Child grant is not enough

2017-11-19 05:58


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With the festive season approaching, unemployed Siobhan Jones is anxious about keeping up with her neighbours just to survive, let alone affording Christmas clothes for her children.

“The child support money I receive is not enough and it doesn’t last long. I basically spend it on their porridge, milk, school lunch and school fees,” said 27-year-old Jones, adding that nothing was left to buy them clothing.

The Jones’ hardship sums up the findings of the Family Contexts, Child-Support Grants and Child Well-Being in SA policy report, which was released on Tuesday.

The report was compiled for Unicef SA and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation.

It found that although the Child Support Grant lessened the hardships of children in this country, it was insufficient to address “the multifaceted needs that kids have to ensure their wellbeing”.

Over 12 million, or 63%, of South African children received the Child Support Grant in 2017. But the grants were not only used for the benefit of children, and were instead stretched to take care of overall household needs and those of other family members.

Although Jones has not stopped looking for a job to supplement her family’s meagre income, she attributes her problems to the fact that she is a high school drop-out and last worked as a receptionist four years ago. She has a live-in partner who has an unstable menial job and three children, two of whom receive child support grants from the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa).

Jones has an 11-year-old daughter and two sons aged two and five. She is still struggling with the paperwork required to register her youngest son.

The family is crammed into a single room in Turffontein West, Johannesburg.

With the combined children’s social grants of R700 a month and her partner’s scarce income, her family battles to stretch the budget to cover living expenses and rent.

“I actually think the government must increase the money because R700 for two children is not enough and it disappears in your hands.”

“Life is expensive these days,” she quipped.

Jones’ dream is to have the means to support her family and provide for their basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter and education.

Centre for Social Development in Africa’s (CSDA’s) Professor Leila Patel, who led the research, said the report sampled at least 3 132 child support grant beneficiaries under the age of eight in rural Moutse in Limpopo and Doornkop in Soweto.

Around 58% of children surveyed lived in tribal authority areas and 27% lived in urban formal areas.

The study said participants were particularly concerned about their ability to provide for their children, which was severely hampered by poverty.

The monthly per capita income for child support grant households is R394.21.

“While all participants lived in difficult financial circumstances, some also suffered particularly bad living conditions, impacting severely on their ability to care for their children.

“While they were not asked about food security, they did mention the stress of trying to provide for their children in times of serious financial insecurity, exacerbated by serious problems with formal service delivery,” the study said.

It also noted that loss and grief were recurring issues in focus groups. As a result, there is “a need for emotional care that was not being adequately managed by our society generally and in a time of HIV and Aids and high levels of violence”, the study said.

“Emotional support and closeness are hard to achieve under stressful circumstances; your own emotional difficulties can be a real barrier to offering support to others, and raises the importance of caregivers’ mental health.”

Patel said the study also noted that almost one in three children were not living with their parents, which informed the design of the children’s grants policy in 1998. The absence of parents is indicative of the fragmentation of families in South Africa, suggesting strong continuities with the past and the present.

Of particular concern was the fact that fathers were significantly less likely to live with their children. The report found that 97% of caregivers were women, while three quarters of fathers were absent from households. Of those absent fathers, only 40% provided financial support for their children.

Consequently, extended families often carried the burden of economic, social and emotional support for one in three children in South Africa. In 77% of cases, extended families often assisted with additional support for the child’s care.

According to Patel, lack of funding and investment in preventive family interventions was identified as a major barrier to growing family and community-based interventions.

Social work services for families in South Africa were underdeveloped and tended to concentrate on clinical and statutory interventions to protect children against harm. As a result, there were limited interventions to enhance family functioning in general that could prevent social problems.

The study recommended an already existing mandate proposed in the 2012 White Paper on Families in South Africa to support vulnerable families by designing and implementing preventive family interventions. This was to support the provision of warm, loving and caring environments for children.

Instead of costly treatments, it calls for preventive educational interventions delivered in a group format to assist families “to manage the stresses and challenges of everyday life in poor and difficult circumstances”.

It cautioned that combining cash transfers with family strengthening interventions would require “significant mind shifts among policy-makers, practitioners and development agencies”. At the moment, the state was preoccupied with immediate problems through established child protection measures, most of which were statutory in nature.


What more should the government do to improve the quality of life of child support grant beneficiaries?

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Read more on:    unicef  |  child grants

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