Inclusive, Enabling Communities

Inclusive, Enabling Communities
Learning Brief

The Institute For Youth Development SA

Advocating for adoption – public-private partnerships that strengthen provincial child-care systems

Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Caring and protection of particularly vulnerable groups | 1 March, 2013 - 13:05


In the province of the Eastern Cape, poverty affects nearly 70% of children. Many of these children are orphaned or left vulnerable and there are simply not enough state-run options available to care for them all. Thus there is an urgent need to recruit families who are willing and able to foster, care for and/or adopt vulnerable and orphaned children. The Ulutho orphan and vulnerable child (OVC) program functions to serve the adoption and foster care system in the Eastern Cape by mobilizing resources; improving advocacy and awareness; building social work capacity; and counselling adoption and foster families. The Vision of Ulutho is to inspire South Africans to find courageous solutions for orphaned and vulnerable children to enjoy safe loving homes.

Nearly half of South Africa’s population is under the age of 21 and roughly 3.7 million of these are orphaned children – having lost one or both parents. Many more children are left vulnerable in their homes as a result of HIV and AIDS, abuse, neglect, abandonment, and teenage pregnancies. In 2011 it was estimated that between 1.5 and 2 million vulnerable children in South Africa could benefit from adoption because their families were not able to adequately care for them. However, the number of children actually adopted in 2011 was only about 2000. Social workers agree that foster care is the most widely preferred form of alternative care for those vulnerable children that are not adopted. And yet, social workers do not have the time or the resources to recruit the necessary number of adoption families, or to provide them with the counselling and support needed to take on such a household-changing task.

Furthermore, many orphaned and vulnerable children have “high needs” and newly recruited foster families find it difficult to adequately deal with the challenges these children face (emotionally, physically, academically). In addition, an extra child increases the financial burden on already struggling households. Some families are unprepared for the unexpected costs associated with these “high needs” children, such as medical bills, and extra-mural educational assistance. These families are in desperate need of counselling and adequate support, that the over-burdened social workers are unable to provide. Ulutho attempts to meet the needs of these families and deliver some of this vital support by offering counselling and support group sessions for adoption and fostering families.

Ulutho also services social workers and other interested individuals by supplying training on the changes in the legal framework, such as the new Children’s Act of 2005, which was only implemented in 2010.

Programme Strategy

Ulutho undertakes to support the adoption and foster care system in the Eastern Cape. Its social work and legal units help to recruit more families that will adopt vulnerable and orphaned children. It also serves adopting and fostering families by organising support groups, counselling and legal assistance. Ulutho purposes to find unique opportunities for recruitment, and seeks creative solutions that encourage families to open their homes to children in need of care. In addition, it works to foster ties amongst different actors and entities involved in the provincial adoption sector.

Ulutho recruits adoption and foster families, and strengthens existing adoption services using a five-step approach:

  • Run adoption / foster support groups on a regular basis,
  • Offer counselling, support and advice to alternative care families,
  • Increase adoption awareness,
  • Provide Training for professionals on the changes in the Children’s Act,
  • Improve network relations with diverse organisations involved in adoption / fostering,

Implementation Lessons

The lessons learnt from implementing each of these activities are discussed below.

1.Host adoption / foster support group meetings

We have hosted a number of support group meetings in East London, Ndlambe, and Cape Town. The purpose of these meetings was to start off with a short formal program including speakers, and then to allow informal discussion and social mingling. Guest speakers included an adult adoptee, a place of safety parent and the parent of an abandoned baby home. Child Welfare adoption social workers, Ulutho social workers, and the Ulutho attorney were also present.

The support groups provided a great place to meet like-minded people and see families in action. The Ulutho social workers and attorney were available at these meetings to answer questions about alternative care for new and old families. All the families had the opportunity to phone, email or make appointments to see these professionals in order to receive the specific support they require and to discuss different aspects of their children’s cases.

In addition to the counselling and legal advice, we conduct regular donation drives for clothes, nursery items, food parcels, nappies and formula in order to provide some physical support to fostering and adoption families. We also provide each family with a database of professionals in the area who offer free or reduced-fee services to adopted and fostered children.

2.Provide counselling, support and advice to alternative care families

Our Social Work Unit and Legal Unit give support to families who are either already offering or want to offer alternative care. Advice is dispensed over the phone, via email, or in face-to-face appointments. Our service is not limited to East London or South Africa and we have given advice to families wanting to adopt from Australia, England, America, New Zealand, Mauritius, Germany and Lesotho.  

3.Increase adoption awareness

We hosted an Adoption Awareness Drive in East London in August to give the greater community the opportunity to learn more about adoption. A panel discussion led by a well-known radio personality and panellist were asked a wide range of commonly asked questions. All the statutory organisations were invited as well as other NGOs working with orphan and vulnerable children care. They set up tables and the audience was invited to speak to the exhibitors directly. Included were the directors and social workers of Child Welfare and CMR. Flyers, radio interviews as well as newspaper articles advertised the event all over town. Activities took place for the children and baby care services were also available.

In order to encourage more families to come forward to adopt, the Ulutho team also speaks on radio, write articles and presents at national conferences about the importance of caring for orphaned and vulnerable children and the process involved in this care.

4.Train social workers on the 2010 Children’s Act

To strengthen social work capacity, we conducted a two-day training workshop on the 2010 Children’s Act, with an emphasis on alternative care for orphan and vulnerable children. There were 30 social workers from all three statutory organisations in East London. The purpose of the training was to better equip social workers with the theoretical and practical knowledge they needed to better understand the spirit and implications of the new Act. The intent was to assist social workers to be better prepared to deal with court scenarios.

5.Improve network relations with diverse organisations involved in adoption / fostering

Ulutho invited the National Adoption Coalition (NAC) to bring their road show to East London in August. Our team facilitated the event inviting all the relevant stake holders as well as other NGOs, professionals and families to attend. This was a wonderful opportunity for East London statutory organisations to be a part of this national initiative. Since the road show, Ulutho has initiated preparations for the establishment of an East London forum for the NAC.

Implications for other implementers

In order to find creative solutions to fill the gaps in the adoption and foster care system we began by consulting multiple, relevant stake-holders involved in the child care system in the Eastern Cape. This necessitated lots of interviews and meetings so that we comprehensively understood what the problems were and how best to tackle them. This was a crucial step as it helped us correctly identify the needs of the child care system, and helped us gain valuable partners and allies.

We found that the best method for recruiting adoption and foster families was through the formation of the support groups. Presenting to community organisations, churches and civic groups was time consuming and less effective. The support groups are a great tool for potential families to make a final decision to adopt. Many times when families get ‘cold feet’ about adopting they are invited to come to the meetings and speak to other families who have adopted. These meetings become the tipping point for helping families to decide to go ahead and offer alternate care.

Tackle the challenge of an under-resourced system by conducting regular donation-drives in order to collect physical resources that assist the families with their children. Many under-resourced families face similar challenges and we are frequently asked the same questions over and over again. To help answer these questions, and avoid repetition, we provide each family with a database of professionals in the area who offer free or reduced-fee services to adopted and fostered children.

Strengthen the foster-care system by filling the gaps and not re-inventing the wheel. For instance, we help recruit potential adoption and foster families but then we refer them to the relevant statutory organisations for the screening and placement process. After they have been successfully paired with a child our social workers are on hand to offer further support, when necessary. In doing in so we reduce the burden on the statutory organisations to support the families.

Support the professional capacity of social workers by offering training on the Children’s Act. This empowers them to make better and more effective decisions about the children in their care because they have a clearer understanding of the intention of the Children’s Act. 


23 Darlington Road, Berea, East London

 (043) 721 1552

In Short

The Institute for Youth Development’s Ulutho orphan and vulnerable child program provides experience-based lessons on how it serves the adoption and foster care system in the Eastern Cape. Rather than re-inventing the wheel it fills gaps in the child care system by mobilizing resources; improving advocacy and awareness; building social work capacity; recruiting, supporting and counselling adoption / foster families; and establishing partnerships with the National Adoption Coalition.

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