Foster care in the country is in a crisis. There are huge backlogs in the current system and the Department of Social Development (DSD) is working towards resolving challenges in foster care by enacting tighter laws. The Department made these comments when it briefed Parliament together with the South Africa Social Security Agency (SASSA).
Placing children in foster care is done through a valid court order and is intended to provide care and protection in a nurturing, safe and healthy environment with positive support. Notably, 478 158 children are receiving foster child grants, as at the end of October 2017, but there are significant backlogs in the system. Some of the provinces have implemented strategies to eradicate the backlog but others are lagging behind. Those court orders are essential pieces of paper, as those caring for children put into foster care cannot apply for the Foster Care Grant (FCG) without it. Many of those children were taken in by relatives (it’s estimated that as many of 80% of children in foster care are in kinship foster care), who could then apply for a Child Support Grant (CSG). Worth R380 as from April 1, the CSG is legally seen as a poverty alleviation tool. But another option for these families was to formalise the care arrangement and apply for the FCG. In contrast to the CSG, the FCG is worth the much larger R920 as from April 1.
The foster care system is of necessity cumbersome and bureaucratic. To qualify for an FCG, an orphaned child has to be placed in the child protection system. This requires not only orders from a Children’s Court but must be backed up by a blanket of administrative services, including ongoing monitoring and treatment.
The challenges are numerous: it includes the shortage of social workers, social work supervisors to deal with case-flow management and inadequate tools of trade which limit social workers. Legal challenges include delayed scheduling of court dates and non-appearance of social workers in court. Senior researcher at UCT Children’s Institute, Paula Proudlock said South Africa’s system was built to survive 150 000 children per year but it currently has around 450 000. This is mostly due to the Aids pandemic and the large number of maternal orphans.
Many children then end up in over-crowded group homes or with relatives with neither the space nor other means to provide for them. A number of options are currently considered for alleviating the pressure on the foster care system. One proposal is the introduction of a Kinship Care Grant, which would be made to children who are orphaned and living with relatives. It is suggested that such a grant - which would probably be worth more than the CSG - would require only an initial assessment of the child’s situation, but none of the intensive supervision required with foster care placement. With the introduction of a Kinship Care Grant, less monitoring would need to occur and less court intervention required. This would lessen the burden placed on social workers, but more ideally it would ensure that the best interests of the children are considered paramount in all decisions made.
Addressing Parliament, DSD said it has continually lobbied for additional resources to appoint more social workers and use social services professionals to monitor foster placements and provide prevention services. It has also strengthened collaboration with the Judiciary, Departments of Justice and Constitutional Development, Home Affairs, Basic Education and Higher Education to fast track the resolution of foster care cases. Further, it has developed a draft Childcare and Protection Policy which is going through a final consultation and approval process. The policy is due to be tabled before Cabinet for approval by 31 March 2018.
Lawmakers voiced concern over the continuing challenges encountered by applicants when they want to access these services and delays in finalisation and issuing of foster care court orders. They urged the Department to address administrative and policy bottlenecks that cause delays in the system. It was noted that the recruiting of social workers and comprehensive legal solutions would be addressed after the child care protection policy had been approved.