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File picture: Pexels

Bailout for failing foster care system as court grants extension to clear backlog

By ZELDA VENTER Time of article published Nov 26, 2019

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Johannesburg - South Africa’s dire foster care system received yet another bailout when an agreement was reached between the department of Social Development and other stakeholders that current outstanding foster care orders will remain valid until the end of November 2020.

The Social Development minister had to urgently turn to the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday, as the deadline for outstanding
foster care orders are due to run out at the end of this month.

This followed an order in 2017, in which this court placed a moratorium on the lapsing of foster care orders. 

Judge Johan Louw at the time gave Social Development department two years to come up with legislation to streamline current legislation which is failing foster care.

The court at the time granted an extension to Social Development to clear the foster care backlogs and to present a comprehensive plan to Parliament as to how these issues were going to be dealt with.

Social services on Tuesday told Judge Selemeng Mokose that it needed more time, but that it was working hard on proposed legislation. It
was confidant that by the end of next year, new legislation to address all the problems will be in place.

The problem was that if the moratorium ran out at the end of this month, it would have left thousands of children in the foster care system, out in the cold.

In its latest court papers, social services said there was a backlog of about 41 000 cases across nine provinces. The biggest number of
foster care backlogs emanate from Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal.

The department said it had drastically reduced the number of backlogs in 2017, which stood at 200 000 at the time.

In terms of present legislation, foster care orders must be renewed by the Children’s Court every two years. But overworked magistrates and overburdened social workers and a host of other problems, are preventing them from doing this.

Another problem which arose from this is that foster parents would not be able to receive further social grants without a renewed order.

But in terms of the agreement, which was made an order of court, foster care orders which have lapsed or are due to lapse, will remain
in place for 12 months or until the end of the year on which the foster child turns 18. Sassa was also ordered to continue paying foster care grants in the meantime.

Ebenezer Dladla of the department, said in an affidavit to the court that they are working hard at the number of challenges experienced through the system of provision of foster care grants nationally, but they are still facing many challenges.

The department is developing an electronic foster care monitoring tool which has a warning system to warn when foster care orders are due to
lapse and for social workers to monitor the foster system.

He said in essence the draft Children’s Amendment Bill is ready to be presented to Parliament, but they still have to iron-out some issues.

He said they are, however, facing a number of challenges, as more and more children are placed in foster care, while resources are
shrinking. 

The scourge of child and gender-based violence also places a huge burden on the system, as more children are moved into foster care.

Magistrates who preside over children courts say they cannot abandon their existing work to manage foster care cases and thus the backlogs
cannot be addressed as fast as the department hoped it would.

The department said it had to rush to court to obtain an extension, as it now realised it would not be able to meet the end of November’s
deadline. It said it realised the dire consequences for the children if the deadline was not extended.

Zita Hansungule of the Centre for Child Law, said in court papers while they agreed the order had to be extended to safeguard the children, they were not happy with the proposed legislation to address the foster care problem.

Hansungile said after two years the minister of social development has failed to provide a comprehensive legal solution to the foster care
crisis and this is threatening to leave multiple thousands of children in the cold.

Meanwhile, in terms of the order, the department and minister must file a progress report every three months to the centre and the court.

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Pretoria News

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