Concerns about matters relating to child welfare and functioning of DSD: Solidarity briefing; Implementation of National Plan of Action for Children; with Minister
23 November 2022
Chairperson: Ms N Mvana (ANC)
In a virtual meeting, the Portfolio Committee was briefed by Solidarity on its research into concerns relating to child welfare and the functioning of the Department of Social Development (DSD). The research identified a number of challenges facing South Africa's social workers, and suggested measures that the DSD could implement to resolve problem areas.
Solidarity said that in April, it had sent an electronic questionnaire to as many respondents as possible through the communications channels of its social workers’ network, and 147 social workers had completed it. The DSD's support for social workers had been described as inadequate and incompetent. Social workers were not empowered and not supported with funding, subsidies, good salaries, or general resources. There was inadequate support in knowledge, advice, protection and addressing the problems in the profession.
The Department said that the research sample was far too small to draw general conclusions about its performance. The research by Solidarity suggested that the DSD was incompetent and unethical, which was unacceptable. A few cases could be addressed accordingly, but a blanket statement indicating that the DSD was generally inefficient was out of line.
There was general agreement that a larger sample of respondents was needed to present more balanced research findings, but the Department was urged not to totally ignore the findings of Solidarity. A Member commented that the issues raised were not a surprise, as the Committee was aware of them, especially with the vulnerability of children and the inadequate capacity of the Department to respond to these cases.
The South African Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP) said that from its perspective, the necessary support to work in partnership with Solidarity and other stakeholders was key to ensuring overall goals were achieved. A follow-up meeting to examine the institutionalisation and other programmes to support expectations to provide certain services would be done.
The Department said they continued to monitor the implementation of the Social Services Professions Act, which established the SACSSP to regulate the social service professions. It also requested more details so that departmental officials could approach the provinces to identify unacceptable behaviours and promote compliance with the code of ethics.
The DSD also briefed the Committee on implementing the National Plan of Action for Children, and described several key achievements. It said the current challenges impacting the Office on the Rights of the Child's (ORC’s) effective fulfilment of its reporting mandate were its human resources/capacity and its inadequate budget.
Solidarity on concerns relating to child welfare
Ms Bianca Smit, Network Coordinator, Solidarity, said that in April 2022, an electronic questionnaire was distributed to as many respondents as possible through the communications channels of the Solidarity Social Workers’ Network. 147 social workers completed the questionnaire. The purpose of the research was to examine the issues and problems experienced by social workers in their profession and to determine whether they received sufficient support and assistance from the DSD. Solidarity had identified the following as the essential resources for social workers: finances, general resources and infrastructure, alternative places of safety and better protection for children, systems that function, support from the Department, and training social workers and volunteers for human resources skills.
Solidarity on concerns relating to functioning of DSD
Ms Nicolien Welthagen, Senior Research Consultant, Solidarity, said the research had highlighted problems with the DSD:
Support for social workers was described as inadequate and incompetent. Social workers were not empowered and not supported with funding, subsidies, good salaries, or general resources. There was inadequate support in knowledge, advice, protection and addressing the problems in the profession.
A weakened relationship and insufficient collaboration between social workers and the Department
Slow responses, with the procrastination of the administration officials who did not attend appointments, meetings, or court proceedings, and did not provide feedback.
This report reveals injustice committed towards vulnerable people with the Department’s poor attitude and disposition, inadequate performance, and little care for clients. Social workers suffer from burnout, discouragement, and struggle to perform their jobs. They deal with crises daily and are insufficiently provided with financial and emotional assistance.
Cases of a questionable work ethic were identified from this research, which indicated almost three-quarters (74%) of the respondents were aware of the placement of children, unfinalised cases, incompetence, and political agenda.
Solidarity had identified the following as essential resources for social workers -- finances, general resources and infrastructure, alternative places of safety and better protection for children, systems that function, support from the Department, and HR training for social workers and volunteers. They also recommended that the Department reflect changes in its efficiency, work ethic, better service delivery and communication, attitude and disposition, and needed to employ skilled workers who understood and cared.
Mr Helgard Cronje, Deputy General-Secretary: Public Sector, Solidarity, requested an independent general audit of the following matters within the DSD that had already been discussed:
Lack of service delivery, placement of children, reunifications;
The court appearance records of officials working for the Department;
The payment of grants;
The turnaround times in dealing with matters reported to the Department; and
The turnaround time in resolving cases reported to the Department.
DSD's response on social service professional support
Ms Isabella Sekawana, Director: Service Standards, DSD, said the concerns raised had been presented to the Department a few months ago, and had included the childcare and protection services and the DSD’s responses; a focus on social service professionals; and non-profit organisation's (NPO's) relations and funding by the DSD.
The Department continued to monitor the implementation of the Social Service Professions Act, which established the South African Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP) to regulate the social service professions. The limitation found with the research from Solidarity was that the report covered responses by only 133 respondents. This was an extremely limited number to generalise findings on departmental social workers, who numbered 12 378 across all the provinces -- 9 922 social workers and 2 456 social auxiliary workers. About half of the respondents (48%) were living in Gauteng. Only 13.6% of the social workers indicated that they were working for the public service. Most of the social workers (42.2%) were working for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or in private practice (21.1%).
In response to Solidarity’s claim of unethical and unprofessional conduct, the Department requested more details so that departmental officials could approach provinces to identify such behaviour and promote compliance with the code of ethics, as well as rules on the conduct and acts or omissions constituting unprofessional or improper conduct by social workers. The Department was rolling out a capacity-building programme across all provinces targeting 450 social workers and auxiliary social workers to promote knowledge and application of the code of conduct and the various rules developed to regulate the profession of social service professionals.
SACSSP's response on social service professional support
Ms Langi Malamba, Registrar: SACSSP, said that from the Council’s perspective, the necessary support from the mandate to work in partnership with Solidarity and other stakeholders, was key to ensuring the overall goal was achieved. A follow-up meeting to examine the institutionalisation programmes and other programmes to support expectations to provide certain services would be done.
It was important to mention how much the Council had advocated for the formation of associations outside of unions to address some issues, like networking and referrals. Practitioners should be encouraged to form groups for referral and dependence purposes. The collaboration and integration case management had been executed by the Council with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the DSD to minimise some gaps where practitioners felt abandoned in the situation with children at risk.
Further discussions on whether private practitioners should be monitored in the same way as their public counterparts should be held, because people migrating into private practice must meet certain criteria to enable them to work under supervision or mentorship. There was a need to cooperate with people in open private practices and not included in associations like SACSSP, which provided ongoing support, coaching and professional development, to avoid the excuse for lack of guidance. It was important that Solidarity engaged the DSD for the mitigation before forwarding it to the national body.
DSD rejects Solidarity's blanket findings
Mr Linton Mchunu, Acting Director-General, DSD, said the Minister had directed the SACSSP to investigate the regulations in the private practice of social work. Treasury was responsible for the finances of all workers. The DSD was very much aware of the case referred to, and had taken it under review -- it was currently in court.
The research by Solidarity suggested that the DSD was incompetent and unethical, which was unacceptable. A few cases could be addressed accordingly, but a blanket statement indicating that the DSD was generally inefficient was out of line. He welcomed a sit-down meeting with Solidarity to resolve the problems raised.
Implementation of the National Plan of Action for Children
Mr Siviwe Kakaza, DSD, briefed the Committee on implementing the National Plan of Action for Children. He said the key achievements were:
On the policy level objective, the draft Child Rights Capacity Building Manual had been developed through a partnership with UNICEF
On the mainstreaming level objective, the child rights governance system had been adopted to explicitly prioritise and ensure state-wide action and accountability for realising children’s rights as a national, rights-based development priority
On the advocacy level objective, there had been partnerships with key stakeholders to implement various child rights advocacy programmes -- local civil society organisations, funding to NGOs, and working with development international organisations. A draft child rights advocacy strategy was developed. The strategy was to be utilised by different actors in the country, including government, civil society, traditional authorities, faith-based and religious organisations, the private sector, politicians, and children themselves, to advance the rights and best interests of the children
On the institutional level objective, the sub-programme for strengthening institutional support and capacity development had been established with key partners to advocate for a strengthened child rights governance system.
On the monitoring and evaluation level objective, committees had been established to facilitate mainstreaming and coordination of child rights issues at the national and provincial levels. There had been monitoring and tracking of departmental progress on the implementation of child rights issues through Departmental annual reports; compilation of child rights annual reports; treaty reporting compliance – disseminating concluding observations, research, coordination of inputs, compilation, and submission of state party reports.
He said the current challenges impacting the Office on the Rights of the Child's (ORC’s) effective fulfilment of its reporting mandate were its human resources/capacity and inadequate budget.
Plans to mitigate these challenges included short-term contracts for savings, and partnering with developmental organisations on priorities.
The Chairperson appreciated Solidarity and the Department for their presentations, and asked for comments from the Committee
Ms L Arries (EFF) said the Committee was aware of the issues raised by Solidarity. She agreed with the Department on the survey being non-inclusive of rural residents, and that it was not an accurate representation of the picture on the ground. She applauded the social workers for a great job, but demanded that the Cabinet resolution of 2018, to appoint more social workers, must be endorsed by the Department. She also admitted the shortage of care facilities, as highlighted by Solidarity, and implored the Portfolio Committee with the oversight responsibility to go on physical visits to engage with the social workers to better understand the real situation.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) confirmed that the unresponsiveness of the Department and delays in the adoption process raised by Solidarity, where children were languishing in children’s homes, had also been raised during the public hearings on the Children's Amendment Bill. She recalled her first-hand experience accessing a children’s home in Gauteng with a record of abandoned children for years, and the need for reapplication and reregistration. The Department had also been informed of the need for staff training, and was seeking to negotiate that the withdrawal of registrations should not be implemented during the training because it would lead to high vulnerability of the children. There was the perception that the officials did not want to understand this idea. She proposed that the report from Solidarity should not be taken negatively.
Without ample social workers, the children would be rendered weak. She asked the ADG about the progress being made with the Treasury on the need to employ more social workers. The ADG needed to invite the unit responsible for the evidence-based approach for a briefing. What was the turnaround time for cases reported to the Department on matters raised? She recommended a skills audit or a review of staff competencies to assess staff job delivery. The late and non-payment of NGO subsidies affected the aged in rural areas. This problem called for an urgent response. Could the Department provide figures on the closing of NGOs that provided vital services on behalf of the state due to the non-payment of subsidies? How many vulnerable people were affected by this action? Was Solidarity making progress with the unprofessional ethical conduct on the case they represented? She suggested that Solidarity should open cases with the Council for investigation. If they had opened cases, how many had been opened? She also accepted the need for both the Department and Solidarity to meet and work jointly to find a way forward.
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) reiterated that the issues raised by Solidarity were not a surprise, as the Committee was aware of them, especially with the vulnerability of children and the inadequate capacity of the Department to respond to these cases. She sympathised with the ADG for being faced with a lot of negative feedback due to the change in the management process that the Department was currently undergoing, which had led to lapses that may be recorded. She urged the officials in the meeting to recognise the humanity of the ADG.
Social workers deserve adequate support and attention, with a strong need to appreciate the sector and profession. Young people were constantly resigning from corporate jobs, which could not continue. How could the Committee respond to that? Could the Department compare the reports from Solidarity against the current operations, to enact potential changes? How successful were the capacity programmes used to provide support to the sector and the wellness of the workers? If this indicator was unavailable, could the Department include it in the current programme so that these statistics could be provided by next year? What was the legal cost that the Department had spent to defend itself in court?
Ms Sukers strongly suggested a round table with stakeholders to address solutions. She would highlight cases with the ADG in person. She reemphasised that the role of the Committee was to welcome and provide a platform for any member of the public. This was the "Parliament of the People," and they could not be restricted from addressing the Committee.
Ms G Opperman (DA) requested that Solidarity provide more details on questionable ethical practices that were not in the best interest of the children. Where was the prevalence found? She asked why the Department's officials failed to get court proceedings in enrolling children, and what measures had been put in place to employ more social workers.
Ms A Abrahams (DA) said that introspection was required in events where there were inefficient social workers. Where was the internal survey conducted by the Department and the report on the working relationships between the DSD, the private sector and NGOs? Would the DSD hire an independent research unit to conduct a nationwide survey, rather than speculating about positive reviews from social workers? It was inadvisable to dismiss the Solidarity report. She questioned whether Solidarity had given the specifics of the cases to the ADG or individual provinces, because the Department had said that they had not received cases. The anonymity of the survey had been to avoid further victimisation of workers. She advised the Committee to invite external stakeholders to present the real reflection of the situation at hand. Had the SACSSP performed surveys about social workers in the past? What had been their experience? She asked for further clarity on the complaint and support referral pathway of the Council. On the issue of workers’ burnout, what could the Department do to address the overall wellbeing of the social workers? She requested a list of the NPOs that were closing.
Ms P Marais (EFF) shared her concerns about the tracking system mentioned by Solidarity. She asked for further details on how a child had gone missing in the system. What was the next step regarding the miscommunication and other challenges occurring in the sector? She suggested that a concrete solution needed to be implemented.
Ms B Masango (DA) said that the presentations had been eye-opening, and the oversight of the Committee needed to be strengthened. It was obvious that these challenges were placing children in the worst circumstances, with hunger, deprivation, insufficient security etc, and the presentations from both sides could assist in providing solutions to the problems.
Mr D Stock (ANC) agreed with the issues presented by Solidarity, and appreciated the efforts that had been put into the research project. He suggested that a better approach could have been implemented by engaging the Department and receiving their feedback. He inquired why the survey was focused on private workers when the main stakeholders were the public who could have assisted in the achievement of it. He perceived that the study had been rushed, so there were no inputs from the provinces. If the study had been inclusive, the issues in the constituencies could have been presented differently. Solidarity could have collaborated with other research institutes that were passionate about social activities. What precedents had been set for other institutes like Solidarity? Would others be invited to present to the Committee as well? He appealed to the Committee to find the best approach to include all research institutes. He recommended that these institutes' point of entry should be the Department, which should have made inputs. This would enable the Committee to know the process, and the interventions made on issues the Department could not implement, to measure its performance. The comment on the political agenda mentioned by Solidarity posed a problem that required correction.
Ms M Mfikoe (ANC) said there seemed to be an expectation from the Department to use public funds to pay the private research participants. This could result in an audit issue. She wanted more information on the number of private and public social workers in the research. The conclusion of the presentation focused more on the needs of social workers, with little attention to the children, which was not adequately transparent. It was evident that there had been insufficient communication between Solidarity and the Department. The Council should be responsible for negotiating the social workers' salaries. She urged that there should be a proper process of communication with stakeholders.
The Chairperson thanked the presenters, and said that it was the Committee’s responsibility to ensure that the Department performed its duties. She recommended that more motivation for social workers would lead to higher productivity. Perhaps the invitation to Solidarity had been too early, and investigations could have been made into their procedures.
Ms J Manganye (ANC) commented on the need for stronger oversight by the Committee. The adoption of children in the real sense took longer due to deeper investigations. More efforts must be made to address problems before tabling them to the Committee. During COVID, the social workers had worked under pressure, which only attested to their hard work, and they must be duly encouraged.
Mr Kakaza, in response to comments on the transfer subsidy and late payment to NPOs, said that the transfers took place in the provinces. However, the Department was responsible for monitoring them. The DSD had established a committee to monitor the monthly progress of the transfers As of the end of October, 93% of all subsidies had been paid, with the highest recorded in the Eastern Cape, with 98%. North-West was at about 71%, and the Northern Cape was at 73% due to late submission of reports and registration with the central database in Treasury and delayed reports from the NPOs. The DSD was supervising this transfer from the national Department for accountability purposes.
A new payment system had been developed that was currently in use in the Western and Eastern Cape, and Gauteng. The full implementation of this system would reduce the payment challenge and by next quarter, a better report would be recorded of their payments. There were provisions for capacity building of provinces with challenges.
Ms Sekwana referred to the recommendations of the Committee, and emphasised the increased need for capacity building of the workers. The rising social ills caused the demands in the sector concerning the capacity building of the workers. The capacity-building programmes ensure the training and reorientation of old and new social workers to respond adequately to the growing social ills. The issue of the victimisation of practitioners was concerning, and measures by the Council and the Department must be implemented to support them. This could be achieved only by having specific details about the workers. The Department prioritised the systems put in place to respond to initiatives within timeframes of appeal cases.
The Department was committed to the care, protection and support of children, while prioritising their wellbeing. This was everyone’s responsibility. The need to partner with stakeholders could not be overemphasised, and every stakeholder was welcome in this partnership. It was important to have a cordial relationship to carry out the mandate of caring for the children through open communication and transparency. Various programmes had been implemented, like the training of stakeholders and on-sight visits to monitor the implementation of the Act to protect the children.
Ms Malamba responded to the inquiry by Ms Abrahams on research by the Council. She highlighted the 2021 research report launched from the investigation of social service landscape practices, with responses from social workers in the Department of Health (DOH), the South African Police Service (SAPS), public health, social development, and lots more. The research revealed that there were matters faced by practitioners like funding for NGOs, high unemployment, non-value of incorporating research in work, training, supervision, working conditions and salaries, readiness to practice etc.
Counsellors had acted on the readiness of newly qualified workers to practice, by launching a project piloted by taking in new workers to address the challenges that predisposed them to prolonged unemployment. She outlined the outcome of the research as issues that required urgent intervention to remedy the encouragement of the formation of an association, for instance. Though this was not the responsibility of the Council, they could discuss more lobbying for better salaries, better working conditions, and workers' annual fees. These could be discussed at the board and Council level, with feedback to the Department for awareness of the challenges impacting negatively on their work outputs. The insufficient funding for the Council incapacitated its ability to expand its human capabilities in all the provinces. The DSD was aware of the Council’s limitations, and with adequate financial resources, a full-scale survey and focus group discussions could be conducted.
Mr Mchunu proposed the need to use these reports to strengthen the deficiencies encountered by the DSD. He underlined the hard work of the Department’s officials, and welcomed the conduct of a nationwide survey. The call for more social workers would be addressed by a meeting with the Treasury, and progress reports would be supplied to the Committee.
The legal expense was public knowledge information that could be made available to the Committee. He highlighted the non-payment issue had been taken to the Supreme Court and had been handled, with lessons taken from the process.
He suggested the need for the provinces to attend subsequent meetings, and said that the DSD was always available to respond to inquiries. It had an open-door policy to engage with stakeholders, with the sole aim of upholding the profession.
Mr Cronje said that although several attempted engagements with the DSD had been unsuccessful, Solidarity welcomed the open invitation to work together with the Department.
The Chairperson extended her appreciation to Solidarity
She proposed that the Committee submit their comments on the implementation of the National Plan of Action for Children to the Department, and defer their responses to the next meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
Mvana, Ms NQ
Abrahams, Ms ALA
Arries, Ms LH
Bilankulu, Ms NK
Manganye, Ms J
Marais, Ms P
Masango, Ms B
Mfikoe, Ms MM
Opperman, Ms G
Stock, Mr D
Sukers, Ms ME
Zulu, Ms LD
van der Merwe, Ms LL
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