Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini on Sunday launched a new project to expand social services to 1 300 of South Africa's poorest wards, calling on community members to lend their support to the department and its agencies.
Project Mikondzo ("footprint" in Xitonga) will see office-bound officials from the department, the National Development Agency and the SA Social Security Agency joining frontline officials in interact with communities in a bid to tackle issues such as poverty, malnutrition, child-headed households, and violence against women.
The 1 300 wards form part of 23 district municipalities from seven provinces which have been prioritised by the Cabinet for additional support.
The project includes an audit of early childhood development centres and the setting up of a command centre with a toll-free hotline open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It also includes a current substance abuse awareness campaign targeting sports and music events, the targeting of gender-based violence and the strengthening of non-profit organisations.
Dlamini said the roll-out would help the government reach about two-million children who qualify for child support grants but who have not registered with the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) to receive grants.
Teams of officials have already entered Mpumalanga through the province's social cluster, while other teams have entered a number of district municipalities across the country.
These include the Elias Motswaledi District Municipality in Limpopo, the Amathole, OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo District Municipalities in the Eastern Cape, and the West Rand Municipality in Gauteng.
The project will be funded using budget from Sassa and the department, but the department does plan to approach the National Treasury for funding in future financial years.
"The service delivery improvements we want to introduce will be informed by our engagements with provincial and municipal authorities, councilors, ward committees and social workers who will provide us with first-hand information about the situation on the ground in their various areas," Dlamini said.
Audit of early childhood development centres
The audit of early childhood development centres, which will cover 19 971 registered and unregistered centres, aims to establish among other things the kind of services that these centres offer and the quality of infrastructure and resources available to the centres.
The department began auditing centres in the Northern Cape last month and will cover those in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Free State this month, with the audit expected to cover other provinces in October and November.
About 1 000 unemployed young people have been recruited and trained to carry out the audit.
Dlamini said she also wanted all early childhood development centres to be registered and the practitioners that work in them to be appropriately trained. The department has already begun training caregivers to improve assistance to child and youth-headed households.
The department is also carrying out an audit of 92 000 child-headed households that are in the Statistics SA database to ensure compliance with the Children's Act definition of a child-headed household.
Regarding concerns that women were abusing the child-care grant, the minister said a desktop study revealed that most mothers only began applying for grants when their children were three years old, suggesting that the majority were not falling pregnant simply to get hold of a grant.
She said there had been an outcry over the department not offering additional services to young mothers receiving grants, but the department was looking into offering extra services to mothers who receive grants.