Children’s Bill: briefing

Social Development

05 August 2004
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Meeting report

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
6 August 2004
CHILDREN’S BILL: BRIEFING


Chairperson: Ms Tchivase (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Children’s Bill [B70-2003]
Executive Summary on the Children’s Bill
Overview by the Department of Social Development

SUMMARY
The Department of Social Development continued its briefing on the Children’s Bill. A presentation was also made on the key issues that the Department anticipated would arise at the forthcoming public hearings.

The Committee was vocal in its concern that the system urgently needed trained, registered social workers to provide meaning to the legislation. It was pointed out that m
any teachers complain of lengthy delays in responding to complaints after social workers has been notified
Other concerns raised by the committee members were:
- The role of the municipality versus provincial authorities in providing service delivery
- The role of police and teachers in child abuse cases
- The
work conditions experienced by community voluntary organizations with lack of support from the state and donor organisations
- The dilemma facing foster parents that do not want to lose the foster care grant but want to enter into an adoption arrangement
- The skills-development aspect of shelters needed to be encouraged
- The National Policy Framework’s incorporation in the Bill.

MINUTES
Mr Pierre du Preez (Chief Legal drafter in Department of Social Development) continued the briefing on the Children’s Bill taking the Committee through Chapters 6 to 20 (see the Executive Summary). Some of the points made were:

Briefing on Chapters 6-8
- Chapter 6 deals with the provision of partial care to children and the rules pertaining to the establishment of partial care facilities such as registration requirements and other norms and standards. The responsibilities of the Provincial Head of Social Development are outlined in terms of monitoring of such facilities.

- Chapter 7 deals with early childhood development with Clause 92 highlighting departmental strategies that must incorporate a comprehensive national strategy and include regular evaluation by Provincial Heads.

- Chapter 8 focuses on the protection of children. Most of the chapter should return to the Section 75 Bill. Clause 104 deals with strategies designed to ensure children’s protection. Any provincial strategy must include the key principles of a national strategy thus ensuring a co-ordinated response to the challenges.

With regard to the National Child Protection Register, Clauses 111-128 are relevant. Clause 105 imposes a duty on role players to report incidences of child abuse and this act is linked to the Child Protection Register. The purpose of the register is to keep a record of neglect and protect children from further occurrence as well as provide a record of persons unsuitable to working with children. Clauses 129-134 focus on the health of children such as the consent to medical treatment and the testing for HIV/AIDs. Clauses 135-142 referr to other protective measures such as the removal of children from the Republic without consent and the application of corporal punishment which is prohibited by law. Clause 141 prohibits child labour and Clause 136 concerns child-headed households.

Discussion on Chapters 6-8
Mr Solo (ANC) inquired about the registration process applicable to partial care-givers and the role of teachers within the overall proposed legislative framework. Should there exist a more efficient interaction between the Departments of Education and Social Development. Reference was made to the lengthy delays experienced by teachers when reporting issues to social workers.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) inquired about the status of the Bill dealing with Section 76 (provincial competence) matters relative to the Section 75 Bill (dealing with matters of national competence).

Mr M Waters (DA) asked about recommended measures to ensure that suitable people work within the nursery school environment, that is, to ensure that competent and vetted professionals work at such schools.

Mr Du Preez responded that currently meaningful collaboration existed between the Departments of Education and Social Development with Education. Contact was also maintained with the Justice Department and the South African Police Service (SAPS).

Dr M Mabetoa (Chief Director – Children) confirmed that an intersectoral strategy was in place  governed by the Child Abuse protocol which informed each province on how to deal with incidents of abuse. It was intended to establish a training programme for all service providers and abusers would be prevented from working with children by means of the Register which would contain a list of all offenders.

Mr Du Preez indicated that the Section 76 Bill has no legal status but serves merely as a reference for practical reasons. It was intended that after the public hearings, the proposed Bill would be dealt with on a clause by clause basis and the department would inform the committee of their recommended amendments and insertions.

Mr Solo referred again to the problems experienced by teachers particularly in the rural areas where teachers became aware of incidents of abuse on a regular basis. Did the Bill empower teachers to act as witnesses in cases of abuse? Many teachers complain of lengthy delays in responding to complaints after a social worker has been notified. Could teachers make interventions on their own in accordance with the framework of the Bill in a more timeous manner?

Dr Mabetoa responded that the issue with regard to teachers was perceived by the department as problematic in that teachers have specific duties that cannot be neglected by, for example, investigating cases of abuse. It was important that the Department of Social Development remained involved in such cases through the continued involvement of trained social workers. The recommended procedure was that teachers should report alleged cases to the police, that is, the Child Protection Unit (CPU) which, in turn, would contact the relevant social workers. A written report should be submitted to the CPU and the social workers. The rural areas present a particular problem due to size of area  which the Child Protection Committee seeks to overcome. It is envisaged that such committees would be set up in every community in order to report appropriate cases. The teacher could then follow-up to ascertain progress once the initial report had been made.

Mr Solo reminded the meeting that most teachers do not know the relevant legislation with regard to social work and therefore are not aware of the opportunities available to them. Could teachers not be empowered to clearly understand their potential paths to deal with urgent cases of abuse? It was recommended that this subject be discussed at a later stage to allow a departmental response and input from members.

Ms Chalmers commented that insufficient social workers existed to adequately handle the scale of the crisis. Doubt was also cast over the scope of CPUs to meet nationwide demands. A National Policy Framework was envisaged within the Law Commission Report that provided responsibilities to different entities encompassing both state and civil society groupings. What was the current status of this framework?

Dr Mabetoa suggested that the committee request a presentation from the Department of Education after the conclusion of the public hearings regarding the role of teachers and child abuse issues. The Department of Social Development was establishing community-based structures to assist in the investigation of abuse.

Mr E Saloojee (ANC) commented on the lack of Child and Family Welfare offices even within major urban areas. Another concern was the present work conditions experienced by community voluntary organizations such as poor pay and lack of support from the state and donor organisations. The value of meaningful legislation was stunted by a lack of adequate resources and low staff membership. The system urgently needed trained, registered social workers to provide meaning to the legislation.

Ms R de Waal (Department of Social Development) explained that certain clauses within the National Policy Framework had been removed due to cost implications but most issues were covered by other pertinent legislation such as the Promotion of Access to Information Act. Departments would continue to report to Parliament on the framing of legislation. However, the Department believed it necessary to return to the Framework in a simplified form to guide the production of legislation.

Briefing on Chapters 9-11
Mr du Preez continued with the briefing. Points made were:
- Chapter 9 focuses on  Prevention and Early Intervention Services. Such services would reside with the municipalities should sufficient capacity be present. The Childrens Court would decide whether intensive intervention was required.
- Chapter 10 deals with the child in need of care and protection.
The Bill retains the criteria as listed in section 14(4) of the Child Care Act, 1983 but has broadened the categories of children. The Children’s Court would take precedence over any other court in determining the needs of a child. A police official or designated social worker could place a child in temporary safe care without a court order if reasonable grounds existed. Clause 152 determines that misuse of this power by social workers served as grounds for investigation and possible removal from register. The Bill provides for the stable placement of children after consideration of the social worker’s report.
- Chapter 11 focuses on Contribution Orders, that is, maintenance payments for a child in need of alternative care or receiving medical treatment.

Discussion on Chapters 9-11
Ms Chalmers requested clarity on the role of the municipality in providing service delivery vis-à-vis the provincial authorities.

Mr du Preez responded that the municipalities could only provide a service if the province was satisfied that adequate capacity existed. If inadequate capacity prevailed, then the province would take responsibility.

Dr Mabetoa added that the capacity of municipalities throughout the country varied from region to region, thus creating a problem of consistency. It was the intention of the proposed Bill to eradicate this anomaly by legalising co-operation between provincial authorities and municipalities.

In response to a question concerning potential abuse of power by members of the SAPS, a representative of the Police Service responded that such abuse would be construed as misconduct and normal police disciplinary procedures would come into effect. It was the intention of the SAPS to institute nation-wide training on matters relating to the Bill once it was adopted by Parliament. Police officials could act if it was established beyond doubt that a child was in imminent and serious danger. It was recommended that police officials should include social workers in a case as soon as possible.

Mr Waters argued that, in practice, despite good intentions, it was unlikely that all police officials would fall within the ambit of training thereby remaining ill-equipped to deal with the particular challenges of child abuse.

Mr Saloojee remarked that the mere presence of police officials at a particular house or school where alleged abuse had occurred could serve as a valuable deterrent in assisting with the ceasing of such activities. It was recommended that the role of the police be further legalised through the present Bill.

The police representative responded that the police tend to involve themselves in a particular case where serious abuse has occurred by removing the child concerned. The protocol followed was then to contact social workers or places of safety immediately in order to ensure the urgent protection of the child.

Briefing on Chapters 12-14
- Chapter 12 focuses on identifying alternative places of care that could be utilised in dealing with children in need. The Bill recommended that a child up to the age of 18 could remain at a place of care but in certain circumstances this could be extended to 21 in order to complete education or training.
- Chapter 13 provides details on the arrangement pertaining to foster care schemes that emphasised the grant system to be adopted
- Chapter 14 contains detail on the status of Child and Youth Care centres indicating procedure to be followed in the establishment of such facilities. It was imperative that care centres be registered with the provincial authorities prior to any requests for funding.

Discussion on Chapters 12-14
Ms Chalmers required further detail on the foster care arrangement highlighting the problem that many care givers experienced when contemplating the option of adoption as the foster care grant would fall away in such circumstances.

Dr Mabetoa reminded the committee that the draft Bill had contained proposals regarding the transfer of the foster grant to an adoption grant. However, this detail had been removed by Cabinet on the basis of cost implications. The adoption of a child that previously was under foster care would fall under the Social Assistance Act and a foster grant could no longer be obtained.

Ms Chalmers asked whether it was not possible for children under the age of 14 to receive the right to have a foster grant translated into an adoption grant?

The Chairperson asked whether, in the case of the death of one parent, the remaining parent could apply for foster care.

Dr Mabetoa replied that it was not possible for biological parents to enter into a foster care arrangement with their own children

The Chairperson then countered by asking whether a grandparent could enter into such an arrangement?

Dr Mabetoa responded that grandparents could enter into this arrangement. In terms of the adoption grant, it was a policy matter that had to be dealt with at Treasury level.

Ms H Weber (DA) inquired about youth care centres situated in rural areas in terms of access to grants and the procedure to be followed regarding registration.

Mr du Preez replied that it was necessary for care centres to first be registered with the province before any request for financial assistance could be entertained.

Dr Mabetoa suggested that other options existed within rural areas to cater for care needs based on community network arrangements such as the cluster approach.

Mr A Theron, a representative of UNICEF, provided input on the dilemma facing grandparents that do not want to lose the foster care grant but want to enter into an adoption arrangement and recommended that such a strategy be incorporated into the Bill.

Briefing on Chapters 15-20
-
Chapter 15 provides recommendations on the definitions of shelters and drop-in centres and the prescribed scope of their activities. Emphasis was placed on the voluntary nature of their operation in that children could leave when they wanted to.
- Chapter 16 focuses on the requirements of adoption and the standards to be applied in determining suitability of adoption such as the issue of same-sex adoption.
- Chapters 17,18 and 19 deal with incidents of parental abduction, cross-border illicit transfer of children and the impact of wars and natural disasters on the well-being of children.
- Chapter 20 focuses on the matter of surrogate mothers and the phenomenon of in vitro-fertilisation.

Discussion on Chapters 15-20
Ms Chalmers emphasised the value of shelters and temporary centres for children if operated in a meaningful and development-orientated way. It was recommended that the National Policy Framework be revisited to inculcate the notion of shelters as venues where children’s lives could be positively affected.

Dr Mabetoa acknowledged that the skills-development aspect of shelters had been overlooked during the drawing-up of the minimum standards framework and it was the Department’s intention to rectify this.

Mr Theron reminded the committee of the important role played by volunteers and church-based organisations in service delivery. Many of these entities were not registered and therefore did not receive any monetary assistance. It was recommended that the Bill adopt a broader view in determining which workers fell into the ambit of child-care service delivery.

Ms de Waal stated that the current Child Care Act had been amended with regard to the adoption of children. The Fraser case allowed for unmarried fathers to adopt their child by making a request to do so.

Mr Waters responded that this appeared discriminatory towards fathers in that such an arrangement should be automatic.

Ms de Waal replied that the father could be eligible provided certain criteria were met.

Potential issues that could be raised in the up-coming Public Hearings
Ms de Waal gave a presentation on issues that the Department of Social Development believed would be discussed during the up-coming Public Hearings. It was felt appropriate to inform the committee prior to the commencement of the hearings.

The Department was of the opinion that aspects of the National Policy Framework needed to be re-inserted into the Bill but in a simplified version. It was envisaged that the Framework would form the ‘backbone’ of the Bill.

- With regard to Chapter 3, it was proposed that the four key principles of the United Nations Charter serve as the guiding framework for the child’s right to play. These are: the best interests of the child, survival and development, non-discrimination and participation. A new clause was needed to recognise these four principles.
- In terms of Chapter 8, it was intended to introduce the National Child Protection Register. Clauses dealing with the child’s right to medical treatment, access to contraceptives, unlawful removal from the Republic, child labour were to be introduced.
- It was envisaged that Chapter 8 would contain the prescribing procedures for the provision of information with regard to the Child Protection Register. This also covered how information would be shared between the national and provincial governments and other relevant institutions.

Mr Waters inquired as to the role of the Justice Portfolio Committee in the establishment of a Register.

Ms de Waal replied that the Department of Justice wants to introduce new legislation pertaining to child offenders which remains their prerogative. Social Development wants to identify those deemed inappropriate to work with children.

Mr Saloojee inquired whether Justice was happy with Social Development’s plan concerning a Register.

Ms de Waal responded that discussions had been held with the Department of Justice and it was agreed that such a register should fall within the Children’s Bill. It was recommended that the Social Development Portfolio Committee hold a meeting with the Justice Portfolio Committee on this issue.

The Chairperson indicated that representatives of the Justice Portfolio Committee were attending the Public Hearings but a meeting could also be arranged to address the matter.

Ms de Waal listed the key issues that were anticipated for the Public Hearings:
- National Policy Framework.
- Children’s Rights (Four principles of the UN Charter)
- The role of the Children’s Court.
- The proposed Children’s Protector that was rejected by Treasury.
- Social Security and Social Assistance Act of 2004 (to discuss financial issues such as the providing of grants).

The Chairperson thanked the delegates for their presentations.

Dr Mabetoa thanked the members for their questions and stated that the Department would consider all inputs. The cost implications of the Bill were receiving close attention. The Department acknowledged the presence of a wide spectrum of relevant role-players and sought to engage with all service providers.
 
The Chairperson declared the meeting closed.

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