Many families in South Africa are struggling to care for their children. On the one hand, the country has inherited a legacy of violence, extreme inequality and social dislocation from the former apartheid regime. This has translated into high levels of domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. The South African Police Services reports that 50,000 children are victims of crime every year, with sexual offences constituting about 40 per cent of these cases. Research reveals that the vast majority of such cases happen in families.
On the other hand, the country is experiencing the highest burden of HIV in the world, with over 5.7 million people currently infected. Parents are dying and leaving behind orphaned children. There are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa, about half of whom have lost one or both parents to AIDS; and 150,000 children are believed to be living in child-headed households. Communities are doing the best they can to care for orphaned and vulnerable children. A UNICEF supported audit of community childcare forums found 400 volunteer-run networks that provide frontline support to 190,000 children.
There are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa, about half of whom have lost one or both parents to AIDS; and 150,000 children are believed to be living in child-headed households.
Foster care has also greatly expanded in recent years, in part due to a policy in 2000 that legalised the placement of children with extended family members. By September 2008, data from the South Africa Social Security Agency showed that close to half a million children were in formal, court-ordered foster care. About 80 per cent of these children are placed with relatives. Adoption is modest and in decline.
Many abused, neglected and abandoned children land up in children’s homes. Statistics on children in institutional care are not complete, but it is known that there are 345 registered children’s homes in South Africa, looking after some 21,000 children. These facilities qualify as ‘child and youth care centres’, a provision of the new Children’s Act that will establish a system of specialised alternative childcare programmes with proper standards and governance structures.
What needs to be done?
UNICEF is working with the Department of Social Development to strengthen alternative care for orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa, and will support the following initiatives:
National guidelines: The Government will be supported in developing national guidelines to manage alternative care. These will be published and distributed to service providers and will provide practical guidance, operational norms and standards, and a monitoring tool.
Information management system: A system to collect and manage data on children in formal care will be put into place. This will include standardised indicators, profiles of children’s homes and other facilities in preparation for their transformation into Child and Youth Care Centres, provincial databases on children in alternative care, and training programmes for district and provincial data collection co-ordinators.
Training service providers: With UNICEF support, district social workers, child and youth care workers and other service providers will be trained to implement the national guidelines on alternative care.
Best practice models: The most successful programmes that promote family and community care of vulnerable children will be identified. These ‘best practice’ models will be used to inform the development of national polices and guidelines on cluster foster care, support to child-headed households and early intervention and prevention programmes.
National adoption: UNICEF will help the government to promote adoption as an alternative to foster care. A sample of 600 foster care placements will be researched; legal, cultural and ethical concerns on adoption will be analysed; and an evidence-based strategy will be developed.
What UNICEF plans to achieve
What is alternative care?
When parents or legal guardians cannot look after their child or children according to national laws and procedures, the State must provide children with alternative care – preferably in a family-like environment. The South African Children’s Act identifies three forms of alternative care:
Challenges in implementing alternative care