We live in a society where most children do not enjoy the luxury of growing up in a household with at least one responsible parent.
Most children in our country are raised by a single parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle. Sometimes the burden of care becomes too great for this relative and the Department of Social Development is called to intervene through child protection measures including Child and Youth Care Centres (CYCCs), foster care or adoption. However, the Department’s ability to render such services is currently under threat.
In late February, I condemned the notice of intention to introduce the Children’s Third Amendment Bill. I have campaigned against the third amendment Bill to the Children’s Act of 2005.
Sections 249 and 259 of the Bill will make it nearly impossible for adoptions to be facilitated. Section 249 outlines the stakeholders who are able to charge fees in relation to adoptions whereas section 259 outlines those who are able to perform international adoptions. To see the gazette, click here. These amendments will make it impossible to facilitate adoptions because:
· Accredited child protection organisations, adoption social workers, lawyers, psychologists and other associated professionals will not be able to charge for their expertise – not even to reclaim costs.
· South African social workers have exceedingly high caseloads, well over 100 on average, despite 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. Social workers will have to make more time for adoptions.
· By making government-employed social workers responsible for processing adoptions, we risk the closure of many social work practices and NGOs which provide adoption services. In the Western Cape, there are currently 7 organisations which provide adoptive services on behalf of the Western Cape Department of Social Development. In total, 86 social workers are employed by these organisations, who would otherwise be made unemployed. This number excludes the many migration specialists, psychologists and medical practitioners who will also lose employment.
· In the Western Cape there are currently less than 10 privately registered specialists in adoption. These specialists are registered by the South African Council for Social Service Professionals. Vast professional expertise will be lost and adoptable children will miss out on a stable and loving home.
I have since drafted a research document outlining the numerous threats that the amendment Bill to the Act poses to child protection and I have distributed this amongst members within the social cluster at the National Council of Provinces and National Assembly.
I have also called on all professional bodies, religious groups, child protection organisations, NPOs and civil society to speak up against the amendment Bill so that no child is denied an opportunity to a loving and caring home. Additionally, the National Minister, Susan Shabangu, has been called on to urgently review the amendments in light the many concerns voiced by the adoption community.
The proposed third amendment to the Children’s Act was 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 from performing adoptions, even if it is only to recover basic costs. Adoptions would then become the sole responsibility of the state’s social workers. The proposed third amendment allegedly aims to make adoptions “more accessible”, but the real outcome will be a total shut down of all adoptions in South Africa.
The National Spokesperson for Social Development, Lumka Olifant, has explained that the rationale for the amendment is to create ease of access to adoptions. She believes that no fees should be charged in relation to child protection services; which is why no stakeholder will be able to charge fees in the adoption process.
However, it is reported that the rationale behind the amendment is to reduce the number of adoptions so as to maintain children’s “cultural- spiritual” ties to their families.
This ignores the reality that in most cases of adoption, relatives and parents of the child cannot be located, despite expensive advertising exercises to find them. Amending the adoption process in this way risks leaving children in a perpetual foster-care placement and creates an additional burden on the child, family and social worker who will have to appear in court every two years for an extension.
Consequently, the amendment will deny capable, loving, and financially stable would-be parents the opportunity to have a family while also offering children the kind of nurturing environment they need and deserve. Adoptive homes such as these give children access to opportunities such as university that the adopted child would otherwise not enjoy. For some children adoption is their only option for permanency.
In a country with an estimated 3.7 million orphaned and vulnerable children, legislation should facilitate the seamless adoption of children. However, as is all too often the case, proposed national legislation will make it more difficult for would-be parents to adopt.
Accepting the proposed third amendment Bill will deny the most vulnerable children in our society of an opportunity to enjoy permanency and stability, one of the main principles in the Children’s Act, 38 of 2005.
Albert Fritz is the MEC for Social Development in the Western Cape