South Africa’s foster care system is failing hundred of thousands of children on many different levels, such as the Constitutional rights to family care and shelter. File photo: Dumisani Sibeko

Cape Town - South Africa’s foster care system is failing hundred of thousands of children on many different levels. 

Social worker Candice Fortune explored this in a paper and said the situation can be traced back to the early 2000s, where the child protection system dealt with around 50 000 children in need of foster care. 

In her paper Fortune said the rise of HIV and Aids contributed to children being left orphans and subsequently landing up in foster care. 

“Then came along the explosion of the Aids epidemic and by 2004 the number of maternal orphans had jumped to over a million children. Many of those children were taken in by relatives, it’s estimated that as many of 80 percent of children in foster care are in kinship foster care.”

She said social workers are unable to offer the necessary support needed by children.

“Many children have fallen through the cracks and foster care orders have lapsed as social workers are overburdened with high caseloads and cannot always provide the adequate amount of monitoring or supervision.” 

Fortune said the system was failing children in two regards, the Constitutional rights to family care and shelter. 

“In the foster care system, children are removed from families – because of suspicions of abuse and neglect – but with the hope of reintegrating the child back into his or her family. That requires, among other things, that social workers investigate the home circumstances of the child. But overburdened social workers rarely have the time to do that.”

She added that social workers are constrained for time and resources when trying to find a suitable placement for children.

“Many children end up in overcrowded group homes or relatives with neither the space nor means to provide for them.”

Senior researcher at UCT Children’s Institute,  Paula Proudlock said South Africa responded late to the HIV pandemic and resulted in the high number of orphans. 

“On a global level we are unique in numbers. The system was built to survive 150 000 children per year and we currently have (around) 450 000.”

She echoed Fortune’s sentiments on social workers being overburdened.

“We have seen an increase in social workers but we have not seen improvement in foster care.The state is not using them efficiently, they should be used to deal with children at risk, who are in abusive situations and responding to cases.”

Spokesperson for social development MEC, Albert Fritz, Sihle Ngobese said the department has reduced the number of backlog foster care cases by 70 percent. 

“As of May this year, the Department only had 247 backlog cases to finalize from a total of 828 cases at the beginning of the year. This is a tremendous achievement by our social worker teams within the Children & Families Programme.

"Our efforts to prioritize services to children and families by allocating the largest portion of our budget (R651-million) are yielding good results. The Western Cape is faring very well, considering the national backlog of foster care cases stands at 145 742.”

Speaking on behalf of the Home of Hope, a foster home in Table View, Hayley Gimingham said government does not make it easy for those that want to foster children.

“There are some out there that want to foster, but then hoops government make them jump through, is quite ridiculous, 90 percent of normal families want to foster a child and government makes it so difficult so many people end up giving up.”

She said she understood the need to be strict in selecting foster families, but said government was falling the thousands of children in the system.

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Cape Argus