The department of social development may find itself in a similar situation with foster care grants as it did earlier in 2017 when it missed the Constitutional Court's deadline to take over the payment of social grants.
According to GroundUp, thousands of foster care placement orders will expire on December 31, which means that the accompanying foster care grants may not be paid out.
DA MP Karen Jooste explained that social workers can, through the court, get placement orders to place neglected or abused children with foster care parents who will then receive the R920 grant per month. This is a temporary arrangement and the placement order must be reviewed every two years.
An increasing number of people have been seeking the foster care grant, causing a huge administrative burden and backlogs. This is because, unlike the child support grant (R380 per month), the foster care grant process is long, complex and labour intensive, said Jooste.
"Social workers must investigate each case, do home visits, write reports and do presentations in court resulting in a turnover time for foster care placements of up to 18 months in the cities. After the court approves the placement, social workers must monitor, write reports on the child's progress and justify any extension beyond two years," said Jooste.
She said the foster care grant system "is about to collapse" because of the huge backlog and not enough resources to review current placement orders or deal with new ones at the same time.
"Statistics show [that] at the end of 2014, 300,000 placements had expired, representing over 60% of all foster care grants, and the grants were only paid out because of an order from the High Court. This order expires on 31 December 2017," she warned.
54 835 foster care orders up for review
In a parliamentary question, Jooste asked the Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini how many of these foster care orders would expire by December 31.
She also asked what the total value of the foster care grants was for placements that would no longer be paid because of the care orders lapsing. She also wanted to know if the department had taken any steps to prevent the "crisis".
Dlamini said her department could not anticipate "the actual number of orders that will lapse as the provinces are continually undertaking activities to ensure that foster care orders are extended".
This week in her reply, Dlamini said there was a projected number of 54,835 foster care orders that were up for review between September and December, making it unlikely that all these orders would be extended in time.
She, however, dismissed the concern over grants that may go unpaid.
"It is anticipated that no grants will be unpaid because of the foster care court orders expiring, given the implementation of the North Gauteng High Court ruling which allows Sassa [South African Social Services Agency] to continue paying the foster child grants, even with expired orders, while the department of social development works on updating the orders."
In 2011, the department of social development found itself in court when the Child Law Centre challenged the minister over the high amount of foster care grants lapsing due to backlogs.
The North Gauteng High Court, in its ruling, acknowledged the need for "comprehensive legal reform". The court then set a moratorium on grants lapsing until December 2014 and this deadline was later extended to December 2017.
No word on legal reform
This was meant to give Sassa and the department time to eradicate the backlog and make legal arrangements for a sustainable solution.
But six years later, there is still a backlog and no finalised "comprehensive legal reform" as the court requested, leading to growing uncertainty over what this may mean for the payout of the foster care grants.
In her answer on steps taken by her department to prevent a crisis, Dlamini referred to work done by the provincial departments of social development.
This includes putting in place "administrative mechanisms to manage the extension of foster care orders" and "allocation of social workers to conduct investigations, compile reports with recommendations for extension of foster care orders".
The measures Dlamini referred to are mainly aimed at addressing the backlogs and managing and processing extensions before November 1, 2017.
Dlamini made no mention of progress on the "comprehensive legal reform" neither did she give any concrete indication of what the department's policy position on foster care grants was - something that may just cause Dlamini and her department their next national embarrassment in December.
The Child Law Centre said it would make a statement next week on this matter.