Sharp spike in reports of child abuse

Childline noted a 47.08% increase in calls related to child abuse nationally for the period April 1 2020 to March 31 2021.

Childline noted a 47.08% increase in calls related to child abuse nationally for the period April 1 2020 to March 31 2021.

Published May 29, 2021


Cape Town - The plight of a 13-year-old who had to flee from her foster care home in Wesbank last week for help is but an echo of the staggering growth in child abuse cases in foster care.

Cases have jumped from about five per week to five per day, according to Western Cape Missing Persons Unit. This, ahead of Child Protection Week will will be observed nationally next week.

Founder of the Missing Person’s Unit Candice van der Rheede said: “Every day I receive cases. Before it was not as hectic. We received four or five per week. Now it's reached the stage where we are receiving that total per day. One of the reasons I posted about the abuse is because of all the challenges faced.

“One of the cases that stands out for me was a 13-year-old who was placed in foster care. The child ran out of Wesbank around 7pm to my neighbour. (The) child showed me she had scares. She said uncles who stayed there hit her with a fan belt.”

She added that there was a social worker on the case but the child was threatened by an aunt not to say anything.

“Why doesn’t the social worker speak to the child? On a daily basis I am getting complaints about foster parents. She (the child) sleeps in a drug den on the floor with one blanket. The big problem with regards to missing children is because 90% of the time the parents are on drugs, the father is being abusive either hitting them or sexually abusing them. This is one of the reasons why some of our children run away.”

“I also have a case of a 10-year-old that went missing and ran up to the police station to lay a charge against the mother's sister who is also a foster parent. She beats the child. We don’t only deal with missing children but also the restoration of families,” said Van Der Rheede.

She added that social grants were often motivation for having many foster children.

Director of clinical services at the Teddy Bear Clinic Dr Shaheda Omar said the fostering of children for social grants has been an ongoing problem.

“These are parents that do it for their own interest. There are pockets of excellence where parents do it out of goodwill. There are other instances of emotional and other forms of abuse and neglect with foster parents. Most foster abuse is accidentally discovered because the children are fearful of implications to disclose what happened,” said Omar.

She added that some foster parents would present good behaviour when a social worker is present or tell the child to act a certain way.

“Child abuse in general has two sides to a coin. There is more awareness now so more cases are reported which does not mean an increase but that there are more resources available,” said Omar.

Childline noted a 47.08% increase in calls related to child abuse nationally for the period April 1 to March 31 this year.

“Childline receives calls in relation to child protection issues and we will then refer the case to the statutory organisation that works in the area where the alleged incident has taken place if so required. We are well known for our toll-free number which is used by both children and adults alike,” said executive director for Childline Western Cape, Ricki Fransman.

The provincial department of Social Development said rigorous screening is done regarding the foster parent's background circumstances and their ability to care for and protect children in alternative care.

“Prospective safety parents and foster-care parents are placed on an approved list after they have passed the screening, statutory checks, and training in terms of the Children's Act before they are approved and found suitable to care for children. On approval, checks are conducted in terms of family members, religious leaders, neighbours, and community members to substantiate the information provided by the prospective foster parents in the screening assessment process,” said department spokesperson Joshua Chigome.

He added that visits were conducted every six months or if concerns are raised or abuse is reported.

“If removal is not required, regular visits will be conducted, and a safety plan will be in place to monitor the care and safety of the child.”

Childline can be contacted on 116 to report abuse. The calls are free and counsellors are available to assist.

Weekend Argus

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