Bid to fix two-year Foster Care Grant backlog
Cape Town - The Department of Social Development (DSD) head office is set to meet this weekend in an effort to find a permanent resolution for a two-year backlog of Foster Care Grants.
Zandile Ntshaba, a Site B resident, who is the sole guardian and provider of her 5-year-old niece, said that she had applied for a Foster Care Grant (FCG) in 2019. Following the court approval of the grant, they were informed that the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) regulations had changed. She is one of many people who have been unable to receive FCG.
“Most of the people I went with are elderly people. They are really struggling to provide for these young children from their own social grant money. We were told last year by a new supervisor working with the social workers at DSD that we would be called back in January but nothing has happened since then.”
Yibanathi Gulwa is also one of the foster parents who has been unable to obtain FCG despite being approved by the court. The 30-year-old stated that her application was approved by court on December 8, 2019 but when approaching Sassa on the matter she was informed that FCG was only applicable for children who were in the custody of foster parents that were not related to them.
Both Gulwa and Ntshaba were promised a concise response from the Department of Social Development on the matter by January this year; they have not received adequate word from the DSD on the matter despite several complaints.
Senior researcher at the Children's Institute at UCT, Katharine Hall, explained that the FCG backlog problem is an institutional problem that is much bigger and long-term than a two-year backlog.
Hall said the foster care system has for decades catered for around 50 000 children nationally. By 2010, it had to service and monitor more than 500 000 children, of whom over 80% were orphans.The system collapsed because social workers and courts did not have the capacity to review and extend all the cases every two years. Thousands of foster care orders expired and the grants lapsed because Sassa could only pay FCGs for children with valid foster care orders.
“Between 2009 and 2011, Sassa stopped paying 120 000 grants. Another 300 000 children were at risk of losing their FCGs because the court orders were expiring. The case was rushed to the North Gauteng High Court which, in June 2011, ordered that all lapsed FCGs should be reinstated and placed a temporary moratorium on any further lapsing of FCGs due to court order expiry, until a solution could be found. The High Court specifically ordered the DSD to devise a “comprehensive legal solution“ to the problem by 31 December 2014.”
She added that this was not done. Instead, the DSD approached the High Court at the end of 2014 with an urgent application to extend the order. The High Court granted a further three-year extension until the end of 2017, but when that date came the department still did not have a solution, and approached the court for another extension. The problem of expired foster care orders and backlogs has persisted for over 10 years. Only the High Court order has prevented foster care grants from lapsing.
Hall claimed that most orphaned children live with relatives and do not need their care arrangements regulated through the child protection system (foster care).They need a bigger grant.
“Kinship care is common in South Africa and does not generally need to be regulated through the child protection system. The vast majority of orphaned children continued to live in the care of relatives – grandparents, aunts and uncles or older siblings. Nevertheless, the Department of Social Development actively encouraged the use of the foster care system for orphans.”
In 2019 there was a backlog of around 90 000 cases.
Marketing and communications director for Sassa, Shivani Wahab, confirmed that there is no backlog in respect of Foster Care Grant applications. Sassa is responsible for the administration and payment of all social grants.
“Clients who wish to apply for a Foster Care Grant must ensure that they have the required relevant documentation, including a valid court order issued by the DOJ placing the child in foster care with foster parents.”