Granny blazes a trail on foster-care grants

2013-04-21 14:01

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When Mrs M’s* daughter died five years ago, she knew she could not provide for her three orphaned grandchildren using only her state pension of R1?200 a month.

Last week, Mrs M’s battle to receive foster-care grants for taking care of her grandchildren ended with victory in the South Gauteng High Court.

The ruling means that in Gauteng, grandparents, aunts, uncles and older siblings who take care of orphaned relatives now qualify for R800 per child per month rather than the much lower childcare grant of R290.

The 64-year-old woman at the centre of the case was still hugely emotional this week when she spoke about her five-year wait.

Mrs M and her grandchildren – twin boys about to turn seven and a 12-year-old boy – live in Kagiso, just outside Krugersdorp.

Her initial application, before a magistrate in the Krugersdorp Children’s Court in 2011, was dismissed.

She said: “I asked the magistrate, how could I maintain the children with my pension money? If it were you raising three children, three orphans with less than R1?000, could you manage? It was unfair. I cried that day.”

She decided to appeal the ruling – and perhaps also help others in similar circumstances.

Mrs M was assisted with her original application and the appeal by advocacy organisation Black Sash and Legal Aid SA.

Black Sash’s regional manager, Thandiwe Zulu, said Mrs M’s was a “classic case” in a country of 3.8?million orphans – although only 1.5?million, who have lost both their parents or their mother, qualify for a foster grant under the Children’s Act.

Zulu hopes this case will persuade courts in other provinces to follow suit.

Mrs M is waiting for her first foster-care payout after the ruling. Her priority is to get her grandchildren back into a good school. She had to remove the three boys from the Catholic school they were attending, and they’re now enrolled at a school with broken toilets and shattered windows. Despite this, all three are excelling at school. Their reports reveal A averages.

NGOs are pushing for a system that will allow grandmothers to get foster-care grants without having to go through courts and social workers.

Paula Proudlock of the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town said the grant-access system was “terribly complicated”.

This is because it was designed for children in need of care and protection – not children who are safe with relatives and simply need a social grant to pay for their basic needs.

A social worker must evaluate the situation and write a report, which is then referred to a court.

When the court receives the report, the case is reviewed on an individual basis.

The current foster-care system was created for 50?000 children. It now absorbs more than 500?000. The department of social development is trying to recruit more social workers to try to cope with the intake.

Proudlock said: “This is not the solution because it will take another 10 years to reach the more than 500?000 orphans in need if we continue to use the foster-care system.

“If relatives caring for orphans could access their grants directly by application to the SA Social Services Agency instead of working through social workers and the courts, we could reach all these children within three years.”

* Mrs M and Black Sash asked that her name not be published

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