Over the past 10 years a diverse set of problems have been documented about the widespread use of the foster care system to provide financial assistance to the country’s increasing number of orphans, the majority of whom are living with relatives.  Children’s Institute socio-legal research and consultations with government and practitioners are aimed at finding clarity and proposing solutions that are in the best interests of all affected children.

There is substantial evidence that the social worker and court-based foster care system is not coping with the demand for foster care orders. As a result large numbers of Foster Child Grants (FCGs) have lapsed, leaving vulnerable children without assistance, while social workers are unable to provide quality services to abused children due to high foster care case loads, and caregivers and children are having to wait an unreasonably long time for their grants.

The North Gauteng High Court in 2011 ordered the Department of Social Development to design a comprehensive legal solution to the foster care crisis by 2014. Since then, the department has initiated research and reform processes to devise a solution. The Children's Institute contributed in a number of ways to these processes by:

  • presenting to government departments, civil society and Parliament its statistical evidence on the extent of the problem, in particular the numbers of children in need of social assistance and the number of FCGs that had lapsed due to the overburdened system;
  • conducting research for the Social Development department, together with the Community Agency for Social Enquiry, on the challenges and proposing options for reform;
  • drafting regulations to illustrate how the reform options could be translated into law;
  • creating dialogue platforms to promote discussion with government and presenting at civil society and government consutltive workshops;
  • promoting participation of civil society in law reform processes;
  • serving as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in litigation to get clarity on the Children’s Act clauses on foster care eligibility; and
  • promoting public awareness on the challenges and potential solutions through media advocacy.

In September 2012 the Department of Social Development announced the intention to introduce a kinship grant for orphans in the care of family members. This grant will be in the form of an Extended Child Support Grant. If such a grant is introduced, it will improve access to adequate social assistance for more than 1.1 million orphans living with relatives, and will free up social worker and court time to enable better services for children who have been abused and neglected. The foster care challenges are being considered in the review of the Children's Act which got underway in 2011.

This work has been partially funded by the ELMA Foundation; the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development, a partnership programme of the Presidency and the delegation of the European Union; and the DG Murray Trust. In 2012 and 2013, the M·A·C AIDS Fund supported activities.

Current project team: Paula Proudlock, Katharine Hall, Lucy Jamieson.


Further reading

Foster care system is failing a million orphans
Civil society briefing, May 2015

Submission by the Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town on the draft Children’s Amendment Bill, 2013 (as published for comment in the Government Gazette on 15 November 2013, Notice 1106 of 2013)
Proudlock P & Tilley A 2013

Orphaning and the Foster Child Grant: A return to the ‘care or cash’ debate
Hall K & Proudlock P 2011
Children Count brief, July 2011

Children’s Institute amicus curiae affidavit in Sithasolwazi Stemele and Minister for Social Development, case no. 14/1/4/-206/10, South Gauteng High Court
Proudlock P, Hall K, Meintjes H & Jamieson L October 2011

Children 'in need of care' or in need of cash? Social security in the time of AIDS
Meintjes H, Budlender D, Giese S & Johnson L
South African Review of Sociology 36(2), 2005.

Child protection and social security in the face of poverty and the AIDS pandemic: Issues pertaining to the Children's Bill [B70-2003]: A fact sheet
Meintjes H & Van Niekerk J, February 2005

Extending the Child Support Grant to children under 18 years: A fact sheet
Rosa S & Meintjes H, September 2004
Prepared for the Alliance for Children's Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS).

Social security for children in the context of AIDS: Questioning the State's response
Meintjes H, Budlender D, Giese S & L Johnson
AIDS Bulletin 13(2), July 2004.

Children 'in need of care' or in need of cash? Questioning social security provisions for orphans in the context of the South African AIDS pandemic
Meintjes H, Budlender D, Giese S & Johnson L, December 2003
A joint working paper by the Children's Institute and the Centre for Actuarial Research, University of Cape Town.