89,000 children’s foster care grants at risk

Government promises to meet November deadline, but MPs are sceptical

Minister of social development Lindiwe Zulu presented to parliament on Wednesday.
Image: GroundUp/Barbara Maregele

MPs have voiced scepticism over the department of social development’s promise that it will resolve more than 89,000 foster care court orders by the end of November. This was at the portfolio committee on social development meeting on Wednesday.

“Are we really going to make this deadline?” asked ANC MP Jane Manganye. “What makes you think that now you can handle a huge number like this? To me, we are playing the same record again,” she said.

Manganye was speaking during a briefing by the department on its plan to resolve a countrywide backlog of foster care orders awaiting court approval. The Pretoria High Court has made the 89,538 outstanding cases valid until November 28. This will allow payments to continue until then. In the meantime, social workers are still applying to the children’s court to have these and new orders extended beyond the court’s protection period.

According to Section 159 of the Children’s Act, foster care grants expire after two years, unless extended by order of a children’s court. Lapsed court orders have been costing tens of thousands of orphaned children their grants since 2010.

The Centre for Child Law has been at loggerheads with the department to have the issue resolved for years. In 2011, it filed an urgent application with the Pretoria High Court against the minister of social development. The court extended existing foster care grants for three years to give the department time to create a “comprehensive legal solution” to solve the crisis in the foster care system.

But when three years had passed, the centre and the department again found themselves in court in 2014. The minister applied to extend the existing order, keeping the current grants in place. The court ruled that by December 2017, a comprehensive solution needed to be found.

As the deadline approached in October 2017, with no solution yet, the centre again went to court. It argued that the minister’s failure to “produce a comprehensive legal solution” was “unconstitutional, unlawful, and invalid”.

In November 2017 the court granted the national and provincial departments of social development as well as the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) a 24-month extension to continue payment and management of more than 200,000 foster care orders that were due to lapse. This deadline ends in 10 weeks – at the end of November.

On Wednesday, during its progress report to the portfolio committee, Connie Nxumalo, deputy director-general for welfare services, assured MPs that despite the challenges in several provinces, the department had a plan to deal with lapsed orders and to comply with the court’s ruling.

As part of its comprehensive solution to fix the foster care system, Nxumalo said the department had submitted the Social Assistance Bill to parliament in March 2018 and the Children’s Amendment Bill was submitted in February 2019. The bill is expected to be passed by parliament in November.

“Amongst progress made, some provinces bought cars, computers, some have appointed dedicated social workers and supervisors to foster care cases. It must be noted that no additional budget was allocated to implement the court order,” she said.

BY BARBARA MAREGELE AT GROUNDUP

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