“Children need to be in families.”
This is the stance of Amanda Brander, who is a registered safe care and foster care parent.
And because children need individual attention, she encouraged people to register with social services non-governmental organisation the Afrikaanse Christelike Vroue Vereeniging (ACVV) or the Department of Social Development to become temporary safe care or foster parents.
According to the Department of Social Development, while there is a greater need for them, there are only 646 active safe care parents providing this crucial service in the Western Cape.
There are also currently 20 660 foster parents in the Western Cape, caring for just over 30 000 children.
Social Development spokesperson, Sihle Ngobese, said they often call for people to register as safe care parents as they play a crucial role in the child protection network.
“A safety parent is a person over the age of 18 years, who has been recruited, screened and trained to provide emergency care and protection within the community and within a family context, to vulnerable children.”
He said the department regularly has to recruit new candidates because some safety parents take a break while others move to different areas.
He said, according to the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, children are placed with safety parents because of a lack of visible support, maltreatment or they have been orphaned. A child can stay with a safety parent for between two weeks to up to three months, he said.
The Cape Town branch of ACVV, which serves the area from Llandudno along the Atlantic Seaboard, the city centre through to Observatory, expressed a desperate need for people to become temporary safe care or foster care parents.
ACVV social worker Sane van der Merwe is responsible for screening safe care and foster parents. The organisation helps the Department of Social Development in rendering its services, she said.
ACVV deals mainly with neglected and abused children while the department focuses on the elderly people, people with addictions and street children intervention. At the city centre branch, situated in Caledon Street, there are seven social workers and two social auxiliary workers. However, this differs from branch to branch. All branches work with children 18 years old and younger.
“People phone us when they see a child is neglected or if a mother and child are on the street, or if the child is abused. Most times we need to send the children to a place of safety,” Ms Van der Merwe explained.
The city centre branch has its head office, an old-age home and a creche at the premises. However, it does not have its own residential component to take in abused or neglected children.
“For this reason, we are in need of people who would provide foster care and safe care,” she said. “While children’s homes are good, we encourage individual care and love for neglected or abused children. Currently, we don’t have a long list of people who do this.”
Asked to explain the difference between foster care and temporary safe care, Ms Van der Merwe said temporary safe care was more of a crisis intervention. “We don’t prepare people for this. The morning we will call you, and by the afternoon the child is with you.
“Foster care is a more permanent arrangement, where children stay with the parents from six months to about two years.
“However, in the duration of that time, if the parents or family members have managed to remedy their situation or improve it and the child can return to them or family in that time, then this will happen so it’s a risk for foster parents if they grow attached to the child.”
She said adoption is the third – and permanent – solution, but it is quite a lengthy process. ACVV is only accredited to conduct adoptions for parents already fostering a child, or step-parent adoption. Any other adoptions are dealt with by other agencies.
Ms Van der Merwe said if reunification with a parent was not an option, ACVV provided extensions to the foster parents until the child turned 18 years old, so that the social worker doesn’t have to re-evaluate the situation every two years.
If the child is 18 and still at school, the support grant is extended until the child is 21, but this is when the grant stops.
However, she said, social workers find that foster parents are hesitant to adopt children because they receive a grant for the child, and foster parents are often not able to financially support the child so the extra money comes in handy. Once they are adopted, the grant ends.
According to the Department of Social Development’s website, a foster parent receives a grant of R770 a month for a child.
Mr Ngobese said when a child is placed with a safety parent, the department contributes R27 a day towards the basic needs of the child. They will also be issued with an emergency kit, which includes, for example nappies, formula, and bottles if the child is a baby.
Ms Van der Merwe said foster or temporary safe care parents are carefully screened. “It varies from branch to branch, but at the Cape Town branch, we ask for police clearance, bank statements, affidavits from friends and families to check people’s character,” she said.
They also conduct home visits.
If the applicants are approved, they receive training and are supported by a social worker.
“According to the act, both safety and foster parents can have a maximum of six children in their care,” Mr Ngobese added.
Ms Brander, who has 11 children of her own, first became involved in fostering when she joined a group called Birth Right, non-judgmental support to girls and women who are distressed by an unplanned pregnancy.
“Wecounselled young girls who didn’t want their babies and encouraged them to keep the babies instead of aborting them.
“We would also provide them with basic things for the babies because financial constraints is one of the main reasons girls would not want the babies. I foster children and give them back to their parents when they are able to look after them or I allow the parents to be involved in the child’s life.”
She is currently fostering a boy whom she has had since he was just eight hours old.
And while she didn’t need screening because she was active within Birthright, “everyone who lived under my roof needed to go for police clearance as part of the Child Protection Act,” she said.
She said she is often asked how she is able to give a child back after having cared for him or her.
“I believe it’s a mindset. You have to mentally prepare yourself and tell yourself that it is only for a short period of time.
“However, you do get attached to the child because of the amount of love and energy you put into the child while you are with them.
“I sometimes visit the children I have fostered and make a point of staying in their lives because of the bond I built with them.”
Encouraging people to consider becoming foster parents, she said: “It is better for the child to grow up in a family, because then they learn to be individuals and they learn family values.
“I often work with children at homes and there are excellent homes, but children lose their individuality because they are having to share all the time and they don’t have their own space, and some children are also favoured regardless of the fact that the managers of the homes try to treat all children as equal as they can.”
You can report child abuse and neglect to the ACVV’s Cape Town office by calling 021 462 1060 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to be a safety parent, you can can contact Sane van der Merwe at the Cape Town office on the same number.