Day 12: HOW TO: foster a child

How can you practically empower yourself, or the women and children you know, during this year’s 16 days of Activism? The Mail & Guardian‘s “HOW TO” guide will tackle a different area each day, including suing for maintenance, applying for a social grant and getting an interdict against an abusive partner.

What does fostering entail?
The idea of fostering is to provide care for a child whose parents require time to sort out their problems. In most cases, the initial period ordered by the children’s court is two years. The aim for a fostered child is to return them to the care of their biological parent(s) once the problems that caused them to go into foster care have been resolved. The sad reality is that in a vast number of cases, family reunification doesn’t and often cannot occur and the child remains in a state of perpetual foster care for years. Fostering can sometimes lead to adoption.

By order of the Children’s Court a child who needs to be removed from the parental home is placed into the custody of a suitable family or person willing to be foster parents. Children can be removed from their parents if they are abused, neglected or abandoned.

Who can become a foster parent?
Whilst preference is given to married couples, the need for foster parents is so great that single people would be considered, so long as it is believed that they are capable and have good support networks in place. You must be at least 21 and to able to prove that you could raise and educate a child. Organisations screen applicants to ensure that they are suitable to be foster parents.

Factors taken into account in the screening include the age of the prospective foster parents, their health, the family composition and income, the suitability of accommodation, the general environment and closeness of schools and public transport.

Other aspects considered are the prospective foster parents’ views about child rearing and education, their ability to accept responsibility, their attitude towards the natural parents, and their motivation to foster a child who is not their own despite the temporary nature of the placement.

However, the choice of foster home for a particular child depends on the needs of a child. For example, if a particular child is already acquainted with and emotionally attached to a particular foster parent candidate, this will be an important factor. Religious and cultural factors will also be considered for each child.

What are the rights and responsibilities of a foster parent?
Foster parents are supervised by social workers. Foster parents have the obligation to:

  • Maintain and care for the child.
  • Grant reasonable access to the child’s parents.

Placement in foster care gives foster parents custody over the child, which includes the right to discipline the child. However, this does not include the power to:

  • Deal with any property belonging to the child.
  • Consent to the marriage of the child/li>
  • Consent to an operation or medical treatment of the child that involves serious danger to life.
  • Foster parents may not remove a child out of South Africa without the approval of the Provincial MEC for Social Development or the Minister for Social Development.

What financial support is there for foster parents?
The child is maintained by means of a foster child grant of R680 paid by the state to the foster parents. Learn how to apply for a foster care grant here.
The natural parents of the child also have a duty to contribute to the child’s maintenance, through an order of court called a contribution order.

Fostering and HIV/Aids
Fostering is usually for a short period so children are not tested for HIV before they are fostered.

If a child is under 14 and his or her HIV status is known, this can be told to the foster parents.
There is no compulsory medical examination before a child is placed in foster care. Therefore, a person with HIV cannot be denied the opportunity to foster a child.

How do you apply to be a foster parent?
Contact the Department of Social Development’s District Office or Service Point in your area. The intake worker will arrange for you to be screened by a social worker operating in your area. The screening involves interviews and a visit to your home.

What legal processes do you go through?
The screening of foster parents is done by social workers. At the Children’s Court hearing, the social worker will recommend to the court that the child be placed in foster care with the foster parents, who have already been screened. The foster parents often don’t need to go to court at all.

Foster parents will, however, need to go to court for Children’s Court proceedings if they are called as witnesses by the Commissioner of child welfare.

Can foster care lead to adoption? Whilst adoption cannot usually occur without parental consent, there are many situations in which fostered children can become permanent members of the family. This could be that the parents go missing and become untraceable; maybe the parent has shown no responsibility to the child over a period of time (usually at least a year); perhaps they have made no effort to change the situation that placed the child in foster care.
In a different scenario the parent may die leaving the child available for adoption. In some situations, the magistrate of the court can determine that the parent is withholding their consent unreasonably and allow an adoption to continue. It is best to speak to the social worker who placed your foster care child with you. They will have a thorough report as to the reasons that the child was found in need of care. Explain that you would like to adopt the child and want to know if it is possible and if so, how to proceed.

Helpful contacts:
South African Social Security Agency (Sassa): Call their toll-free help line: 0800 601 011 for all your queries on social grants.
Arise: a Cape Town based organisation that coaches couples through fostering a child.
Cotlands: a national organisation.

Find out more on adopting children and applying for other child care grants. Look at our list of “HOW TO” guides for more information here.

View more on our special report on 16 days of activism here:.

The above information is courtesy of Cape Gateway and Arise.

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