Adoption Amendments Deny Opportunity to Most Vulnerable Children
14 January 2019
Families are the bedrock of any society and are the most important social unit in providing a nurturing and supportive environment for children to thrive and grow. In a country with an estimated 3.7 million orphaned and vulnerable children, legislation should facilitate the seamless adoptions. However, as is all too often the case, proposed national legislation will make it more difficult for would-be parents to adopt. Such a policy denies the most vulnerable children in our society of an opportunity to enjoy a better life.
The proposed amendments to the Children’s Act were gazetted in October 2018, giving the public 30 days to comment (to see the gazette, please click here). In essence, the amendments will prohibit all payments to social workers, lawyers and other professionals in NGOs or private practice for performing adoptions, even if it is only to recover basic costs. Adoptions would effectively become the sole responsibility of the state’s social workers. The proposed amendment allegedly aims to make adoptions “more accessible”, but the real outcome will be a total shut down of all adoptions in South Africa.
South African social workers have exceedingly high caseloads, over 100 on average, despite South African norms and standards recommending a maximum of 60. Social workers in developed countries like the UK and US have far less, at around 20 to 30 children per social worker. The consequences are clearly visible in South Africa, as all provinces, excluding the Western Cape, are sitting with thousands of backlogs in foster care cases which need to go to court.
The situation has become so dysfunctional that the North Gauteng High Court has had to repeatedly issue orders extending all foster care cases in the country to prevent orphaned and vulnerable children from being left in a legal limbo, and to ensure that they can receive SASSA grants. The High Court has now lost its patience with the national Department of Social Development (DSD) and has ordered that steps be taken to finally eradicate the foster care backlog by no later than November 2019.