The foster-care system is failing a number of South Africa’s vulnerable children, the DA said. Picture: Phando Jikelo African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - The foster-care system is failing a number of South Africa’s vulnerable children, the Democratic Alliance said on Sunday.

The DA was "appalled, disappointed, but not surprised", by the failure of the social development department (DSD) that led to the backlog in the South African foster care system, DA shadow minister of social development Bridget Masango said in a statement.

The DSD this past week made a presentation to Parliament's social development portfolio committee about the state of the foster care system, where the crucial question was the backlog of foster care orders, she said.

It was revealed that by November 2019, 128 000 orders would have lapsed. These lapsed orders indicated that 128 000 children had not been checked up on by the DSD.

"This means that we don’t know whether those children are still safe or whether the situation has improved with regards to reuniting such children with their families. This is also indicative of the fact that the DSD has not visited the child nor monitored their situation in a period of two years. The foster-care system is failing a number of South Africa’s vulnerable children," Masango said.

Section 158 of the Children’s Act allowed the Children’s Court to review the foster care order every two years unless the court specified a shorter period, and section 159 (1)(a) of the Children’s Act demanded that a foster care order issued by the Children’s Court lapse on expiry two years from the date it was issued.

Therefore, an orphaned child had to be placed in the child protection system to qualify for the foster care grant. This meant that for orders from a Children’s Court to be up to date, and to ensure the safety of a child, orders had to be backed up by constant monitoring and treatment.

The primary concern of the foster care system was to offer support to children in need of protection from abuse and neglect, but without these orders, social workers were unable to guarantee the safety of these children and they were unable to reunite them with their families, she said.

In addition, without these orders, people caring for children in foster care could not apply for the foster care grant. This would result in thousands of children and their caregivers being left without the financial lifeline they often desperately needed.

"It is clear from the committee meeting that we have been sitting with this problem since 2010, with no plan to solve the situation. It is the responsibility of the DSD to provide measures that mitigate the ongoing lapse of court orders."

The DA would write to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu to get clarity and assurance regarding various aspects, including how the department was dealing with the crisis in the foster care system, could she ensure the safety of every child in the system, had the department made an application for funding from the National Treasury to cater for the problems in the foster care system, especially the social worker funding, and what were the outcomes of such an application?

The DA would also write to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to ask whether the department had indeed requested additional funding. This followed all MECs and heads of department representing provinces confirming during the meeting this past week that they did not have enough social workers nor sufficient tools of trade to ensure these backlogs were cleared.

"It is the portfolio committee’s responsibility to exercise oversight to ensure the department has adequate resources to meet its operational requirements," Masango said.

African News Agency (ANA)