POLITICS

There's Another 6-year-old Storm Over Bathabile Dlamini's Head Over Foster Care Grants

Court order over the social grants wasn't the only one the minister delayed action on

08/03/2017 09:36 SAST | Updated 08/03/2017 09:39 SAST
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As the fiasco around the payout of social welfare grants is brewing ahead of the March 31 deadline to find a suitable service provider, another storm is brewing around Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini's head.

The solving of the foster care crisis involves a court having ordered the department of social development to work on a solution and the department having delayed finding this solution for six years now. Currently only a third of the 1,2 million eligible orphans are getting this grant.

Like with the current social grants and pension controversy, the minister appointed a committee and asked the committee, instead of department's officials, to look for ways to comply with the court order.

In May 2011, the Centre for Child Law brought an application against the department of social development in the high court, where they reached an settlement whereby the department said it would find a comprehensive legal solution to the crisis. According to Paula Proudlock from the Children's Institute at the University of Cape Town, this would require amendments to the Social Assistance Act and the Children's Act to enable more children in foster care to get this grant.

A draft Social Assistance Amendment Bill was already completed last year, but not tabled as yet, but the other part of the solution, amendments to the Children's Act, has yet to be done.

Currently only about 400,000 out of a possible 1,2 million children have access to this grant, which pays R920 as opposed to the R380 of the ordinary child support grant.

The department's deadline was December 2014, but at the very last minute it asked for an extension to December 2017, claiming the children would lose their grants if no extension was granted –- an emergency apparently manufactured, like the social grant crisis, tying the court's hands. Up to 300,000 children could lose their grants if the department fails to act on time.

The department needs to finalise its foster care policy before it can table a draft Children's Amendment Act, but the committee appointed by the minister has yet to report back despite the deadline in 10 months' time.

The foster care grant is more complex to access than the child support grant, which reaches 12 million children, and applicants need a social worker report and court order before approaching the South Africa Social Security Agency for the grant.

Due to social workers being very busy, the department felt that foster parents should be able to access a topped-up child support grant, with social service professionals visiting them after the grant had been granted.

This would make the grant a lot easier for carers to access.

Dlamini on Tuesday in Parliament blamed her officials for the delays in complying with a 2014 court order to replace Cash Paymaster Services with another social grant dispensing company by the end of March. Social grants are paid each month to 17 million recipients.

Department spokesperson Lumka Oliphant has undertaken to respond to a request for comment.