Opinionista Refiloe Nt'Sekhe 6 June 2019

Gauteng’s dysfunctional foster care system places vulnerable children at risk of human trafficking

In February this year, there were at least 727 children still waiting for foster care placement in Gauteng. Some of them have been on the waiting list for more than three years. The stark reality is that this places our already vulnerable children at risk of potentially becoming victims of human trafficking.

As we observe Child Protection Week, hundreds of children at places of safety are still awaiting foster care placement. These children who are in desperate need of a place called home are still in limbo with no access to foster care while the Gauteng Department of Social Development is sitting idly by and not showing any empathy for their plight.

By not placing the children into foster care, they are not able to access the money that is meant to take care of their needs and most importantly allow them to be integrated into families that will provide them with love and much-needed support and protection.

The department constantly fails to address the backlog of placing children in foster care which poses a number of problems. In February this year, there were at least 727 children still waiting for foster care placement in Gauteng. Some of them have been on the waiting list for more than three years.

This clearly indicates that this department cares little about the welfare and social well-being of the most vulnerable members of our society. The stark reality is that this places our already vulnerable children at risk of potentially becoming victims of human trafficking.

Earlier this year, I attended a workshop at Unisa that looked at the issue of human trafficking. During discussions, it emerged that some social workers are not working within the confines of the law when it comes to ensuring the safety of our children. In some cases, they even work with the teacher in crèches concerned to remove a child from a home without probable cause and proper paperwork.

This is how it happens. A child comes to school with a scratch on their cheek or a runny nose. The “identified” teacher then calls the social worker. The collaborating social worker then comes in to investigate but does not obtain the proper paperwork to remove the child from the “abusive” home and then place him/her into foster care. This is where the child is then lost in the system: trafficked.

In order to speed up the process for foster care placement, there needs to be greater co-operation between the Department of Justice and the Department of Social Development at all levels. But sadly, this has not been happening.

Last year the department returned R347-million to Treasury, which could have been used to employ more social workers, and purchase more resources like vehicles to aid officials in the department with their work. The caseloads of social workers are in some cases as many as 150 – one then realises that with such high caseloads, quality on such sensitive matters is badly compromised.

When the Gauteng Department Of Social Development is asked about the low placement rate into foster care or adoption, the response is usually that blame is put on the courts. This then begs the question: why hasn’t the Department lodged an inter-governmental dispute with the Department of Justice to unblock the system so that these placements are made sooner? Last year the portfolio committee visited Algeria. During the trip, they learnt that Algeria processes adoption within one year.

Political will is needed to ensure that these orphans and vulnerable children are given a loving home. Delaying foster care and adoption for children is denying this very basic environment which they need to flourish in society. DM

Refiloe Nt’sekhe MPL, is the DA Shadow MEC for Social Development in Gauteng

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