Foster kids snatched

2011-12-19 00:00

SOCIAL workers in the Howick area are allegedly using illegal methods to remove children from their foster parents to place them back with families that have either abused them or cannot adequately care for them.

The illegal methods allegedly being used involve fraudulent court orders and enlisting police to intimidate the mothers into giving up the children.

One case of child endangerment has been opened against social workers.

In one case two officials from the welfare office and police officers threatened a foster mother, Kellie Steinke, with arrest when no warrants had been issued.

Steinke was also the target of a fraudulent court order to remove a child who has been living with her for five years. The child was three months old when Steinke took her in.

The same officials have reportedly visited three other foster mothers, employing the same intimidation tactics. One foster mother is reported to be so afraid that she has gone into hiding with the children, and another keeps her gate locked so that the welfare officials cannot get to her.

Several foster mothers looking after a total of 21 children told The Witness that the social workers were abusive, vindictive and rude. They also levelled serious allegations of maladministration, incompetence, dereliction of duty and abuse of power against them.

They claimed that when social workers placed a child in a foster home, they did not conduct follow-up visits or investigate or write up reports to monitor the condition of the child.

When they place the children it is often the last time the social workers see them. Later attempts to remove children, sometimes at the urging of abusive parents, are made without any documentary basis, which the children’s court requires to grant an order.

The lack of paperwork also hampers the foster parents’ ability to access social grants or to register the children for schooling.

Furthermore, when putting children back with their biological parents, they do not investigate whether the circumstances have improved.

The foster mothers told of several instances when social workers were negligent in their duties. They said the social workers removed the children from a foster parent and placed them with the biological parent. A month later the foster parent found the children begging on the street.

In another instance they allegedly removed a 13-year-old girl and placed her with someone who claimed to be a relative, but the girl is pregnant and has dropped out of school.

One foster mother has gone so far as laying a charge of culpable homicide against a social worker who allegedly failed to investigate a case of neglect and abuse.

In this case it was claimed that a mother who had already had three children removed from her because of abuse and neglect, gave birth to twins, but the Social Development Department refused to investigate their condition when it was drawn to their attention.

The foster mother allegedly went to where the woman lived and found the children abandoned in a dark room and suffering from starvation.

One of the children allegedly died in November last year, two months after being rescued.

She reported the matter to police, who confirmed the allegations, but said the case had been closed as having no merit.

Two weeks ago two officials known to The Witness visited Steinke and demanded that she hand a child over to them so they could return her to the biological mother. They presented her with a fraudulent court order.

The child last saw her biological mother in February this year and has seen her three times in the last five years. Relatives of the mother have allegedly tried to kidnap the child once before.

Steinke said the child was left traumatised by the incident. “She keeps asking if the bad people are coming back to take her.

"In the last five years the social workers have never set foot in my house and they just call out of the blue to tell me they are taking my child away to give her to someone she does not even know."

She said the officials were being vindictive because attempts to remove the child from her in June failed. She said the mother was suing for custody of the child, but the case could not proceed as the social worker in charge of the case failed to produce a proper report.

"In five years he produced a two-page report that left out important details about the circumstances of the mother and was false."

She has since brought a case of child endangerment against the social worker over the report. The police confirmed a case had been opened.

One foster mother said the social workers did not care for the children. "They give you the child and leave you to your own devices as they do not provide any support."

Another mother said the SPCA cared more for their animals than the social workers did for the children.

"When I wanted to adopt a dog from the SPCA they insisted on coming into my house to check whether the animal would be properly accommodated. And when the social workers asked me to foster the child they never came to investigate; nor did they do any follow-ups to see whether the child was looked after."

Asked for a comment, Social Development Department spokesperson Ncumisa Fandesi said the subject was a sensitive one as it involved children and would need to be investigated before the department could comment.

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