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Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Child protection organisations in KwaZulu-Natal have raised concerns that the provincial department of social development is placing children in foster care rather than in child and youth care centres (CYCCs), even when it is not in their best interest.

These children are often orphaned and have experienced traumatic events, and the centres provide more comprehensive care.

In some cases, children are being placed far away from their home base or even their district because of a lack of space in the care centres. Sometimes siblings are also separated.

The KwaZulu-Natal social development department’s budget for funding nonprofit organisations was cut from R735m in 2023/24 to R695m in 2024/25.

This has caused many centres to reduce the number of beds in their facilities. The Durban Child and Youth Care Centre was able to house 74 children but after the cuts in funding it can house only 70, said its director, Mandy Goble. Wylie House had also had to reduce its placements from 40 to 38, said general manager Nazli Finch.

It costs the government less to subsidise children placed in foster care than in youth care centres. Foster care subsidies are R1,180/child/month, whereas child and youth care centres receive R4,000/child/month.

Fiona Balgobind, director of Pietermaritzburg Child Youth Care Centre, says this is because centres provide comprehensive services, including special care for children suffering from trauma. Staff become the legal guardians of the children and are responsible for their complete care.

Foster care often offers only the most basic needs for a child, such as food, shelter and education. Centres provide therapeutic services, speech therapy, physiotherapy and other care services according to the child’s needs, says Balgobind.

Social workers and carers at the centres also help with the process of reintegration into communities once an appropriate placement is found, whether foster care, adoption or reunification with family members. This can prevent children from being bounced from home to home when they’re placed directly into foster care.

Julie Todd, manager of the Child and Family Welfare Society of Pietermaritzburg, told GroundUp that even before the budget cuts were made, the social development department’s case managers were instructed to place children in foster care rather than in centres.

Mhlabunzima Memela, KwaZulu-Natal social development spokesperson, said the department “is not aware of such an allegation”.

But Yvonne van der Galien, director of Rehoboth Children’s Village, believes the department knew it would cut the number of subsidised children in the district. Rehoboth has reduced its care from 80 to 75 children.

Van der Galien said that before the start of the financial year, they told the department that they still had two open places in the Ugu district. But the social development case managers in the district were told not to place children in the centres because they were full. Van der Galien approached the department about the issue but no solution was forthcoming. Two siblings, aged two and seven, were moved out of the Ugu district and separated, she said.

Memela, responding to why the siblings were moved out of the Ugu district, said, “The placement of children in funded CYCCs is informed by the availability of the budget in that financial year.”

Ethelbert CYCC had three children on a waiting list in March. But when the budget cuts kicked in, they were told by the department that they were not allowed to place the children, says its director, Vanessa Theophilus. Ethelbert will have to reduce its care from 65 to 60 children.

The cutting of spaces in the centres had been inconsistent, said Balgobind. In the uMgungundlovu district, cuts began three years ago, but in other areas, such as the eThekwini district, the cuts have come as a shock this financial year.

Many other centres have struggled with losing placements since the budget cuts kicked in. Lily of the Valley Children’s Village was reduced from 95 to 85, and iKhethelo Children’s Village was reduced from 48 to 45. “If we take any children above these numbers, the department will not pay a child grant to them,” says Graeme Wright, the CEO of both centres.

St Theresa’s CYCC reduced its capacity from 72 to 60 children. They have also had to retrench two of their staff, said Arlene Deborah Bowes, its director.

GroundUp was unable to establish exactly how many places for children have been lost due to the budget cuts. Thirty-eight places in the seven centres GroundUp spoke to are confirmed. There are about 60 centres in the province.


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