Lindiwe Zulu urged to introduce new child grant

Amendment to Social Assistance Act would allow minister to prescribe additional payments

By Liezl Human

27 January 2021

Minister Lindiwe Zulu has been urged to introduce a new child grant to bridge the gap between the foster care grant and the Child Support Grant. Archive photo: Barbara Maregele

Civil society organisations have called on Minister Lindiwe Zulu to introduce a Child Support Grant Top-Up for orphans in the care of extended family.

They say this is a necessary step in addressing the foster care backlog and the increasing workload of social workers.

Draft amendments to the Social Assistance Act include a provision for the Minister to prescribe additional payments linked to a social grant on the basis of need. Another amendment includes the establishment of an Independent Tribunal to review appeals by grant recipients against the SA Social Security Agency (SASSA).

In a statement, the Children’s Institute, the Centre for Child Law, Child Welfare South Africa, the Children in Distress Network and the Black Sash have called on Zulu to introduce a Top-Up grant. The Top-Up Grant is intended to help orphaned children whose carers get the Child Support Grant, but who do not have access to the foster child grant, either because they have not completed foster care applications (which can take up to three years) or because their foster care court order has expired. The Child Support Grant is about R450 and the foster child grant R1,040. The Top-Up grant would cover part of the difference.

Paula Proudlock of the Children’s Institute said the Top-Up grant would mean that extended family members caring for orphaned children would not have to wait years for foster care applications to be completed, but could go to SASSA directly.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, a foster care application would take a year to three years to be completed, with the holdup being mostly due to social workers’ workload.

“We don’t have enough social workers to process the large number of children in need of the foster care grant,” said Proudlock.

Zita Hansungule of the Centre for Child Law said many of the children applying for foster care were not in need of foster care, since they are living with extended family. But because the foster care grant was so much more, a number of these children were being placed in the foster care system. The Top-Up Grant would allow these children to be removed from the foster care system, while also providing their extended family members to give them adequate care.

Social workers would then have more time to actually provide foster care services to children who are abused and neglected. She said that social workers often spent a lot of time on administrative work in order to extend hundreds of foster care orders.

The Top-Up grant will also reduce the risk of children in foster care losing their foster child grant every two years and getting stuck in a backlog of over 300,000 expired foster care court orders, according to Proudlock.

Social workers are required to check on foster care placements every two years – to write a report, go to court, and have the grant extended for another two years. “And that is where the backlog is,” she said.

If the court order expires after two years, then SASSA will not pay the foster child grant anymore, since a court order is required for payment.

Proudlock said that the Top-Up would only be effective if the regulations were not too strict, such as requiring relatives to provide proof of foster care that they could not provide.