The Department of Social Development says it is committed to clear existing foster care backlogs.
The department said it has noted with serious concern misleading media reports regarding the North Gauteng High Court on foster care orders that are due to lapse at the end of November this year.
In 2017, the Gauteng North High Court granted the National and Provincial Departments of Social Development and the South African Social Security (SASSA) an interim order for the continued payment and management of over 200 000 foster care orders that were due to lapse in November of the same year. The order will lapse at the end of November this year.
The department said that both the National and Provincial Departments of Social Development reiterated their commitment to work with speed to ensure that no child in foster care placement falls through the cracks.
The department said the Citizen article was inaccurate as no foster care order has lapsed to date.
"The article was written and published with the malicious intention to taint the name of the department and to cause panic amongst vulnerable children and foster care families. The article conveniently and blatantly ignores to mention the progress the department has registered with regard to the implementation of a long lasting comprehensive legal solution to the foster care system, as directed by the North Gauteng High Court," the department said in a statement.
The department explained that the figures presented to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Social Development are projections of foster care cases that provincial departments are working hard to extend before the foster care order lapses at the end of November.
In its presentation to the Portfolio Committee, the department highlighted that it had submitted the Children's Amendment Bill of 2019, which was approved by Cabinet in March this year for tabling in Parliament.
Key amongst others, the bill seeks to amend Section 159 of the Children's Act to make provision for discretion to extend lapsed foster care orders or issue interim orders, while clause 60 seeks to make provision for quality assurance of child protection services.
"The bill has been submitted to the Leader of Government Business as part of this year's legislative programme. In addition, the department has developed the Child Care and Protection Policy to strengthen the existing child care protection system in South Africa," the department said.
The department's report to the Portfolio Committee also showed that provinces are currently working through the Children's Courts to extend foster care orders, inclusive of new Children's Court enquiries which are not affected by the November deadline.
"Other initiatives to clear the backlogs include closer cooperation with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and the setting up of dedicated Children's Courts to expedite the extension of foster orders that are due to lapse," the department explained.
Absorption of social work graduates
The department also noted that the article blatantly ignores to mention the progress the department has registered in addressing the acute shortage of social work professionals to address the backlogs and also to deal with new foster care cases.
To date, the department said, 566 social work graduates who benefitted from its social work scholarship programme has been absorbed into the system.
In addition, the department has engaged social work veterans to provide ongoing supervision to new recruits especially on foster care related matters.
The committee has proposed a meeting with the National Treasury to explore mechanisms for the expansion of the conditional grant to absorb all social work graduates who benefitted from the social work scholarship programme as part of the long term measures to address foster care backlogs.