FOSTER CARE VS. ADOPTION: SOUTH AFRICA’S DUAL APPROACH TO CHILD PROTECTION

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By Precious Mupenzi

  • The South African government, recognising the diverse needs of children requiring care and protection, employs a dual approach of foster care and adoption to ensure every child receives appropriate support without unnecessary family separation.
  • Through the Department of Social Development and SASSA, the government provides various social grants to alleviate poverty and promote children’s welfare, alongside strengthening adoption policies to prioritise children’s best interests and facilitate smoother processes for adoptive families.
  • The impact of these efforts is illustrated by success stories like those of Mpho Thubakgale, who thrived through the foster care system, and Fatima Poonawassy, whose family was enriched through adoption, highlighting the government’s commitment to safeguarding children’s futures despite fluctuating adoption rates.

In South Africa, the government recognizes the diverse needs of children requiring care and protection. While adoption offers a permanent solution, foster care provides a crucial alternative for children who have extended family members capable of caregiving but need financial support. This nuanced understanding ensures that every child in need receives appropriate care without unnecessary separation from their families.

The South African government, through the Department of Social Development, has reaffirmed its commitment to advocating for children’s welfare. As the primary custodian of children’s rights, the Department through its agency the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), plays a pivotal role in transforming the lives of South Africans, particularly children, through the disbursement of various social grants. These grants are a testament to the government’s unwavering efforts to alleviate poverty and enhance service delivery within communities.

In addition to social grants, the South African government has made significant strides in promoting adoption as a means of providing stable, loving homes for children in need. Adoption policies have been strengthened to ensure that the best interests of the child are always prioritized, facilitating smoother processes for families willing to open their homes and hearts to adoptive children. This dual approach of providing financial support and promoting adoption underlines the government’s holistic strategy to safeguard children’s futures.

For children who are orphans, abandoned or neglected but have living maternal and paternal relatives, a family member can apply for a foster care grant. This approach acknowledges that not every child in need requires adoption; some just need financial assistance to remain within their family.

The foster care grant is a form of financial assistance provided by the government to caregivers looking after children placed in their care by the state due to circumstances such as abandonment, neglect, or abuse. This grant, amounting to R1180 per month, helps cover the costs of food, clothing, and education for the child.

The foster care grant significantly impacts the lives of children in foster care by meeting their basic needs and contributing to their stability and well-being. To qualify for this grant, the child must be under 18 and not cared for by their biological parents. The caregiver must be a South African citizen or permanent resident and meet specific income criteria.

The government uses the foster care grant as a vital service delivery tool. It provides financial assistance to caregivers, monitors the well-being of children in foster care, and offers support services such as social work and counselling. This comprehensive approach ensures the best possible outcomes for these children, playing a crucial role in the government’s efforts to protect and support vulnerable children in South Africa.

Since the implantation of foster care grant, the national adoptions have dropped , this is due to the uptake of foster grant as many families are now able to foster children.

Over the past 14 years, South Africa has seen significant fluctuations in the number of children adopted both nationally and internationally. The data, spanning from 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2024, reveals trends and shifts in adoption practices that highlight the evolving landscape of child welfare in the country.

The highest number of total adoptions was recorded in the 2010-2011 period with 2,434 adoptions. This figure saw a dramatic decline in subsequent years, reaching a low of 849 in 2020-2021. The numbers have shown a slight recovery since then, with 906 adoptions recorded in the most recent period (2023-2024).

National adoptions have consistently constituted the majority of total adoptions. The peak was in 2010-2011 with 2,234 national adoptions. However, this number dropped sharply to 1,426 in the following year and continued to fluctuate, eventually hitting a low of 773 in 2023-2024.

Inter-country adoptions have remained relatively stable in comparison. The highest number recorded was 250 in 2014-2015, and the lowest was 50 in 2020-2021. The most recent data shows a slight increase to 133 inter-country adoptions in 2023-2024

The journey of adoptions in South Africa since 2010 has been marked by a significant initial decline, followed by fluctuations and a recent trend of stabilization. The high numbers in the early 2010s dropped notably by the mid-2010s, with the lowest point during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent years show a gradual increase and stabilization, indicating potential recovery and sustained efforts in both national and inter-country adoptions. The data highlights the need for continuous support and improvement in the adoption process to ensure that more children find permanent and loving homes

The efforts of the South African government, in collaboration with various NGOs and community organizations, remain vital in addressing these challenges and promoting the well-being of children across the nation.

Over the past 30 years of democracy, the South African government’s unwavering commitment to children’s welfare has profoundly impacted countless lives. This dedication is vibrantly illustrated by the narratives of Mpho Thubakgale, a 29-year-old resilient foster child from Tembisa, and Fatima Poonawassy, a joyful adoptive mother.

Mpho Thubakgale’s journey symbolises the transformative power of foster care. Orphaned at a young age, Thubakgale faced immense challenges but found solace and support through the foster care system. Her resilience, bolstered by a bursary from the Department of Social Development after matriculating in 2012, led her to a fulfilling career in social work. Now, as a social worker, Thubakgale dedicates her life to helping underprivileged children, embodying the spirit of paying it forward. Her story underscores the vital role of foster care grants in providing stability and hope to vulnerable children.

On the other hand, Fatima Poonawassy’s adoption journey showcases the joy and fulfilment that comes with building a family through adoption. Fifteen years ago, Fatima and her partner decided to adopt a baby, a decision that transformed their lives. At a Child Protection Week Launch in Kimberley, Fatima’s eyes shone with pride as she shared her experience of adopting her son, Rudo, when he was just seven months old. She expressed immense gratitude to the government for the smooth adoption process. Today, Rudo is a thriving 12-year-old, excelling in Grade 5. “Adopting Rudo was the best decision we ever made,” Fatima said, beaming with pride.

These stories of Thubakgale and Poonawassy highlight the dual approach of the South African government in addressing child welfare through both foster care and adoption. The foster care grant, which provides financial assistance to caregivers, has significantly improved the lives of children by meeting their basic needs and ensuring their well-being.

At the same time, the government’s efforts to promote adoption have created loving, stable homes for many children. Adoption policies have been strengthened to prioritize the best interests of the child, making the process smoother for families willing to adopt. This comprehensive strategy ensures that every child receives the care and support they need, whether through foster care or adoption.

Despite fluctuations in adoption rates over the years, the government’s commitment to child welfare remains steadfast. The data from 2010 to 2024 reveals trends and shifts in adoption practices, highlighting the evolving landscape of child welfare in South Africa. The initial decline in adoption rates has been followed by a gradual recovery, reflecting sustained efforts to improve the adoption process and support more children in finding permanent homes.

Through stories like those of Mpho Thubakgale and Fatima Poonawassy, we see the profound impact of the South African government’s investment in children’s welfare. These narratives of resilience, hope, and joy serve as a testament to the transformative power of both foster care and adoption in building brighter futures for the nation’s children.

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