Govt-funded youth centre rocked by abuse, racism allegations, almost 200 children removed

2019-02-19 18:16
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The Department of Social Development in KwaZulu-Natal has ordered a high-level investigation into allegations of physical and emotional abuse of children and staff at a youth care centre in Ladysmith.

On Tuesday, MEC Weziwe Thusi said widespread allegations of wrongdoing were reported at the government-funded Morester Child Youth Care Centre.

"The widespread violations include physical, verbal and emotional abuse as well as racism, including the use of the offensive K-word against both African children and members of staff."

She said 197 children had to be removed from three youth care centres affiliated to Morester over the weekend. The children have been placed in government-owned child and youth centres. 

Thusi apologised to affected families, saying that the well-being of the children had to be prioritised.

"I want to emphasise that we are mandated by the Constitution and the Children's Act to protect children and it's a mandate that we take very seriously."

She added that the government would "investigate allegations of any form of child abuse without any fear or favour even in child and youth care centres".

Thusi also said Morester was funded to the tune of just over R5m.

"We funded them to ensure the well-being of these vulnerable children. We will not stand by when we learn that the money is possibly used to further traumatise the same children who are in need of care and protection."

Gerhard Botha, CEO of KwaZulu-Natal Christian Social Services, which oversees Morester, said they were largely kept in the dark about the matter.

"At least we now know what the allegations are, although it would have been better if we knew before this traumatic and dramatic process unfolded. I will be surprised if these allegations are true because it is against everything that we stand for as [a] Christian church-based social services organisation."

He said they took the allegations seriously and were willing "to co-operate fully with a departmental investigation and to take corrective steps if these allegations prove to be true".

"This still did not necessitate the traumatic and dramatic removal of 200 children. There were other options available to keep the children in the homes," he said.

Botha suggested that other measures could have been taken, such as the suspension of individual staff members if they could be identified. He added that another option was to put department staff in the centres to overlook processes.

"The court order process was initiated on Monday, but this is unfortunately not something that happens overnight as we had hoped and will be finalised as soon as possible".

Botha said the department now had to be accountable for the safety of the children until each one reached a safe home.

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