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Child welfare system leaves many AIDS orphans stranded
Wednesday 17 November 2004
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SOUTH AFRICA: Child welfare system leaves many AIDS orphans stranded

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Foster child: The foster care system is under strain

DURBAN, 9 November (PLUSNEWS) - With an increasing number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS seeking foster care, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is placing enormous pressure on South Africa's child welfare system.

An estimated 18 percent of the country's children are orphans. According to the Medical Research Council (MRC), at least 5.7 million children could lose one or both parents to AIDS by 2015.

Social workers are grappling with heavy caseloads, while caregivers applying for foster care grants have sometimes been known to wait for as long as two years for their submissions to be processed.

Sibongile Ndlovu (not her real name), a social worker in KwaZulu-Natal province, is dealing with a caseload of about 400 foster children, which is "increasing day by day" due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, she told PlusNews. In order to perform adequately, a social worker should be handling a maximum of 50 cases.

Ideally, a social worker should monitor a child in a foster family every three months, but Ndlovu's heavy workload meant she could only visit foster families once every two years, when the case had to be re-evaluated in court.

Being a social worker had now become "like factory processing", and there was no time to deal with other requirements, such as counselling and community work. "We can just meet the most basic needs of the children - they are the ones who suffer most from this situation," she noted.

Ndlovu has to share one car with 13 of her colleagues, so she only has it for half a day once a week, making it even more difficult to monitor grant recipients. As a result, she has sometimes arrived at a foster home "to find out the child is no longer in school, or fell pregnant, or left the home."

On the other side of the equation, people like Sioux Hedden, a project manager with Woza Moya, an NGO dealing with AIDS orphans in the greater Ixopo district of KwaZulu-Natal, are also feeling the effects of the "completely overloaded" welfare system.

According to Hedden, grant applications are processed too slowly and it can take as long as two years for caregivers to receive a foster care grant, despite the necessary documentation being in place.

"We have a list of a minimum of a hundred kids [in Ixopo] waiting for their applications to be processed. In addition to the fact that people have to stand in queues for hours and days, they are not treated well, don't get procedures explained properly and are dismissed," she added.

"The foster care system is missing the point. This is a key policy issue - we need a more systematic, equitable approach from the government," said Helen Meintjies, a senior researcher at the Children's Institute of the University of Cape Town.

The application process for foster care grants was a "lengthy, complex and extremely labour-intensive process, particularly for social workers", that drained the social welfare system, the institute stated in a report. "A very low number of children are serviced," added Meintjies.

The long processing time has been attributed to an insufficient number of social workers. A single social worker, for example, is responsible for the entire poverty-stricken, rural Ixopo district.

"We haven't seen our social worker for months," Hedden said. The Woza Moya project has been asking the provincial Department of Social Welfare to station more social workers in the region for the past two years, but to no avail. Hedden complained that officials continuously made "empty promises."

Meanwhile, "people are starving" and many foster families in the community were sending their children out to beg while waiting for grants, she said.

Efforts by PlusNews to obtain comment from provincial and national government on this issue were unsuccessful.

"The government needs to employ more social workers, or change the system. We need a separate grant for AIDS orphans," Ndlovu said.


Recent SOUTH AFRICA Reports
AIDS activists want billion dollar Glaxo trust,  17/Nov/04
Frank dialogue about gender key to tackling HIV/AIDS ,  16/Nov/04
Women street traders falling through the cracks,  11/Nov/04
Gender equality needed in national HIV/AIDS policy,  8/Nov/04
TAC takes govt to court over ARV rollout timetable,  4/Nov/04
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Youth against AIDS
Making A difference for Children Affected by AIDS
Children and AIDS International Non-Government Organisation Network (CAINN)

PlusNews does not take responsibility for info in links supplied.

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