Government wants its social workers to provide adoption services in a bid to curb the high cost of adoption and make it easier for ordinary families to adopt children.
The department of social development has presented proposed amendments to the Children’s Act to Parliament, which will see state social workers providing adoption services for free to people who want to adopt kids.
Some children’s rights activists have applauded the decision, saying it would allow those who couldn’t previously adopt – because of the high costs involved – to access the service.
But private adoption agencies and MPs have raised concerns about the state’s ability to deliver this important service.
Adoption services are currently provided by accredited private social workers, who, according to the department of social development, charge exorbitant fees.
The Children’s Second Amendment Bill, which was presented to Parliament’s portfolio committee on social development, makes provision for the extension of the definition of an “adoption social worker” to cover social workers in the employ of the state.
The department’s Siyabonga Shozi said: “The intention is to be able to manage adoptions, because currently the definition is narrow and does not allow for social workers in the employ of the state to conduct adoptions.
“As a department, we hope this intervention will assist because there are two issues we are trying to address: cost and access.”
Adoption agencies charge no less than R100 000 to manage the adoption process of a single child.
Carina du Toit, an attorney working with the Child Law Centre in Pretoria, who spoke to City Press after the proposed amendments were tabled, said it was a step in the right direction.
“It means that people living in rural areas, who would have wanted to adopt but could not afford to, will now have the chance to do it,” she said.
Though Du Toit was happy with the proposals, she raised concerns about the amendments not being clear on whether public sector social workers would have to be accredited to provide such a specialised service.
She said: “Adoption is a specialised service, which means that people who provide these services must be accredited to ensure that the best interests of the child are protected.”
Elsabe Engelbrecht of Procare, an organisation that offers adoption services, was not that optimistic.
“Adoption is a very specialised service and requires experience, knowledge and skill.”
She said that if the amendments were passed in their current format, they would have a negative impact on adoptions because parties served by state social workers might receive a less specialised service.
Nadene Crowder-Grabham, general manager of Door of Hope, which helps abandoned babies, shared this concern.
“It is true that there are not many specialised adoption social workers in the field. I have come across parents who mentioned that they had worked through a social worker who was not specialised and it turned out that half the requirements for adoptions were not met. So if government social workers are trained in this field, it will definitely solve the problem of a shortage of specialised adoption social workers,” she said.
Through the amendments, the department is hoping to reduce the current period of between six to 12 months that it takes for adoptions to be finalised.
But MPs raised concerns about the training of state social workers to deal with the added responsibility, with some questioning whether the state had enough human resource capacity to handle the expected flood of adoption applications.
The DA’s Lindy Wilson proposed that only licensed and accredited social workers be allowed to work with adoptions.
The IFP’s Liezl van der Merwe pointed out that the current Children’s Act had in the past been blamed for a decrease in the number of adoptions. She said Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini had admitted that there had been a 30% drop in adoptions in a country with about 5.4 million orphans since its implementation in 2005