Nearly a thousand cases of abused, abandoned and neglected children are being reported to Cape Town Child Welfare every month from some of the city’s poorest areas.
And the caseload has meant that, in some cases, a single social worker has to deal with up to 200 cases at a time. The national average is 60 cases per social worker.
Cape Town Child Welfare has more than 5 000 cases being handled by its 48 social workers.
The organisation’s chief executive, Niresh Ramklass, said more than 200 new cases were reported each week.
In Hanover Park, three social workers were responsible for 609 cases. In Hout Bay, six social workers were dealing with 657 cases between them.
Seven social workers were responsible for 814 cases in Athlone, while four people were handling 566 cases in Dunoon.
Manenberg has five social workers whose caseload is 599. In Philippi East there are 850 cases divided between eight people. In Khayelitsha the load is 633 between eight people. In the Lotus River/Ottery area, there are seven social workers for 692 cases.
“They are under pressure. They are not coping,” said Ramklass. “Hanover Park is in crisis. It needs a lot of government attention and proper investment.”
Cape Town Child Welfare was facing backlogs because of the high volumes of cases coupled with a shortage of staff, he said.
Ramklass said the number of abused, abandoned and neglected children reported in and around Cape Town had increased over the years.
One of the factors contributing to the increase was the scourge of substance abuse gripping the city, he said.
In some cases, drug-addicted parents left their children with grandparents, who were unable to cope and approached Cape Town Child Welfare for help.
The new Children’s Act, said Ramklass, demanded a more intensive approach to social work.
“It’s not easy being children in this city. The government must invest more money and resources into child protection,” he said.
Child advocacy group Molo Songololo agreed that substance abuse contributed to the increase of child abuse and neglect.
“It is the main factor in cases we work with. It causes dysfunction in families and parental neglect,” said Molo Songololo spokesman Patric Solomons.
He added that it was not only the children of diagnosed addicts who suffered, but also those of functional alcoholics and drug users.
Solomons said there was very little support for the children of these people until something bad happened to them.
As part of the organisation’s strategy, Molo Songololo officials had increased home visits, he said.
Solomons found that when parents or guardians knew that officials were visiting regularly, they decreased their intake of substances, cleaned up their houses and started taking better care of their children.
“We need to increase monitoring children in their homes, because that is where the crimes against them take place.”
Social Development MEC Albert Fritz urged neighbours to report any suspected incidents of abuse or neglect to their local social development offices.
He was planning to send a memo to all offices to pay special attention to the complaints of neighbours and relatives.
Fritz said social workers were compelled to do site visits when complaints were received.
He would request that feedback be sent to his office.