New database gives AIDS orphans quicker access to grants

SOUTH AFRICA: New database gives AIDS orphans quicker access to grants


More children now have access to foster care grants

KWAZULU-NATAL, 25 Jun 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - A new computerised database is giving a number of AIDS orphans in a rural town in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province quick access to government foster care grants.

The database, prepared in collaboration with the department of welfare, has allowed Ingwavuma Orphan Care (IOC), an NGO in northern KZN, to get about 500 AIDS orphans on the grant scheme in four years. Another 1,350 children affected by HIV/AIDS have been listed in its database for applications.

The database is designed to provide all the necessary information an orphan's guardian has to submit to qualify for a grant, IOC founder and director Ann Barnard explained. Data is easily emailed to the department of welfare when information needs to be submitted, matched or double-checked.

Ingwavuma is a deeply rural area bordering Swaziland, with a population of about 100,000, of which Barnard suspected some 3,000 were AIDS orphans.

The IOC also collects information about the guardian and his or her financial situation to identify the most needy caretakers, whose grant applications are given priority.

"In the beginning, we kept all data in files on paper until we realised that it was hard to keep track," she said. "Now, we can easily follow through how far the application process of each child has advanced and see what type of documentation is still needed. We are able to get orphans access to government grants much faster than in the past."

A social worker from the welfare department sits on the board and can inform IOC of new government policies and regulations to ensure that all necessary criteria to qualify for a grant are listed.

The number of AIDS orphans in the Ingwavuma district is increasing so rapidly that the IOC updates information almost daily "because people are dying so fast", Barnard said.

"In this region, one in three people between the ages of 15 and 30 years have HIV/AIDS. The ramifications of this are beginning to be felt, as large numbers of people begin to die from the disease. Not least amongst the ramifications is the growing number of orphans," the organisation explains on its website.

Prior to IOC's work, which began in 2000, the majority of guardians in rural Ingwavuma were either unaware of the foster grants or found the paperwork overpowering.

"The government provides ... child support grants and foster grants, but most people find the mountain of paperwork involved insurmountable and never access these grants," Barnard said. "It has therefore been difficult to implement grant policies at ground level."

Many adults in the community used to care for five or more children as part of their extended family without receiving any financial support from the government, Barnard said. In one instance, IOC fieldworkers found a granny, whose sole source of income was her pension, taking care of 25 children in a small hut.

Since the IOC has had its database in place, applications have been speeded up enormously, making life easier for applicants as well as the staff of the welfare department handling the applications. About 500 orphans now obtain financial aid, and the number is rising by the month.

Guardians receive R600 (US $95.26) per month to care for a foster child, and the government supports up to six children per family. Regular home visits try to prevent abuse of the grants.

"Unfortunately we are coming across examples of relatives who are abusing the money they receive," Barnard said. She knows of cases where guardians have used the money to build houses, finance driving lessons or pay the "lobola" or bride price.

IOC staff also visit schools, pay fees where necessary and provide uniforms. the NGO gives foster parents training in business, money management and childcare, offers workshops on children's rights to "indunas" (traditional authorities) and trains teachers in psychosocial support.


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