Communities urged to help out with Aids orphans crisis

Brian Hayward haywardb@avusa.co.za

 

ALL ALONE. . . Two sisters, aged 11 and 4, lost their mother to Aids in 2008 and are forced to fend for themselves and rely on donations of food and clothes from neighbours in Kwazakhele, Nelson Mandela Bay. Picture: Eugene Coetzee

WITH an estimated 171000 Aids orphans in the Eastern Cape, the government, crippled by a shortage of social workers and a backlog of placing the orphans in foster care, has resorted to appealing to Good Samaritans to lend a hand.

There are just three state-run orphanages in the province – two in the Bay and the other in Maluti – according to the Department of Social Development, while it funds a further 32 “child and youth care centres” – 23 childrens’ home and nine shelters.

Facing criticism from NGOs that it is inefficient and overburdened, the department has said it is now focusing on placing “children in need of care and protection to suitable relatives and families for foster care” – a process which was monitored by social workers.

Spokesman Gcobani Maswana said the department was also spearheading the development of “cluster homes”, which housed about six orphans and was overseen by a member of the community who care for the children.

“We have these cluster homes which are run by community members who we train to be able to look after [the orphans],” said Maswana.

CLIMBING. . . Figures from the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA) paint a bleak picture of the rising number of Eastern Cape Aids orphans. Graphic: Lana Breedt

The department had also started to specifically identify Aids orphans so they could be placed in foster care, he said.

Maswana said MEC Pemmy Majodina was working with the Department of Justice to have more childrens’ courts opened around the province, “to help us fast-track the programme of fostering”.

Although an orphan should only wait six months to be put into foster care – in the interim they are placed with friends or family, who received a stipend from the department – NGOs said the reality it took more than 12 months in most foster cases.

Provincial head of Child Welfare, Delene Ritter, said such was the surge in orphans in the province, coupled with the lack of family or state care facilities to look after them, that a new programme to care for orphans had been launched, the pilot for which was being run in Port St Johns.

“It [the issue of increasing orphans] is not getting any better, and places of safety can only take so many [orphans],” said Ritter said.

“We try and keep children within extended families, but what we are striving for now is having child-headed households where the oldest child is 16, which have mentors. These mentors are trained community volunteers with police clearance, who get paid a stipend to look after the household [but not necessarily live in the home, but nearby].”

Ritter said Child Welfare was pushing for the government to recognise 16-year-olds – rather than the current age limit of 18 and older – as able to receive a government grant.

 

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