The Department of Social Development is racing to meet the November 2020 deadline to resolve the backlog of foster care grants.
With a shortage of social workers, and now the global coronavirus pandemic, the department says it is working under difficult conditions.
According to Section 159 of the Children’s Act, foster care grants expire after two years, unless extended by order of a children’s court. Lapsed court orders have been costing tens of thousands of vulnerable children their grants since 2010.
Presenting a report to Parliament’s portfolio committee on social development on Tuesday, the department said since November 2019, 20 320 cases had been resolved.
But this still left a total of 89 233 foster care orders, which are due to lapse before 26 November. Currently, there are 25 355 outstanding cases in the Eastern Cape, 8 396 in the Free State, 11 028 in Gauteng, 21 333 in KwaZulu-Natal, 5 432 in Limpopo, 1 893 in Mpumalanga, 2 420 in the Northern Cape, 4 773 in the North West and 8 693 in the Western Cape.
Asked whether the department’s monthly targets to clear the backlog were realistic, Deputy-Director General for Welfare Service Connie Nxumalo told the committee she had spoken to her colleagues from the different provinces.
“We asked ‘is this practical for you?’ - and they said ‘this is what we’re committing to based on our resources’.”
In 2011, the Centre for Child Law took the department to the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria in an urgent application. The court extended foster care grants for three years, so that the department could come up with a “comprehensive legal solution”.
When the department still had not come up with a solution by 2014, the Centre went back to the Gauteng High Court, which then told the department to come up with a “legal comprehensive solution” by December 2017.
The department missed the 2017 deadline and the Centre went back to court. This time, the court granted the department and the SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) 24 months to sort out the backlog of foster care grants.
The department told the committee the foster care orders were valid until 26 November 2020 and the court made provision for them to be extended through the Children’s Courts.
Nxumalo told the committee the biggest issues the department faced were a shortage of social workers and resources, such as vehicles.
In addition, since the coronavirus outbreak, the movement of children from one family to another was being limited.
But Nxumalo assured the committee that social workers were adhering to the coronavirus protective measures.
In the report presented to the committee, the department reported that, from November 2019, 932 foster children exited the foster care programme.