The Committee was briefed by a permanent delegate to the National Council of Provinces and the national Department of Social Development (DSD) on the Children’s Amendment Bill. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the Amendment Bill to the provincial parliament for its processes to begin.
The Committee heard that the Bill was a response to an order by the North Gauteng High Court that there should be a comprehensive legal solution to challenges experienced in foster care. The DSD had identified 12 clauses in an all-inclusive 146-clause Children’s Amendment Bill which directly contributed to the legal solution directed by the High Court. Because of a deadline set by the court it had been decided to proceed with just the 12 clauses and deal with the others later.
These clauses would put structures and mechanisms in place. They would provide for diversified access to legal mechanisms for the care of children; the determination of children that needed care and protection; the management of foster care orders; and supervision of foster care placements.
Members raised concerns about budgeting and resources for social workers. They asked about the role of family members in adopting orphans, about support for children who did not have birth certificates and about delays in providing subsidies to foster parents.
The Committee resolved to hold public hearings on the Bill in various regions of the Western Cape.
The meeting was attended by officials from the national and Western Cape departments of social development and the Department of the Premier. There was an apology from the provincial social development minister, Ms Sharna Fernandez.
Also present was Ms M Gillion (ANC), Western Cape permanent delegate to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and Chairperson of the NCOP Select Committee on Health and Social Services. She thanked the Department of Social Development (DSD) and Members for their time and support. She said the National Assembly had concluded its work and the Select Committee had been briefed the previous week by the DSD. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the Amendment Bill to the provincial parliament for its processes to begin. The timeframe had been extended to 1 November for negotiating mandates. There should be final mandates from the provinces on 8 November as the deadline for finalisation was 27 November.
Children’s Amendment Bill 2022
Adv Luyanda Mtshotshisa, Specialist: Legislative Drafting and Review, DSD, gave a presentation on the Children's Amendment Bill. He said the Bill was a response to an order by the North Gauteng High Court that there should be a comprehensive legal solution to challenges experienced in foster care.
The DSD had identified 12 clauses in an all-inclusive 146-clause Children’s Amendment Bill which directly contributed to the legal solution directed by the High Court. Because of a deadline set by the court it had been decided to proceed with just the 12 clauses and deal with the others later. The clauses provided for a legal framework that directly addressed the identified foster care challenges. They sought to strengthen the provisions of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 aimed at providing a quality child protection system, of which foster care was a component.
These clauses dealt with:
- Provisions that put structures and mechanisms in place;
- Diversified access to legal mechanisms for the care of children;
- Determination of children that were at risk and in need of care and protection;
- Children’s Court processes to make decisions if children need care and protection;
- Management of foster care orders, extension of foster care orders and supervision of foster care placements.
The Bill would provide clarity about caregivers in cluster foster care schemes. It would minimise confusion about the responsibilities of these caregivers and make a distinction from foster parents that were not in a cluster foster care scheme. It streamlined the cluster foster care provisions and diversified the foster care interventions.
The Committee was taken through the clauses.
(See the presentation for further details.)
Officials from the Western Cape Department of Social Development (WCDSD) said they supported the amendments. Administrative requirements in the past had put a lot of pressure on social workers and the amendments would ease the situation. The Western Cape had put structures in place to address foster care concerns. There were foster care units and 144 social workers for foster care cases. A foster care tracking system gave warnings of Children’s Court orders that were about to expire. Early preventative work was prioritised.
Children’s courts would be given more jurisdiction. Guardianship meant that children would not need to go into the foster system and could be assigned to families. There were quality assurance processes. There were 38 000 children in foster care in the Western Cape. Adoption becoming the first option for care was a good solution. The courts had the power to issue interim care orders, but this might create issues and backlogs. It was not always in the best interest of the child.
Ms W Philander (DA) asked about the implementation process, resources, and budgeting for social workers. What would ensure effective and efficient implementation?
Ms Neliswa Cekiso, Director: Child Protection, DSD, responded that the country had a shortage of social workers. The Western Cape was to be applauded for appointing its social workers. However, the child protection units dealt with numerous services. Prevention and early interventions were vital. For this, awareness was needed - awareness of the vulnerabilities of children, abuse, early pregnancies and so on. The environment needed to be analysed to determine if the child needed to be in foster care. Cluster foster care services were more feasible. Capacity assessments were done regarding staffing and the need for social workers was identified. A sector strategy had been developed and presented to the National Treasury to bring in more money for hiring more social workers. Integrated health programmes in schools alerted officials to a vulnerable child that might need aid. The shortage of social workers was still an issue.
Ms N Bakubaku-Vos (ANC) asked about the financial implications for asylum seekers. How would the amendments affect the provinces? What provisions were there for those that had been orphaned due to COVID-19? What would happen if a family member who could care for a child lived in another area far from the child’s school? Would the child be prioritised? What was the plan for hiring social workers as there were a lot of unemployed graduates? Some people did not have the means to take care of their child and when they put it up for foster care, there were problems. What would be done to solve this?
Ms Cekiso said it was difficult when parents died as it was hard to know the cause of death as a social worker. Concerning children that had been orphaned due to COVID-19, not all orphans might need foster care. It was mainly for those extremely vulnerable to bad conditions and treatment. The last resort was moving the child into an alternative placement. Hence, it was important to strengthen early intervention services. All orphans could engage with social workers. More workers were needed to strengthen the programme. Communities needed to alert social workers about children that had been orphaned. The sector strategy was used as a tool to bring in more social workers. There were 9 000 unemployed social workers at the moment. Foster parents were not guardians; adoptive parents were guardians. A top-up grant was allocated for the care of vulnerable children.
Mr Charles Jordan, Chief Director: Social Welfare, WCDSD, said that Treasury was going to provide additional funding for salaries. An amount of R25 million had been cut from the budget for salaries in the current financial year. This held back the hiring of social workers. The additional funding would aid the recruitment of more social workers.
Regarding families far from the area where an orphan’s school was, the family needed to look at the child's best interest and the social worker would advise accordingly. Placing a child with another family was the worst-case scenario. It was preferred that orphans stay with family or be adopted. The final resort was alternative placement.
Ms R Windvogel (ANC) asked what support there was for children without birth certificates and those in the care of struggling family members, such as grandparents. What was the role of family members when it came to adoption? Did they have the first option? What was the timeline from when the processes started to when they stopped? There needed to be an explanation of why people went without aid for four to five years. Was a monitoring system in place?
Ms Cekiso said the department provided free adoption services. There was an issue with children that did not have birth certificates. There was a backlog, and the DSD engaged with the Department of Home Affairs to resolve this. The DSD had a strong relationship with the Department of Justice and was guided by them. Courts needed to apply section 186 of the Act which referred to long term placement – where a child could stay until 18. The judiciary was reluctant to implement this section. Mpumalanga used long term placements. Some systems provided for monitoring once every two years, but the new Bill proposed that this be done annually. A supervision order was put in place to track the child’s development and wellbeing.
Ms Cekiso referred the question about adoption to an online colleague who told Ms Windvogel that when a child was found to be adoptable, the first step was to look to the family. The family was given the first option.
The Chairperson said that there would be public hearings for more input. He gave members of the public the opportunity to voice their opinions.
Input by the public
A principal of a preschool said that birth certificates were a problem. Foster mothers were complaining that they were not getting any subsidies. Children did not have proper clothes.
The Chairperson raised the issue of public participation in the way forward for the Bill. The NCOP processes were proposed for the period of 10 to 14 October. There would be four sessions. One would be Cape Town and three might be in other areas. This was still in discussion and final dates would be forwarded to the Committee. Stakeholders needed to be invited to the public hearings. The public needed to be aware of the public hearings. There needed to be a meeting in Cape Town and in bigger centres such as Stellenbosch and Worcester.
Ms Philander said that the procedural officer needed to gather data about the most important areas to visit.
Ms Bakubaku-Vos said that rural areas and the Southern Cape also needed to be prioritised. One town per region might need to be identified.
A Committee official pointed out that the NCOP had a six-week cycle and little time for research. Dates were needed for public hearings, and it was crucial for the Members to attend. The processes needed to begin. The areas highlighted by Members were Overberg, Worcester, Caledon, George, Karoo and some areas in the southern region. The dates would be finalised and discussed with the Committee. There would be advertisements in newspapers, online and on social media platforms.
The Chairperson said that the Committee needed to deliberate on its negotiating mandate and submit it to the NCOP. The date for the final mandate was 1 November. The Committee needed to adhere to these dates.
Ms Gillion said that the Chairperson and some Members needed to be a part of the negotiating meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.