Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Caring and protection of particularly vulnerable groups | 23 January, 2013 - 04:06← BACK
The South African Children’s Act No. 38 of 2005 regulates the registration of what it terms child and youth care centres, including what were previously called “places of safety” and “children’s homes”. The Act defines a child and youth care centre as a facility “for the provision of residential care to more than six children outside the child’s family environment in accordance with a residential care programme suited for the children in the facility”. The Act requires that each newly established facility and all existing facilities, previously referred to as a “place of safety” or “children’s home”, registered under the previous Child Care Act, register as a “child and youth care centre” under the new Children’s Act. The Act prescribes certain norms and standards to which such facilities should adhere to in order for registration to take place.
The Department of Social Development is responsible for assisting unregistered facilities in the registration process. Registration of facilities is an important safety mechanism for children in alternative care as it ensures that these children receive the necessary care, protection and services. Despite the fact that the Act has been in place for nearly two years, many of the child care facilities in South Africa are still not registered in terms of the Children’s Act.
In order to better understand the position of these facilities, the Department of Social Development commissioned a national audit on these facilities in 2011. The results have not been widely published, however preliminary discussions with the Department confirmed that the national audit was not exhaustive, and the problems experienced by facilities around registration was not specifically canvassed.
As a result, the Centre for Child Law decided to undertake a case study, focusing on three provinces, to gain a better understanding of the registration challenges experienced by these facilities.
2. Purpose of the study
The aim of the study was to gain an in-depth understanding of the reasons for non-registration of facilities and to explore the problems and challenges experienced where registration attempts were made. With the information that was obtained, the Centre plans to develop a manual to guide unregistered facilities in the registration process, and create awareness in the Department around the problems experienced in the registration process by unregistered facilities.
3. Methodology of the study
The Centre for Child Law appointed a consultant, Ms Buyi Mbambo, a social worker specializing in child protection and family preservation, to assist the Centre in the research that was undertaken. A total of seven facilities were identified through word of mouth and referral by sources such as government departments and other non-governmental organizations. Three of these facilities were located in the Eastern Cape, two in Gauteng and two in KwaZulu Natal. To collect data, one-day visits were made to each facility and interviews were conducted with facility managers and where possible other members of staff, either individually or in groups.
Whilst the case study may not be fully representative of the wide range of unregistered facilities in the country, it provided a glimpse into the ways these facilities operate, the profile of the children cared for and the challenges experienced in registration.
Children in unregistered facilities often lack social work services, and thus miss out on opportunities to be reunified with their families, or to be fostered or adopted. Such children are in many cases not known to the care and protection system, and this could make them vulnerable to unlawful adoption or trafficking. However, despite the undeniable benefits of registration, there are concerns that the process of registration is being carried out in a way that ignores the good work that has been done by some unregistered facilities, and their value as community based resources. Even more concerning, the processes appear not to centre around a careful consideration of the best interests of children, but are instead being carried out in an officious manner that places children at risk.
It is important to note that all the facilities recognized the importance of registration but were without exception crippled by the lack of information on the registration requirements and procedures to follow.
It is also important to highlight the positive role that these facilities play, in view of the fact that social workers have in the past utilized them for the placement of children, and the support that most of them enjoy from the communities. It can be argued that the Department of Social Development in some instances perpetuates their existence by continuing to place children in these facilities.
These facilities are responding to a general lack in service delivery, especially in the area of prevention and early intervention; and to problems that results from poverty, unemployment and social ills such as substance abuse, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy and parental neglect, which makes their existence unavoidable.
Whilst each facility needs to address various requirements for registration, the passion, commitment and creativity displayed cannot be ignored. With very little training and funding they seem to have developed skills of supporting and caring for children, especially children with special needs and disabilities.
Overall, the most common registration challenges experienced by unregistered facilities were:
5. Way forward in addressing the findings:
Even though the case study that was undertaken is limited in scope, the Centre was also contacted by a number of other facilities experiencing similar problems with registration when they came to hear about the Centre’s interest in assisting these facilities. It is evident that the magnitude of the problem is not fully exposed.
In order to be able to provide assistance to all unregistered facilities, the Centre decided to design a manual that details the registration requirements and procedure and addresses the ‘frequently asked questions’. This manual will be designed in such a way that the practical steps to be taken in the registration process is clear and that the facility is aware of what to expect from the Department and when to expect it. The manual will also set out the procedure to ensure that the best interests of children are taken into account in instances where registration is declined and the facility needs to close.
The findings of this study will also be used as in active advocacy with the Department of Social Development to ensure that facilities are better assisted and guided in the registration process by the Department.
It is hoped that this study and the manual that will be created will result in an increase in the registration of unregistered facilities, and thereby increase the protection and quality of care available for the children in these facilities.
University of Pretoria, Lynnwoord Road, Pretoria
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Children in unregistered child care facilities often lack social work services, and thus miss out on opportunities to be reunified with their families, or to be fostered or adopted. Despite the undeniable benefits of registration, there are concerns that the process of registration is being carried out in a way that ignores the good work that has been done by some unregistered facilities, and their value as community based resources. In this learning brief the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Child Law explains what is going wrong. We thought the issue was so important that we also published it in our Hands-on Learning publication which you can access here.