No legal assistance for foster children

Toni Tresadern, Welgelegen

Referring to the article in the Northern News regarding family reunification (“System failing vulnerable children,” Northern News, July 6), I feel I need to respond to the comments made by MEC Albert Fritz’s spokesman Sihle Ngobese.

I would like to mention that Mr Ngobese is only commenting on the views and policies of the Department of Social Development. He is not commenting on all the organisations that the department funds to carry out child protection services in areas where they do not have a presence.

Many areas in the Western Cape are looked after by organisations other than the department – Welgelegen, where I live, being one of them.

In 32 years of hosting and fostering children, I have never heard it mentioned that a child is entitled to pro bono legal representation. Maybe I am not understanding this correctly, but I am currently in a situation where we are trying to adopt a child that has been in our foster care for 10 years. The application to adopt has dragged on for well over a year because the biological parents refused to sign consent in court on two occasions. The child is 11 and therefore has a say. She has strongly requested that she be adopted but would like to maintain contact with her siblings and parents.

A post-adoption agreement was drawn up and agreed upon by all parties months ago. ACVV, which is rendering services to the parents, suggested reuniting the child with the family and the organisation rendering services to my foster child, Badisa, recommended that adoption should go ahead.

I escalated this issue to the office of Mr Fritz, and we all received feedback from his advisor, Hester Sadie-Bosman, who is an expert on the Child Care Act.

At no stage was my foster child offered the services of a legal representative to advise her or assist her with this adoption.

Perhaps Mr Ngobese could advise all safe houses of where we can obtain legal assistance should the children in our care be in need of it. The supervision services that Mr Ngobese mentions very seldom happens due to caseloads and lack of resources. The same applies to social relief which is obtained through the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA).

In the past, a family could apply for social relief once they received a report from a social worker stating their situation and this relief would come in the form of a grocery voucher redeemable at Mitchell’s Plain Pick * Pay only.

First of all, it is nearly impossible to get a social worker’s report when needed, and, secondly, folk in dire straits had no means to get themselves to Mitchell’s Plain to redeem the R780 voucher.

I have only managed to arrange social relief for people on three different occasions and I took them to Mitchell’s Plain myself.

Late last year, Sassa Bellville informed me that they now only have one service provider – Spar in Khayelitsha. If the person could not get to Spar Khayelitsha, a food parcel could be arranged but that would take time and this parcel would be pre-approved.

As no programmes are being run for children after they are reunited with their families, I fail to understand how a food hamper or a child grant is going to provide care and protection for children after they are returned to their families.

I am most interested in Mr Ngobese’s comment regarding parenting programmes and after-care support groups. There is definitely no such thing operating in my area or any areas close to Welgelegen. Nor are there community-based education programmes available to me. I know of at least five safe houses operating in and around my suburb and we all battle along on our own.

It would be really refreshing, if just once, the truth was told and for the department to mention that they are tightening up on procedures and processes and are trying to get a handle on an “out of control” situation. All of us that take care of children can work with the truth, but I will no longer tolerate waffle and lies.