The Department of Social Development (DSD) briefed the Standing Committee on the status of foster care in the Western Cape.
The DSD acknowledged that consistent collaboration between relevant role players was vital to reducing the foster care backlog and managing foster care in the province. The amendments to the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 provided comprehensive legal solutions to the management of foster care, as the number of children entering the alternative care system would be reduced, so the risk of a foster care backlog would be mitigated.
Members asked if children in the foster care system had not been placed in schools yet, relating to the crisis of unplaced learners in schools. They wanted to know how many children were affected by delays in issuing birth certificates, and how many undocumented inter-provincial foster care transfers there were. What caused the high turnover in child protection organisations? How many foster care workers were needed to manage the caseload, and what was the estimated cost to recruit them?
The Department reported that there were 39 363 children in foster care in the Western Cape, and the DSD had over 250 cases of children without birth certificates. The children would still be placed, but requirements for the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) grant to be paid, and for court orders to be provided, would require birth certificates for the children. They said that although social workers were being recruited, they chose to leave this field due to the complexity of statutory child protection services. Another big reason for social workers exiting was due to social workers migrating to England, Australia and New Zealand, where their caseload would be 15 cases a month, compared to 160 cases per social worker in South Africa, excluding other aspects of social work such as child protection, family interventions, etc.
The Department was asked why the number of children in foster care was so high for the Cape Winelands, Eden Karoo and the West Coast, and responded that societal issues of unemployment, substance abuse (particularly alcoholism in the Winelands), the periodic income of seasonal workers, and poverty resulted in the high numbers in those areas.
The Chairperson welcomed the Committee and Department of Social Development to the meeting and stated that the meeting's purpose emanated from questions from previous sessions and oversight visits. He mentioned that many towns, Early Childhood Development (ECD) facilities and similar places were visited, investigating oversight responsibilities.
Department of Social Development on foster care in the Western Cape
The Department of Social Development's (DSD's) presentation on foster care was led by Dr Robert Macdonald, Head of Department, and officials from the Department. They provided the Committee with details on:
· Foster care management legislation, the policy and procedures, and the canalisation standard operating procedure (SOP):
· Foster care norms and standards;
· Cluster foster care norms and standards;
· Foster care plan of action with the implementation of the Amendments of the Children’s Act;
· Foster care baseline of children in foster care;
· Human resources, foster care monitoring tool and s125: access to the Child Protection Register (CPR);
· Challenges and mitigating factors; and
· Designated child protection organisations and funding.
(See attached document for details)
Referring to the provincial action plan to implement the Children's Amendment Act, the Department said progress made to date on the top-up of the Child Support Grant (CSG) was that the provincial branch of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) provides DSD with a list of all applications per month. The social development (SC) coordinator sends the list to the regions for investigation and assessment to determine if any of the children on the list are “children in need of care and protection.” The planned interventions were ongoing.
Regarding the extension of the jurisdiction of the Children’s Courts regarding guardianship, the Department was liaising with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ&CD) regarding the applications. Social workers would be trained to conduct suitability assessments and present suitability reports of suitable guardians to the courts.
The development and conducting of quality assurance processes for the evaluation of child protection services and child protection organisations had seen provincial monitoring and evaluation (M&E) teams monitoring designated child protection organisations in the province. Canalisation units were responsible for the quality assurance of child protection services. It was planned to increase the number of canalisation officers to strengthen child protection and foster care services.
The Committee was told that s125 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 was fully implemented in the Western Cape to screen the suitability of applicants requesting to care for children in the alternative care system, thus ensuring that the applicants' names did not appear on Part B of the National Child Protection Register, to expedite the Children’s Court processes.
The province has well-resourced child protection units per service delivery area in the DSD and the district child protection offices (DCPOs) rendering childcare and protection services. Awareness and capacity building would be provided to all the stakeholders involved in the value chain, such as social service practitioners, in connection with the provision that a children’s court may extend an alternative care order that has lapsed by issuing an interim order.
The DSD was required to provide regulations regarding the procedure, form, and manner that a social service practitioner must follow when assessing, screening, investigating, referring to the relevant authority, and placing a child needing care and protection. Progress made to date included:
· Development of the regulations and procedures for risk determination assessments and the referral procedure for investigations and procedures to determine whether a child needed care and protection (Child Protection Manual);
· Capacitation of all the stakeholders involved in the childcare and protection value chain; and
· Assessment and investigation of children at risk by the social workers to determine if they need care and protection.
Referring to the registration of cluster foster care schemes (CFCS), they said all CFCs were registered in the Western Cape. Registration certificates were issued and signed off by the HOD, specifying the addresses of the homes. A cluster foster care management plan was in place, and the CFCS were monitored annually in collaboration with the provincial (M&E) team and the provincial foster care programme. Assessment reports were compiled following the annual assessments, and service delivery improvement plans (SDIPs) were in place where applicable.
There was a provision that not more than six children may be placed in foster care with a single person, or two persons sharing a common household, in terms of a registered cluster foster care scheme. This norm and standard was implemented in cluster foster care schemes in the Western Cape. Norms and standards for CFCS were implemented and adhered to regarding the number of children per house in the scheme, the vetting of all carers/social workers/staff of the scheme, etc.
The WCDSD promotes the implementation of s186 orders in the province with increased monitoring once a year via regional and provincial engagements, where the DCPOs are also present. It was planned to highlight this at the case flow meetings with the DOJ&CD
The Department reported that as at March 2023, there were 39 363 children in foster care in the Western Cape, and provided the following breakdown:
· 26 478 foster children were on short-term foster care orders in terms of s159 of the Children’s Act in the care of foster parents;
· 10 515 foster children were on long term foster care orders in terms of s 186 of the Children’s Act in the care of foster parents.
· The total of 39 363 foster children included the 302 children cared for in cluster foster care schemes.
· The total number of young persons in alternative care in terms of s176 of the Children’s Act account for the balance of 2 370.
Approximately 70% of the children in foster care currently were placed in terms of s159 court orders. This impacted the province’s management of foster care orders, as social workers were required to take these children’s matters to the Children’s Court for the extension of their foster care orders every two years.
It was surmised that with the amendment of s186 of the Children’s Act, the number of s186 court orders may increase in the future, which would not only impact the monitoring services to these children positively, but would also alleviate the statutory burden created by the two-year extension applications.
The WCDSD follows a specialised model in foster care whereby 245 social workers are dedicated to foster care services, which has allowed a reduction in the foster care backlog successfully over the years. However, it was important to note that there had been a decrease in social workers during this reporting period due to the high staff turnover in designated child protection organisations. In addition, the constant influx of new foster care cases places an enormous strain on the human resources of the WCDSD, making it difficult for the WCDSD to meet the ever-increasing demand for foster care services.
The WC DSD had increased its human resources over the last financial year and would continue to fill the vacant posts, pending the availability of funds to ensure the human capacity and the tools of trade were adequate to manage foster care in the province. It currently has 245 foster care social workers, 433 generic social workers, 108 social work supervisors, 32 canalisation officers, and 264 social auxiliary workers.
The foster care web-based monitoring tool (FCWBT) was fully implemented in the Western Cape. All foster care cases are loaded on the FC web-based monitoring tool. The system positively serves its purpose by sending weekly automated reminders to social workers regarding orders due to lapsed and expired orders for their priority attention. Managers, supervisors and canalisation officers in the regions and the province at large have access to the system to monitor, track and ensure the extension of foster care orders on a weekly/monthly basis. Canalisation officers remind supervisors regarding lapsed and due to lapse orders to ensure foster care extension reports are timeously submitted to the Children’s Courts.
· Magistrates vary in their interpretation and application of the Children's Act 38 of 2005 regarding extending foster care orders. This results in the courts differing in their requirements for extending foster care orders. The lack of uniformity amongst magistrates thus hinders the granting of extension orders.
· The rotation of magistrates and vacant magistrates/other court officials’ posts, staff turnaround, and language barriers sometimes result in the postponement of foster care cases, impacting the flow of foster care orders being issued. Resolutions on these matters would minimise postponements and timeously expedite foster care orders.
· Court orders are unclear, incorrect, or incomplete when handed down. The process of varying the said orders is time-consuming for the WCDSD, but it is an essential process, as SASSA rejects the orders and refuses to process the flawed orders. Such matters are regarded as unfinalised and therefore become part of the foster care backlog.
· Social workers file foster care extension reports with the Children’s Courts prior to the date on which the court order will lapse, but are still subjected to prolonged waiting periods for court dates and court orders.
Mitigating factors were that the DSD liaises with the DOJ&CD to obtain court dates and court orders timeously to extend section 159/186 foster care orders. It is recommended that the DOJ&CD issue foster care extension orders a month before the court orders lapse to duly submit valid court orders to SASSA to eradicate the foster care backlog.
Department of Home Affairs (DHA):
The prolonged time frame for issuing birth certificates and unabridged birth certificates by the Department of Home Affairs continues to compromise the payment of foster child grants, which impacts the stability, safety, and quality of life of children in foster care. Mitigating factors were that the WCDSD has, through its concerted efforts in this regard, established a positive working relationship with the DHA, resulting in the recent issuing of birth certificates for children in alternative care. The WCDSD and DHA now meet quarterly regarding late birth registration applications. The WCDSD would continue to strengthen this positive working relationship with the Department of Home Affairs in the best interests of children.
· Undocumented inter-provincial foster care transfers contribute to the foster care backlog statistics due to foster families moving in and out of the Western Cape without informing social workers, resulting in undocumented transfers.
· In most of these undocumented transfers, the WCDSD needs to open new Children's Court inquiries to safeguard and protect the affected children, which forms part of the workload and ultimately contributes to the foster care backlog in the province.
· SASSA legislation allows beneficiaries to access the foster child grant anywhere in South Africa. This contributes to undocumented inter-provincial transfers.
· Inter-provincial transfers also impact the SASSA list. These cases often remain on the SASSA list for long periods, as these foster families do not report to SASSA in the new province, contributing to the foster care backlog in the Western Cape.
Mitigating factors were the WCDSD's collaboration with SASSA regarding these undocumented inter-provincial transfers that continued to reflect on the SASSA list for the last two years. As of November 2022, SASSA had implemented stop payments on foster child grants to trace foster children. The process was initiated when the DSD informed SASSA that the foster family was untraceable. The foster parent was given a three-month period from the date of reporting, to report to the nearest SASSA local office for reinstatement of the grant, failing which the grant will lapse.
Other challenges included:
· The high staff turnover in designated child protection organisations;
· Violence and hijacking of social workers/vehicles in certain hotspot areas;
· High foster care caseloads -- an average of 160 cases per social worker;
· Clients failing to inform social workers when they move house;
· Difficulty in locating foster families in informal settlements, as clients were mobile.
The WCDSD acknowledges that consistent collaboration between relevant role players was vital for reducing the foster care backlog and managing foster care in the province. The amendments to the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 provide comprehensive legal solutions to the management of foster care, as the number of children entering the alternative care system will be reduced, and the risk of a foster care backlog will be mitigated.
The WCDSD remained committed to the Provincial Foster Care Management Plan, would implement the amendments to the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, and appealed to all stakeholders and key government departments to support it.
See attached for full presentation
Ms N Bakubaku-Vos (ANC) asked to have the backlog in foster care explained. Regarding the crisis of Western Cape learners being unplaced in schools, she asked whether any children in the foster care system had not been placed in schools yet. What was the breakdown of race, age and gender of the 39 363 children in foster care?
She commended the good relationship between the two DSD and the DHA. She wanted to know how many children were affected by the delays in issuing birth certificates and the number of undocumented inter-provincial foster care transfers.
What caused the high turnover in child protection organisations? What other interventions had been made outside of additional funding, and what was the purpose of the additional funding? Had the Department engaged sister departments of police oversight and community safety to deploy Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (LEAP) officers and neighbourhood watches in hotspot areas?
Concerning the high foster care workload, how many foster care workers were needed to manage the caseload, and what was the estimated cost to recruit them? Relating to the funded posts listed in the presentation, she asked if the posts advertised were enough to deal with the high demand, if all the posts were filled and if they were not, what the vacancy rate was.
Dr Macdonald responded that the DSD had over 250 cases of children that did not possess birth certificates. This was something the Department was still trying to obtain from the DHA. He commented that it had taken ten years for the Department to meet with Home Affairs, and highlighted that communication had been difficult.
The Chairperson asked how this difficulty in communication with Home Affairs influenced the placement of unregistered children. Were the children placed regardless of their paperwork not being in order?
Dr Macdonald responded that the children would still be placed, but the requirements for the SASSA grant to be paid and court orders provided, would require birth certificates of the children.
He said there had been no engagements regarding the 250 undocumented children. The Department was dealing with a particular individual assisting in sending information to all DHA local offices in the Western Cape.
He answered that the Department attended national meetings where the national counterparts from sister departments, such as Home Affairs and the Department of Justice, were also present. Issues with their national counterparts have been constantly raised for the past five years. He expressed gratitude towards the particular individual who had been assisting the DSD in its communication with Home Affairs, but said it was unfortunate that communication had to be based on an individual instead of directly with Home Affairs, to assist with matters.
He said that to provide an answer on the race, age and gender of the children in foster care, the Department would need to retrieve the information from the foster care monitoring tool system. This would be provided to the Committee at a later stage. There were roughly 39 000 children in the foster care system, from the ages of three months up to 21 years, but more accurate figures would be drawn from the report.
Ms Najwa Taliep, Programme Manager: Foster Care, WC DSD, said that 2 100 children in foster care were over the age of 18, with 37 000 between the ages of 0 to18 years. The current backlog was up until February, with March not counted as a backlog. 459 would form part of this month's backlog, resulting in a number of 2 000.
Dr Macdonald added that there was a perception that there was a constant backlog in foster care, but the backlog was not permanent. He explained that new cases constantly came into the system, resulting in a constant fluctuation of numbers. He provided an example of cases going into the backlog due to court orders filled in incorrectly, the court having the hearing with the court order being received a month later, instead of the social worker receiving the court order the same day they were in court.
He said that within the past six months, roughly 3 000 children had come into the foster care system, overloading the foster care system heavily. Another concern would be the alarming number of children entering the foster care system, regardless of various parenting programmes held by the Department to alleviate the issues of parents being in conflict with their children, and vice versa. He also mentioned that there were various kinds of awareness and early intervention workers in place, to ensure parents took care of their children properly.
Regarding social workers that had not been retained, Dr Macdonald mentioned that another concerning factor was the funding of 120 child protection organisations that dealt with foster care matters. He provided the example of the Badisa social services organisation, where there had been a staff turnover of 78 social workers and 102 social auxiliary workers in the past 11 months. This indicated that although social workers were being recruited, they chose to leave this field due to the complexity of statutory child protection services.
He echoed Ms Taliep in stating that people did not understand what the placement of a child involved. He reminded the Committee that the placement of a child was not simply moving into a house, but that there were court processes to be followed for the entire duration of placement.
He elaborated that foster care cases landed up in Children's Court and got referred back, or the court took a long time to set dates for the social workers, resulting in social workers feeling burnt out. He further explained that social workers would sit in the court for an entire day, resulting in more social workers being out of the field and unable to deal with other urgent matters of social work. This was an issue that the magistrates were being engaged with.
He also said that there was no standard interpretation by the magistrates. Some magistrates required police certificates before placement, whereas other magistrates did not request police certificates. He said that the Department has access to the Child Protection Register to inform the court whether a child was on the register or not. Another example was where some magistrates required a police clearance certificate which had to be paid for, which the Department had to obtain from the police for the foster or safety parent. He said that social workers resigned from the social work sector due to this.
He said that social workers in the non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector earned R16 000 before deductions, resulting in a high turnover rate and lack of retention of social workers. Another big cause of social workers exiting was due to social workers migrating to England, Australia and New Zealand, where their caseload would be 15 cases a month, compared to 160 cases per social worker in South Africa, excluding other aspects of social work to be done -- child protection, family interventions, etc.
Mr Charles Jordan, Chief Director: Social Welfare Services, answered on the safety aspect of social workers and the deployment of LEAP officers. He advised the Committee that in most precincts, the Department had partnered with South African Police Service (SAPS) and LEAP officers, and on request, they did assist. In some areas, there was good cooperation, as well as in other areas if resources were available to accompany social workers. This was similar to the problem faced by emergency medical service (EMS) teams attacked in red zones.
Dr Macdonald advised that 100 additional social workers would be needed to handle the workload of the 245 current social workers. In light of the additional funding, the Department had begun the process of appointment of more social service professionals -- social workers, auxiliary workers, community development practitioners, supervisors and ordinary social workers.
He elaborated that in NGO sectors specifically, the budget had been increased by R8 million, from R191 to R199 million, which had resulted in no salary increases being given to 900 NGOs funded in the sector. NGOs had approached the Department for more social workers especially in informal settlements and metro areas, where they were overwhelmed and burnt out. He confirmed that 20 to 25 additional posts had been allocated in this regard.
NGOs with supervisors were looked at, where it was explained that one supervisor would oversee 18 to 20 social workers. The norm was one supervisor to eight social workers maximum, where supervisors would need to sign off reports written to court, double-check, etc. More supervisor posts had been allocated to alleviate the stress placed on supervisors within the NGO sector, which was possible with the R8 million. 50 administration posts had been allocated after a full analysis was completed, and it was found that, particularly in the NGO sector, there was no administrative staff to assist with the administration work, resulting in social workers doing administration -- filing, phoning for appointments, etc.
Mr G Bosman (DA) asked what the process was when an organisation/orphanage was de-registered, and what monitoring protocols were in place. He referred to the 2019 case of the Al-Noor Orphanage, where 17 children had been removed and placed in alternative places of safety. Serious charges had been levelled against the operators of the orphanage.
Dr Macdonald responded that he had been personally involved in the case Mr Bosman referred to. He confirmed that the property belonged to the City of Cape Town, and that the Department had asked the City of Cape Town to serve an eviction notice. He explained that the Al-Noor orphanage had not been re-registered since 2010, and that three follow-ups had been done within a year and a half.
He explained that part of the de-registration process was to do follow-ups and send a social worker to check whether the organisation was still operating. Children were found on the premises the second time a follow up was done. The parents of the children confirmed that their children were at the orphanage for a holiday programme, not permanently, but lived in Langa, Gugulethu and Khayelitsha. The Department had not detected any children occupying the orphanage by themselves. Regarding the orphanage operators, the National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA's) case had been dropped due to insufficient evidence. He would follow up on the case and inform the Committee
Mr Bosman informed the Committee that the culprits had fled the country due to illegal documentation and false identification.
Mr Jordan confirmed that the Department was keeping an eye on the case. The process involved an order to close the facility, and monitoring it with the option of pressing charges for contempt if an order was in place. If the facility did not close, the children would be removed and the facility closed.
Mr C Fry (DA) commended the Department, especially with the amendment to the Children's Amendment Bill clauses 8-12 dealing with the cluster foster care issue. He asked whether individuals moving houses or changing cellphone numbers posed a challenge to the Department regarding foster care.
Dr Macdonald and Ms Taliep confirmed this was a challenge, adding to the workload of social workers, as family members and neighbours need to be contacted to find alternative contact methods.
The Chairperson referred to the figure of 4 319 in the Cape Winelands, and asked if this was the actual number of children.
Ms Taliep confirmed that this was the actual number of children.
The Chairperson asked why the number of children in foster care was so high for the Cape Winelands, Eden Karoo and the West Coast.
Dr Macdonald responded that societal issues of unemployment, substance abuse (particularly alcoholism in the Winelands), the periodic income of seasonal workers, and poverty resulted in a high number of children in foster care in those areas.
The Chairperson asked if there had been engagement about the high number of children in foster care in those areas with localised structures such as NGOs, religious sectors and municipalities.
Dr Macdonald responded that NGOs and law enforcement were aware of the situation, but the municipalities were not aware as they did not engage with child care protection services as it was not part of their core functions. He advised that engagement should be made with all stakeholders, especially to inform municipalities of the child abuse in communities.
The Chairperson asked whether numbers were lower in comparison to metro north and south, due to a lack of reporting in the metro.
Dr Macdonald responded that where cases were not reported in the metro, the Department could not intervene. When a parent died, the child unofficially lived with another family member, which was common in the metro compared to the rural areas. He said that the court process was not gone through, and rather there was an informal arrangement between family members where the extended family involvement was greater. Rural areas were noted for having less assistance from extended families due to migration to the metros for employment.
The Chairperson asked whether the additional 3 600 children admitted into the foster care system consisted of children from the Platteland area outlines and the metro.
Ms Taliep responded that the addition of 3 600 children comprised a mixture of children from the Platteland area outlines and the metro.
The Chairperson asked whether there were issues with the payment of the grants in the foster care system.
Dr Macdonald responded that there were no major issues with SASSA, and that they paid out foster care grants effectively. The issue lay with the courts -- the time taken to issue court orders, or incorrect information on court orders. He emphasised that SASSA was dependent on the courts.
The Chairperson offered to provide a list of issues to Home Affairs to assist the Department, which the Department accepted. The Chairperson also noted the issue of social workers' salaries, and expressed gratitude to the Department for bringing over 200 social workers into the system.
Ms R Windvogel (ANC) asked if the Department had programmes to inform the community of foster care.
Dr Macdonald responded that the Department ran several programmes -- child protection week, 60-70 events held by NGOs to raise awareness, marches, media coverage, awareness programmes held throughout the year, parenting programmes, family interventions, and family preservation and protection. The Families South Africa (FAMSA) organisation assisted with family support and counselling.
The Chairperson commented that the number of children in foster care was alarming, as well as the health report of the death rate of children under 5 to 10 years old. It had been heartening to hear about the programmes in place to assist the community, and the Committee would like to support the Department.
The Chairperson stated that one resolution would be to engage municipalities to bring the foster care numbers to their attention, and proposed a meeting with the DSD's Minister, Ms Sharna Fernandez, to determine a line of engagement.
Ms Bakubaku-Vos agreed with the Chairperson, and confirmed that social workers faced a lot of challenges, which related to her own experience of being a former community worker. She emphasised the need for social workers to receive help regarding their administration, which was keeping them at the courts for the whole day.
She also highlighted that the DHA made the process of obtaining birth certificates very difficult, and suggested an oversight visit be carried out at Home Affairs to begin to remedy the process.
The Chairperson remarked that it would be appropriate for the DHA to answer this issue.
Mr Bosman asked that the NPA be written to, to ask what the outcome of the Al-Noor Orphanage criminal case was, and why it had not been brought to trial.
The Chairperson said a briefing from SASSA would be needed to address the application backlog for the social relief of distress and disability grant post in the province. In addition, SASSA would brief the Committee on the alleged closure of posts for officers for grant collection, and measures in place for the continuation of grant distribution in the province.
The meeting was adjourned.
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