Inclusive, Enabling Communities

Inclusive, Enabling Communities
Learning Brief

Give A Child A Family

Implementing Foster Care programmes

Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Caring and protection of particularly vulnerable groups | 20 August, 2012 - 15:43


Child Protection Challenges

In South Africa an estimated 3,6 million children are maternal, paternal or double orphans. This is expected to peak at 5 million in 2020. The number of double orphans – children who have lost both parents- has almost doubled from 352000 to 701000 in the past 5 years.  
Demographic trends point to a country with significant levels of social fragmentation, unacceptable levels of social alienation and the breakdown of social institutions. These challenges, along with high levels of poverty and inequality, produce social problems and high-risk behaviour that undermines social cohesion. High levels of domestic violence are often amplified by poverty and unemployment.  Alcohol and other substance abuse add to stresses in households and communities.  The impact of poor quality education, youth unemployment and HIV and AIDS has worsened matters. 
Globally, there has been a move away from the long term institutional care of orphaned and vulnerable children towards family based, community care.  It is now accepted that institutional care should be a last resort for children in need of care, and then for short periods only. Family based care is promoted for the stable and permanent placement of children to ensure long term nurturing and affectionate relationships which are vitally important for healthy social development and wellbeing.  This can be achieved by placing a child into a secure foster family or with “forever parents (adoption). 
Many professionals in the area of child care and protection have been dubious of the success of foster care. This is primarily due to the challenges that arise out of the conventional practice of foster care. These include (1) a lack of guidelines to follow when assessing prospective foster parents, (2) lack of contextually relevant assessment tools when recruiting foster parents and (3) placements tend to be done on a reactive basis in which the first available family is found for a child in crisis and little preparation is done for either the family or the child.  
The scale of the problem in South Africa has resulted in leaving us challenged to provide the quality of care required due to the inadequate supply of social work, community development and child and youth care professionals.  It is estimated that the country requires close to 55,000 social service professionals to respond to the country’s social welfare needs. Currently there are approximately 15,000 qualified social workers registered with the South African Council of Social Service Professions. Efforts to increase the supply of professionals led the government declaring social work a scarce skill. However structural conditions in the education and health sectors affect the ability of tertiary institutions to produce social work, community development professionals and social development professionals.
It is in this context that social sector organizations such as GCF strive to make a positive contribution supporting government efforts to address daunting challenges. GCF has been passionate about  seeing children in secure families since its inception and over the years has consistently taken a pro-active approach with securing safe foster families for children in need of care.  Situated in Margate KZN, the organization has developed a contextually relevant model that is proving to be working effectively and can be replicated throughout South Africa to contribute to quality child care and protection systems, formal and informal frontline child protection services and influence policy on providing a conducive environment for child well-being.
The overall objective of Give a Child a Family (GCF) is embodied in the vision of the organisation ‘Children in secure families ... it’s where they belong” with three key programme strategies:
  • Holistic short term residential care of 60 vulnerable children who have been removed from unsafe situations and are awaiting placement with a secure family. 
  • Recruitment, screening an assessment of potential foster families with a database of available safe families to receive children in need of care. Ongoing family strengthening and capacity building and post placement support of foster families and their children.  
  • Building the capacity of Social Work Professionals to ensure safe foster families for vulnerable children.  
Lessons learned 
The GCF model has been implemented and adjusted to meet the needs of families and children. It has the potential to be replicated throughout South Africa as it adheres to international guidelines for alternative care (UN Guidelines for Alternative Care) as well as the regulations for Foster Care as regulated in the Children’s Act 38 of 2005  (as amended) . An important benefit is that it addresses the shortage of Social Workers as the Foster Care service provider takes on the most time consuming tasks. Setting up specialized Foster Care Agencies throughout South Africa will reduce the workload of Social Work professionals which is currently one of the main challenges faced by the profession and Child Protection Organisations. More importantly it will ensure that children are placed in families that are suitable, safe and secure. 
  1. As a considerable percentage of children are placed in related Foster Care (Kinship care), evident from the GCF outcomes and confirmed by DSD statistics for South Africa, urgent attention must be given to this target group. These families have not been adequately screened and assessed, trained and prepared and children have had very little say in their placement.  Concerning is that abuse and neglect and placement breakdown is reported from this target group. As from 2012 GCF is including 100 related or Kinship families in the program to provide parenting skills other capacity building programs and post placement support for families.
  2. Providing mechanisms for children to report abuse and neglect is required to strengthen the child care and protection system at community level. GCF is currently developing material for Child Support Groups and an Adolescent Development program for child support groups to be attached to adult support groups. Adult support groups will be strengthened and trained to become Child Watch Committees. 
  3. Reunification of children with their biological families requires additional interventions in the form of providing parenting skills and support for families at risk. The GCF reunification program is being strengthened and will be offered to Social Workers to further ease their burden but to ensure that children are returned to safe families. 
Main challenge at present   
The main challenge at present is undue delays caused with the implementation of Foster Care due to the interpretation of the regulations of The Children’s Act 28 of 2005 (as amended) by Social Work Professionals and overcrowding of Children’s Courts due to a backlog in Foster Care court finalisations. This has furthermore resulted in children urgently in need of care and protection not being removed and placed in Foster Care. These challenges have had an impact on the GCF programme resulting in a decrease of admission of children to the short term residential facility. We currently have 38 children with no new admissions in January. 
As described in the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 (as amended), Child protection Organisations must be designated by DSD. Despite the fact that GCF has provided these services up to 2011 and all documentation has been submitted to the relevant Government department, we are still awaiting their reply and follow up meetings, calls and letters have not resulted in a response. 
This has had a direct impact on the database of 40 available families as children are not identified for Foster Care. If available foster parents remain on the database too long before a child is placed within their family,   they become disillusioned with the programme and there is a risk of them dropping off the database. Similarly it has a negative impact on the length of stay of children in institutional care which goes against the grain and intention of the Children’s Act. GCF is facing this challenge by ongoing liaison with DSD KwaZulu Natal, active participation on the task team involved in amendments to the Children’s Act and partnership with DG Murray , who plays an important role in addressing an dealing with the challenges.
General Advice
The following pre-requisites are required for an effective Foster Care Agency:
  1. Designation by DSD in order to have statutory status for the placement of children with foster families. If statutory status is not awarded, the organisation providing services must link with existing Child protection organisations such as Child Welfare South Africa or the Christelike Maatskaplike Raad – preferably through signing Memorandums of Understanding.  
  2. The GCF model has proven to be successful due to the specific aspects of the program that ensure preparation of both children and families. The four pillars for effective Foster Care are 
  3. Restoration and preparation of children before placement – either in short term residential care or in the community. 
  4. Screening, training and preparation of available Foster Families as a proactive measure.
  5.  Matching of a child with a family that will best suit the long term needs of the child and provide permanency.  
  6. Post placement support of families and children and ongoing capacity building of foster families to ensure skilful parenting and economic and social resilience.
Due to the focus on community care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, reunification as a first option and the placement of children predominantly with relatives, additional family services are required to ensure the safety and security of children and are included into the GCF program as from 2012: 
  1. The inclusion of Kinship families in the program
  2. Families at risk – Families that are reunified with children previously removed from their care 
  3. Community Child Watch Committees (through support groups) 
  4. Child Support Groups
  5. Therapeutic services to traumatized children in the community
Within the African context it is stated that “It takes a whole Village to raise a child”. It has however become imperative to ensure that there is adequate support to “villages” (communities) to contribute to the nurture , wellbeing, safety and security  of children. 




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