Child welfare reels from EC budget cuts

After a century of service to thousands of children across the region, Grahamstown Child Welfare is battling to keep its head above water with its state funding slashed.

The organisation is one of dozens of child welfare and child development non-profit organisations to suffer massive state budget cuts.

As it celebrates its centenary this month, GCW acknowledges it was battling to come to terms not only with the budget cut, but the way it was done.

Although the financial year begins in April, many organisations say they only heard on the grapevine in late May that their 2017-18 budgets were to be slashed.

The department is usually late with quarterly payments and the news that retrospective state payments would not come close to covering costs already incurred has plunged organisations across the province into crisis.

Already three months into the financial year, some of the harder hit organisations, including East London Child Welfare, had to immediately retrench dozens of social workers, leaving thousands of vulnerable children and adults without social assistance.

While GCW was not as hard hit as its East London counterpart, director Woineshet Bischoff said the social development department owed it to all organisations to give them more time to prepare. “It cannot just be ‘today for tomorrow’ with no warning or time to put alternative plans in place.”

Bischoff said the state was not ready to take over the massive statutory load Child Welfare carried on its behalf.

Child Welfare, through the courts, is instrumental in placing dozens of abused or vulnerable children in foster care or into homes. This traditionally is the state’s job.

“I always say that Child Welfare subsidises the state, not the other way round,” said Bischoff. She said it was essential that the government and non-governmental sectors form better partnerships to assist vulnerable children and families.

The increasingly difficult economic climate has seen a dwindling donor base while simultaneously plunging more children than ever before into need.

Speaking at Think!Fest at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown yesterday, GCW chair Sue Smailes said there was an ever-increasing need for social services due to poverty, family disintegration, unemployment, child abuse, family violence, and HIV-Aids.

Yesterday, writer and human rights activist Elinor Sisulu said 100 years of service to the Grahamstown community was reason to celebrate.

But dwindling funding meant there should also be some sombre reflection on where child welfare was going in South Africa. She said it was a contradiction for the state to speak out about the needs of vulnerable sectors and then couple it with a reduction in its investment in child welfare.

Bischoff said the sensible thing to do was focus more on prevention but Child Welfare could not do so when the bulk of its work remained statutory.

“It takes a huge amount of time, skills and resources to do the court work.”

But, said Bischoff, said GCW would survive because of huge support from the community, local business, schools, Rhodes University, Makana municipality and its patron, Grahamstown Anglican Bishop Ebenezer Ntlali.

GCW was founded in 1917 by then Grahamstown Bishop Francis Phelps. It caters for about 20000 children and families. Some 370 children are placed legally through the court in foster homes and its social workers provide supervisory services and family reunification. In addition to its statutory work and the work done at its pre-school and cluster foster homes in Joza, it also runs several prevention projects.

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