May 21, 2019

REGULAR Few answers to Parliament’s Questions

The Department of Social Development may be heading straight for another major social crisis, this time over Foster Care Grants.

In response to a Question from the DA’s Karen Jooste, Minister Bathabile Dlamini conceded that 54 835 foster care orders are due for extension between September and December 2017.

This amounts to a lot of Foster Care Grants that may lapse on 31 December. Jooste asked the Minister what is the total value of the Foster Care Grants that may no longer be paid. She also wanted to know if the department has taken any steps to prevent the “crisis”.

Social Development Minister Dlamini said in her answer that her department cannot know in advance “the actual number of orders that will lapse as the provinces are continually undertaking activities to ensure that foster care orders are extended”.

Foster Care Grant at R920 per month are significantly higher than the Child Support Grant of R380pm.

Unlike Child Support Grants, Foster Care Grants must be reviewed and renewed every two years. In addition, increasing numbers of people are opting for the Foster Care Grant because at R920 per month they are significantly higher than the Child Support Grant of R380pm.

Application processes are long, complex and labour intensive, said Jooste. This places an enormous strain on already limited resources leading to huge backlogs. The administrative burden explains the huge backlogs in applications for these grants and there is concern that abused and neglected children in need of foster care may be falling through the cracks.

But just as she was in the run-up to the expiry of all social care grants, the Minister is not at all worried. She is convinced that the courts will bail her out, yet again.

Yes, we have heard this all before, and it has all the makings of another CPS-pay-out drama. But who wants to go through that again? Certainly not prospective foster parents, or the thousands of children who will be lost without this monthly grant.

Dlamini has obviously had practise in keeping a cool head in the face of a possible crisis. She dismissed the concern over grants that may go unpaid.

“It is anticipated that no grants will be unpaid because of the foster care court orders expiring, given the implementation of the North Gauteng High Court ruling which allows SASSA [South African Social Services Agency] to continue paying the Foster Child Grants, even with expired orders while the Department of Social Development works on updating the orders.”

According to the Minister, there will not be any financial implications for unpaid “Foster Child Grants”, but it is difficult to remain confident when the Social Development Minister gets the name of the relevant grant wrong in her written reply to Parliament.

Perhaps her faith in the continued payment of Foster Care Grants is based on a 2011 court ruling when, according to the Centre for Child Law’s statistics, 123 236 foster care orders had lapsed and required renewing.

The Child Law Centre challenged the Minister over the mounting number of Foster Care Grants that were about to lapse at that time. The North Gauteng High Court saved her skin by setting a moratorium on lapsing grants until December 2014, and later extending this deadline to December 2017.

The court also said in its ruling that there was a need for “comprehensive legal reform” on this issue to ensure substantial systemic change.

Foster parents let out a collective sigh of relief, but six years later they are back where they were. The expired court orders are supposed to be paid only until 31 December. Meanwhile, during this time new applications have massively increased the backlogs and there is a real risk of the payment of Foster Care Grants being interrupted.

In answer to the question on what steps the Minister has taken to prevent a crisis, Dlamini referred to work done by provincial Departments of Social Development who have been putting in place “administrative mechanisms to manage the extension of foster care orders and [the] allocation of social workers to conduct investigations, compile reports with recommendations for extension of foster care orders”.

These measures, however, refer mainly to addressing the backlogs and managing and processing extensions before 1 November 2017.

Concerning the court’s recommendation of “comprehensive legal reform”, there has been no sign of any policy position on Foster Care Grants.

You have to hand it to Dlamini. She can stare down any looming crisis which could have catastrophic social and financial consequences for South Africa’s poor without blinking.

Alicestine October

A version of this article first appeared in GroundUp News

Last modified on Tuesday, 16 January 2018 18:42

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