The Minister, SASSA and the Department provided the background to, rationale for and overview of the Child Support Grant Top Up introduced in June 2022 and for which over 7 000 applications had already been received. Also covered was the legislative framework, target group, documents to accompany applications, implementation and initial challenges.
Committee members were concerned about the recent review of the child support grant (CSG) in KwaZulu Natal and elsewhere which has resulted in the grant being suspended for many of the beneficiaries; school learners older than 18 who lose the CSG as they are no longer within the prescribed age bracket; the intended outcomes are of social assistance programmes geared at children; whether the CSG money was reaching the child and if there were sufficient social workers to cater for checking on this; and if children living on the street would qualify for a grant.
Minister's opening remarks
Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu apologised that she would have to leave early. She acknowledged the presence of the Department of Social Development (DSD) Acting Director General, Mr Linton Mchunu; SASSA CEO, Ms Totsie Memela-Khambula and Mr Bongani Magongo, NDA CEO. She gave background to the implementation of the child support grant (CSG) Top Up for orphans in the care of relatives. In 2011 the North Gauteng High Court directed the Minister to devise and implement a comprehensive legal solution to the crisis in the foster care system where a large number of children were being excluded from receiving benefits and adequate protection services, owing to the administrative design of the foster care dispensation. There was a requirement that foster care grant (FCG) beneficiaries must through the Children's Court to extend and renew their grants every two years. This placed unbearable pressures on the state machinery and equally it contributed to the deteriorating quality of life for the FCG beneficiaries for both old and new applicants alike. This resulted in social workers over investing their own resources.
Following far reaching consultations aimed at realizing the comprehensive legal solution as the court directed and as the first step in that direction, DSD invoked the 2015 Cabinet-approved Child Support Grant Top Up policy. Through this the Minister was able to introduce a higher value child support grant Top Up grant for orphans in the care of relatives. This was done in concurrence with the Minister of Finance. As a result, on 1 June 2022, the Minister introduced this grant. This new approach to the comprehensive legal solution renders the back-breaking court processes unnecessary. However, to ensure that the orphan children continue to receive adequate care and protection, social workers would need to monitor the families that provide care for them.
The Child Support Grant Top Up is a practical demonstration of how our social protection infrastructure, through social assistance innovation, is being responsive to the wide variety of vulnerabilities and social economic burdens that communities, families and children are experiencing, in the face of the persistently growing rates of unemployment and the threatening incidence of hunger. This is coupled together with other social protective services such as early childhood development (ECD). The ECD process of transition to Department of Basic Education is moving well so far. In adding quality basic education, health and other measures, social assistance is the centrepiece of the support families that care for children receive. This is our investment in South Africa's future. Needless to reiterate the intentions of the Sixth Administration of our democratic government remains the well being and holistic development of each child. For this reason they put the child's interest first.
The Child Support Grant Top Up is the practical expression of their growing support of our children, over the years studies have shown the positive impact that social grant in particular the CSG had on poverty alleviation and the promotion of the well being of beneficiary children.
By 29 July 2022 SASSA had processed more than 7 000 applications towards the grant. She handed over to DSD and SASSA to give the presentation.
DSD Acting Director General input
Mr Linton Mchunu, DSD Acting Director General, noted the makeup of South African households. The structure of a household's environment is critical to the holistic development of both the emotional and cognitive growth of children and of course parents play an important role in this journey. In South Africa due to death, abandonment or poverty, children are often left in the care of other relatives such as grandparents to provide quality upbringing and support till they reach adulthood.
Of course these children may not necessarily be in need of care and support but these families need income to support these children in their care. The Minister indicated that the North Gauteng High Court instructed the Minister of Social Development to design and implement a comprehensive social legal solution to the crisis of the foster care system and the process to extend the CSG for orphans living in the care of relatives and child-headed households. This process started in 2012 and became operational on 1 June 2022. Members will note it took about 10 years to develop and implement this policy. On 1 December 2015 Cabinet approved the policy of increasing the value of CSG for orphans living in the care of relatives. In 2018 the Minister of Social Development tabled to Parliament the Social Assistance Amendment Bill to provide for the legislative framework for the CSG Top Up. Subsequently the Bill was passed by Parliament and signed into law by the President as the Social Assistance Amendment Act No 16 of 2020 and the regulations were published in April 2022. This amendment empowered our Minister with the concurrence of the Minister of Finance to introduce an additional payment to the social grant based on the need.
Today relatives caring for orphans can apply at SASSA for the CSG Top Up and since implementation both SASSA and the DSD have both been reaching out to communities to increase the awareness of the grant and have crossed the country. We intend to finish all provinces within the coming days. Of course to prioritise rural areas, we have reached out to officials who are responsible for implementation of the CSG Top Up. We are also conducting virtual consultations as most stakeholders can be reached this way all across the country.
Child Support Grant Top Up: DSD presentation
Dr Maureen Mogotsi, DSD Director: Children and Family Benefits, and Mr Brenton van Vrede, SASSA Executive Manager: Grants Administration, presented. The presentation gave an overview of the Top Up legislative framework, the documents requested for one to qualify for this and the implementation of this policy.
The CSG Top Up is not a new grant; it is based on Child Support Grant as a policy intervention of government. The CSG supports over 11 million beneficiaries. Its provision is to ensure that caregivers of children in extreme poverty can access social assistance to supplement household income.
The CSG is a complementary grant. It is a supplementary grant in assisting the whole family. The programme was introduced in 1998 covering all children from zero to 18 years of age.
The rationale for the Top Up came after DSD was taken to court in 2011 after the childcare system at the time was over whelmed by the number of the children in the system. It was not able to keep up with the demand of new applications. According to foster care provision, extension of court orders need to happen every two years. With a growing backlog this led to the exclusion of a large number of children in need of protection services at that particular time. From 2011 the number of FSG beneficiaries was going down. From 500 000 beneficiaries to currently below 300 000 beneficiaries showing how the backlog in the foster care system.
Due to the decline in 2013, DSD engaged in rigorous consultations with relevant stakeholders in the different provinces. In reviewing provision for children in alternative care, one of the recommendations was to introduce a CSG Top Up. A study proposed a kinship grant or a CSG Top Up and DSD chose to proceed with the CSG Top Up. This was the first step towards the comprehensive legal solution
This not being a new grant, the rules of the Foster Care Grant are maintained whilst following the rules of the Child Support Grant. The documents required were outlined as well as the initial challenges (see presentation).
Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC) asked if there is a consideration for over-age school pupils who are older than 18 who for various reasons such as poverty, started primary school late and been left behind as a result. By the time they are 19 they will no longer be within the prescribed CSG age bracket.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC) stated that media reports in KwaZulu Natal indicated that SASSA had taken a review process in KZN to ensure that grant recipients are deserving of the support. It was reported that 38 000 grants have undergone a SASSA review process. These reviews have been done for several reasons; however these reviews have resulted in grants being suspended. She asked DSD to elaborate on these media reports. Had research been done to follow up on former CSG and Foster Care Grant recipients? What are the overall intended outcomes of social assistance programmes geared at providing support to children?
Ms M Ntuli (ANC) of the National Assembly said that Ms Ndongeni had covered the majority of her questions. The majority of people in KZN had been declined and told they do not qualify without a reason. She wanted to know from the department what were the causes for this and where they could get clarity on why they do not qualify all of a sudden.
Ms D Christians (DA) welcomed the presentation because seeing to our children was the most important thing we can do right now. It had been mentioned that there were several thousand applications that been done to date and that the performance of these applications was being tracked i.e. the numbers were being tracked. However what tracking and tracing mechanisms were used for this? Her question was whether the beneficiaries were in fact the intended recipients for these grants and were these children being tracked in terms of their wellbeing and welfare? In other words was the money reaching the hands of these children? Were there sufficient social workers to cater to the children? Given the rise in the number of children living on the street, would this grant include them?
DSD / SASSA response
Mr van Vrede replied about the review in KZN and around the country. What happened was last year around October or November they ran the SASSA database against the public servants database specifically the PERSAL database. They found there were a number of civil servants who had been collecting grants. This prompted them to implement the review. This is what they did in May this year as civil servants or people who had spouses in the public service may not have qualified for grants. In accordance with the legislation, the grant recipient is given three months to come to a SASSA office to present their documents, so SASSA can assess if the individual still qualifies to receive benefits.
Of the 167 000 reviewed, only 60 000 came forward. Should people fail to come forward, a letter would be sent declaring that failure to come forward would result in your grant being suspended on 31 July. A further three month extension is given before suspension. This gives a total of six months for one to submit documents. At the end of the six-month period, a final notice of termination will be sent. As for those who failed to come forward, this meant they would be permanently terminated. This means you have to re apply if you wish to be a recipient. Should it be found you were unjustly suspended; then SASSA will simply reinstate your benefits and backdate your payments. This was the legislated process for the conducting of a review which they followed.
DSD had been awarded a new set of powers. There had been a change in the legislation with new rules published in June 2022. The actual time period was no longer three months for notice. This had been reduced to 30 days meaning they would be moving a lot faster through the new round of reviews.
Mr van Vrede replied to the question on the Covid SRD grant. SASSA had a number of people who were receiving the grant in the previous round / iteration of the SRD grant, who may have applied in this round but has not been approved this time. This was due to new piece of legislation that required SASSA to check income. In other words in the previous round there was not a " means test". They had only used the UIF database to determine if one qualified. This time around they determined a specified threshold of R624 per month. This meant they checked the applicant's bank account and should they find the account exceeded the prescribed amount it would be declined. If it was below R624, it would be approved.
Ms Mogotsi replied about the CSG abruptly ending at 18 years of age. They did try in 2019 to make a proposal to increase the age limit to 21 but this was abandoned by the various stakeholders resulting in failure to get funding for that particular proposal. They were aware that there are those learners who may have not completed their basic education who are still in need of the aid. However, they are not yet able to cover this except through other provisions like the SRD grant which covers individuals aged 18 and above.
On the question on assessments, they do not assess for someone to receive the Top Up grant but she had mentioned in the presentation that assessment happened after the grant had been awarded to the family. What we do is we provide a database to the provincial departments and social workers will assess if there was a need to do so. The grant is a provision for children living under the care of caregivers; therefore a child who is homeless and living on the streets cannot qualify or receive the provision. In that case social workers must assist through other intervention.
Ms Isabella Sekwana, Acting Deputy Director-General: Social Welfare Services, asked Ms Sibeko to comment on the question about social workers.
Ms Brenda Sibeko, DSD Deputy Director-General: Community Development, replied that DSD had developed a strategy for children living and working on the street. They have prescribed shelters where these children are assessed on why they are homeless. For those who can be reunited with their families, they check on the families circumstances through a reunification programme and create a suitable environment for these children to return home. For those without families, DSD ensures they are placed in alternative care in terms of section 150 of the Children's Act. On the question on social workers tracing if the grant money is being used correctly and for the child's benefit, the answer is no. We know we are living with challenges about the number of social workers in the country due to the social ills we are confronted with as a country. Currently we have different types of social service practitioners who can work together with the community to address child abuse cases where the money is not utilised for the child's benefit. It is critical that they report to the community, by working with leaders in the community, your church, your community leaders such as ward leaders to assist in monitoring this expenditure of funds.
Mr Mchunu added that the age limit of 18 for CSG grant recipients was something they would still consider. It is an issue that remains on the table and will still be discussed as they need to engage stakeholders. They did think that beyond 18 there is a level of support that can be provided; therefore they keep revisiting this issue.
With regards to homelessness they had a very quick rapid assessment particularly on the various factors that affect people who are homeless. This would assist them in crafting a clearer roadmap on how to assist government as DSD, COGTA, Human Settlements Department all have a critical role to play in this. However this was still in its infancy stage at the moment and they would bring developments to the Committee in due time.
Whilst the CSG Top Up application numbers have not been fantastic, it had only been two months since its launch. Therefore as a department they would be going on a huge communications drive to get the message out there so more people apply for the grant and utilize this provision. South Africa has been complimented for having one the best social security provisions especially when it comes to grants on the African continent at large. He concluded by saying, "we are excited about this Top Up; it will bridge the gap quite a bit and assist families in need of this particular support".
The Chairperson thanked the Department and Minister Zulu for honouring the invitation and enlightening the Committee on the current status of the CSG Top Up for foster children living with relatives. She also gave thanks to all the stakeholders, Members and staff members for their support.
The Committee adopted the previous meeting's minutes and the meeting was adjourned.
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