Pretoria – The deadline for outstanding foster care orders is the end of the month.
However, the Department of Social Development has said it will ask the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, for another extension of two years to try to smooth out issues around the foster care system.
The department will argue that it needs the extension of the previous court order as it is still finalising the development and implementation of a “comprehensive legal solution” and has to ensure that foster care orders do not lapse in the meantime.
An agreement was reached between the department and other stakeholders a year ago that
current outstanding foster care orders will remain valid until the end of this month.
As this time frame is about to lapse, the department will today ask for an urgent order extending this until the end of November, 2022.
This second extension bid followed an order in 2017 in which this court placed a moratorium on the lapsing of foster care orders. Social development was given two years to come up with legislation to streamline current legislation which is failing foster care.
The department said in court papers that it did introduce the necessary amendments in Parliament to the Children’s Act dealing with foster care but needed the extra time to fully produce a legal solution to the system.
One of the challenges is the backlog of cases which has seen many foster care orders lapsing and the children’s courts battling to process all the foster care applications and grants.
The problem was that if the moratorium ran out at the end of this month, it would leave thousands of children in the foster care system out in the cold.
The Social Development Department said at the end of August there were 73 396 foster care cases outstanding. These had to be brought before children’s courts so that the orders could be extended.
In terms of present legislation, foster care orders must be renewed by the children’s court every two years. But overworked magistrates, overburdened social workers and a host of other problems are preventing them from doing this.
Zita Hansungule of the Centre for Child Law, which in 2017 initiated the application for the foster care system to be streamlined, said they will not oppose today’s application for an extension.
“There are thousands of foster care orders that would be at risk of lapsing if there isn’t an order. This would mean children would lose foster child grants that are essential to providing for their daily needs.”
She said there had been some progress in the development of a comprehensive legal solution to the foster care crisis. Last month Parliament approved the Social Assistance Bill and sent it to the president for his assent. This bill gives the minister of social development the power to prescribe that an additional payment be linked to a social grant.
Hansungule said this will ensure that those who implement the legal solutions, such as social workers and children’s courts, have the legal backing required to assist children.