New changes to law will have negative impact on adoption

‘Proposed amendments to Children’s Amendment Bill of 2018 will devastate rights of children to permanent alternative care through adoption’

Proposed amendments to the Children’s Amendment Bill of 2018 which would make it illegal for anyone to receive fees for professional services rendered or expenses incurred in respect of an adoption have received widespread attention and strong criticism from all quarters of child protection civil society sectors.

The National Adoption Coalition of SA (Nacsa) delved into the concerns in a recent statement.

Nacsa said the controversial changes were hastily pushed through by the Department of Social Development (DSD) without in-depth consultation with the adoption and child protection sectors and without due consideration of the impact on the vulnerable children the act is intended to protect.

“The amendments in their current format will unequivocally scupper the already declining number of adoptable children who find their way to a loving, adoptive family, exacerbating South Africa’s ballooning crisis of abandoned and vulnerable children left to languish in adoption homes,” the Nacsa statement said.

Katinka Pieterse, chairperson of the National Adoption Coalition of SA (Nacsa) said: “The Bill proposes that accredited child protection organisations and adoption social workers, lawyers, psychologists and all other professionals will no longer be able to charge for any expert or specialist service rendered to adoptive families, not even for reimbursement of travelling expenses, medical care, counselling and so on.  There will be massive negative implications if such changes go through and the impact on adoptions and adoptable children as a whole will be nothing short of catastrophic – it’s a fundamental human rights violation in the making.”

In making the amendments, the DSD argued that no fees should be payable for adoption services, like all other child protection services, since there is no difference between adoptions and other child protection measures like foster care.

“This is a fundamentally flawed view,” Katinka said.  “DSD argues that the prescribed professional fees and cost recovery – which are legally allowed for and regulated by government – leads to fraud and potential trafficking.  Another flawed argument put forward is that the amendments are aimed at making ‘adoptions more accessible’ to allow poor people in rural areas to adopt.

Designated child protection organisations do not make any profit through fees charged since fees mostly just cover expenses incurred

“The department has contended that adoptions are expensive and only available to the wealthy.  However, in absence of any clear factual evidence for the department to back these claims, it is important to respond to the motivation behind the amendments and address the realities,” she said.

“Firstly, adoption-accredited child protection organisations charge nominal professional prescribed fees for adoption services. The income derived from these fees enables designated child protection organisations (DCPOs) to employ experienced social workers, since not all DCPOs receive government subsidies for the rendering of child protection and adoption services. They often only receive partial and limited financial support. Where subsidies are received, these subsidies only cover approximately 50% of the social work posts and programs. DCPOs do not make any profit through fees charged since fees mostly just cover expenses incurred. During the assessment process of the different parties to the adoption triad, expenses in respect of counselling and emotional assessments are also incurred since these are crucial for the courts to be able to make a finding that children are adoptable and parents are fit and proper,” Katinka explained.

She said DSD’s argument about making adoptions more accessible to the poor is also addressed by the fact that the majority of organisations also make use of an income-based sliding scale and often render services free of charge when applicants cannot afford to pay a fee for professional services.  The scale of fees is further strictly regulated by the gazetted tariff (Regulation 107) and organisations are monitored by the DSD. They are also obligated to disclose all fees received in writing to the Children’s Court in terms of Section 249 for each adoption thus ensuring transparency.

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