IN five months more than 800 children – on average 160 a month – have been removed from their parents’ care and placed with foster parents, mainly due to drug use and negligence in the Western Cape.
Of over 100 000 children in foster homes nationally, about 20 000 are in the Western Cape, according to Cape Town Child Welfare.
Many of them were rescued from abusive homes and parents who were not around, particularly drug-addicted young mothers.
Maria Solomons, who runs Solomons Haven in Mitchells Plain, has taken in 16 children aged between five and 17, who social workers removed from destructive homes. Some of them had been abused sexually and physically.
Solomons also has three of her own children, aged 13, 16 and 22.
Her experience as a foster mother began 18 years ago when her son brought a friend home to spend the night. “In Mitchells Plain drugs are all over the place. More and more children are coming here because their parents are involved (in drugs). I take them in because I don’t want them to fall into that,” she said.
Although Solomons takes care of 16 children, she says she receives foster care grants for only two and keeps the home running through donations.
“It is difficult taking care of these children, not just because of financial issues but because they come from different situations. Some were abused sexually while others’ parents are on drugs. The only way I can deal with that is to handle them with love and care.”
On Monday night social workers placed six- and seven-year-old siblings at her home as their parents were on tik.
The siblings are among more than 800 children referred to foster homes between January and May as their parents, young mothers in particular, struggle to take care of them.
The authorities and NGOs have singled out abuse, substance abuse and poverty as some of the reasons the children have been moved.
Cape Town Child Welfare chief executive Niresh Ramklass said some of the 20 000 foster children in the province were victims of abuse, abandonment and neglect.
Increasing poverty was not helping the situation, Ramklass said.
“It is quite stark. It would be best if the children were not taken from their homes, but if we don’t have a proper social net to protect our children, they will be lost. Many of them will die,” he said.
“Drugs, tik in particular, play a huge role in the breakdown in family cores. They have broken down young mothers’ abilities to nurture their children. They spend most of their time at tik houses and have no time to feed or wash their newborn babies.
“We have to remove children as young as six months.”
Children are usually kept at foster homes for two years while parents attempt to mend their lives.
Many parents had been forced to check into rehab centres or lose their children, Ramklass said.
Molo Songololo director Patrick Solomons said the numbers were an indication of a bigger problem, that many parents in the province struggled to take care of their children.
“We are encouraged to see that the Department of Social Development has been able to place so many children in such a space of time,” Solomons said.
“The numbers are quite huge but we know there are many children who have fallen through the cracks, and encourage the department to speed up its processes and identify those children in need of foster care because there is quite a need for foster care out there.”
Social Development MEC Albert Fritz said it was a growing concern that a large number of the children had been removed from their homes because of substance abuse.