the grant had really made a difference. The ‘Policy Indaba’ had little or nothing to do with the Children’s Bill.

Ms Chalmers interjected that the Section 76 Bill would be impacted by decisions taken at the indaba and stressed the tension in dividing the Bill into Sections 75 and 76 bills.

Ms Direko agreed that the CSG had made a big difference, but added that the Treasury needed to take responsibility to fund the processes handed down to the Provinces. Some foster care parents had been handpicked by social workers who were party to the misuse of funds. Social workers needed to be monitored.

Mr Plaatjies said that the imminent shift of the social grants function to National Government would be beneficial. The foster care grant had grown exponentially and there was still a need to look at the social welfare system. He reiterated the need to promote incentives for people to become social workers.

Ms Direko added that all grants were problematic in terms of eligibility. Foster care grants would be increasingly sought after, particularly with the HIV/AIDS death rate. Grants could take up to three years to come through and that were difficult to access in rural areas. She asked whether the Treasury had considered making the CSG the grant of preference and increasing the amount. She asked whether it was a sustainable approach to have a foster care grant. She felt that a further workshop was needed on the Bill and all its aspects as she had not found this meeting sufficiently explanatory.

Mr Madonsela said that problems with the foster care grant could be avoided with proper assessment structures. The Department felt that, while people waited for the foster care grant, they could draw the CSG with caregiver status. The foster care grant was not awarded retroactively.

Mr Masutha cited a case study where children had been entitled to survivor’s benefits. That grant had been delayed for a year as the case had been passed from department to department. Artificial barriers had blocked access and he asked the departments to state what they were doing to improve systems.

With respect to the Child Justice Bill, Mr Masutha felt that before children were in trouble with the law, they should have been targeted by Children’s Bill provisions. They needed to find innovative ways, and have a meeting with the Department of Justice on this.

Mr Madonsela said it was important to have a point of comparison with the Child Justice Bill, but suggested this wait until the following week when the Department of Justice would be with the Committee.

Mr Masutha said that there were a few issues on which Mr Madonsela would have to come back to the Committee, such as financing policy and how the Bill should be designed so that it neither impeded nor imposed obligations on the Social Assistance Act.

Mr Madonsela agreed to personally present an answer to the Policy Committee, and promised to attend the next week’s Portfolio Committee meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.


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