Action not just outrage needed to protect children

Outrage alone will not save our children from harm and neglect but fixing the tools for social protection of children will be a good start. This is how some MPs in Parliament recently responded to the department of social development’s figures showing multimillion-rand underspending on programmes like foster care grants. MPs across the political spectrum in the Portfolio Committee on Social Development raised concern and demanded answers over the department’s under expenditure on social assistance totalling almost R900 million. This concern however, did not necessarily translate into decisive demands for action in the department’s Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR).

Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) transcripts of the meeting shows the department of social development explained the underspending as a result of the “slow spending on foster care and old age pensions”. This was due to a “lower-than-anticipated projected number of beneficiaries”, departmental officials said. But DA MP Karen Jooste told ParlyBeat it is scandalous that monies are returned to treasury whilst there clearly is a great need. “Does the department really expect anybody to believe that they issued fewer foster care grants because fewer children need them?” Jooste said the statistics of crimes against children are so horrific, that is why the foster care grants specifically designed for abused and neglected children are needed as part of the intervention. “It is just not possible that fewer children need foster care services,” she said. “Just earlier this year the minister of Police revealed that there are at least two child murders every day. There were 36 731 reported sexual offences, 81 142 common assault and 53 263 assault cases with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm on children, showing a clear need for foster care and other interventions.”

Jooste accused the department of being economical with the truth. “The foster care system has collapsed. That is the truth. Social workers are often too busy with paperwork and clearing backlogs in applications, so they neglect preventative services that may help identify cases where children might be at risk. There are also not enough social workers.” The office of the Minister of Social Development earlier in a parliamentary reply to a question said the number of applications for foster grants decreased from 32 000 to 12 000 in five years. “This shows how people struggle with the foster grant process and backlog and then just give up half way through,” Jooste said. Acting Director General in the department of Social Development Thabane Buthelezi told MPs during the meeting the department committed to some key priorities for the Medium-Term Strategic Framework which includes expanding child and youth care services through the Isibindi programme.

Yet despite the committee’s concerns over the department’s underspending, it amounted to nothing more than a rap over the knuckles. In its Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) the committee merely said the minister must ensure that “the department revise its projections on the number of foster care and old age grants beneficiaries” and “make sure that the budget allocation for these grants is accurately aligned to these projections to prevent under expenditure”.  Jooste said this does not bolster much confidence that much will change soon. “Nothing will come of it. The report’s recommendation is vague and not measurable, and no timeframes were given to the department. It’s like trying to aim in the dark.”

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