PRESENTATION FOR PARLIAMENTARY HEARING ON
SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN: 13 MARCH 2002
My focus in this presentation will be mainly on the state of services on which children depend - both
for the prevention of sexual abuse and also for assistance once such abuse has occurred. I will also
briefly refer to the potential of the Basic Income Grant as it relates to this problem.
1. Contradictions in the national response to child sexual abuse
In recent years we have seen a strangely contradictory scenario unfolding. On the one hand, public awareness of concern about child sexual abuse have escalated. On the other, the position of the social services which have the potential to either reduce or respond to this problem has steadily deteriorated, and this appears to have been ignored by those allocating both public and private resources. When cases such as that of Baby Tshipang make the headlines, there are widespread expressions of outrage. People in government and community leadership positions all over the country make statements in which the words "we shall not tolerate ........" feature prominently. What is missing, and has been missing for a great many years, from government, from concerned community members, from many corporate donors and from the media, is (a) any questioning as to whether the existing child protection services are equipped to address this problem, and (b) any commitment to allocate resources to these services.
2. Neglect of the child protection system
There is in this country no process for the systematic planning and development of, and no
intersectoral budgetary process for, the child protection system. All components of this system
urgently require overhauling, proper resourcing and intersectoral planning. Social development,
justice, safety and security, education, health, and correctional services are key sectors for the
prevention of abuse and for an effective response to incidents of abuse, and all of these need to be
properly resourced at the national and provincial levels for these purposes. Local government should
be actively involved in child protection planning and implementation, as it has a key role to play in the development of safe and child-friendly communities, and in facilitating integrated service delivery within the child's immediate environment.
3. The child protection NGO: an endangered species
There are major challenges child protection challenges facing all the above sectors, separately and
together, and it is crucial that they all receive the attention they need. However I want to focus particularly on the role of the NGOs to which child protective services have been delegated on a very large scale. Most of the burden for the social service component of child protection rests with these organisations, particularly the child and family welfare organisations, both faith-based and non-denominational. Much of the work they do is mandated by the Child Care Act and other statutes. While they are performing functions which are in fact the direct responsibility of government, the latter's contribution to their financing is in the form of discretionary subsidies. Subsidies, where they are provided, have in real terms been steadily shrinking over the years, even as the outcry about child abuse has been gaining in volume. These organisations are in a critical situation.
A factor which has been added to the chronic financial problems faced by child protection NGOs has been the delinking of state subsidies from civil service salaries. When the latter were increased, there was in the past an automatic increase in payments to subsidised NGOs. Hence, although NGO personnel never had access to housing and vehicle subsidies or reduced medical aid costs as did their colleagues in the civil service, they at least received similar basic salaries. They are now very far behind and it is becoming impossible for them to earn a living. Simultaneously, NGO services are continually disrupted as their staff are siphoned off by the state, attracted by vastly higher salaries and improved benefits. The jobs into which these people move are often related to child protection only on a management level or via partnerships with the very NGOs from whence they come.
A beginning social worker in my own organisation earns R3 000 per month, with take-home pay of R2 200, after four years of study. Of this amount, between R500 and R900 often has to be paid to a bank in repayment of a study loan. Even lengthy experience brings about little improvement when it comes to the salaries which NGOs can afford to pay. Again in my own organisation, a social worker with 11 years experience earns a gross salary of R5 404 a month, which includes a non-pensionable allowance of R500. This situation stands to be improved somewhat by a 15% subsidy increase recently announced for social work services by the Department of Social Services in Gauteng. We appreciate this effort to address the problem within the limited means available to the Department, but it will not go far towards addressing the current crisis. The position of social service workers in other categories is substantially worse. An entry level residential child care worker in my organisation earns Rl 500 per month, and the lowest paid unskilled administrative worker earns Rl 070.
An entry level social worker at the Gauteng Department of Social Services earns R4 782 per month and his or her seniority and earnings thereafter rise rapidly. A new and untrained matriculant can become a residential child care worker at a staring salary of R3 266 at a provincial child and youth care facility. Unsurprisingly, there is a constant flow of staff from NGO's to the Department of Social Services, to other state departments and to local government, which also pays vastly better salaries. At more senior levels the pattern is intensified, as the gap between NGO and civil service salaries rapidly widens. Thus the state gathers to itself the more skilled and experienced staff while continuing to delegate most of the child protection work to the NGO's, whose capacity to deliver them is steadily decreasing. The corporate sector and other employers also actively draw on child protection organisations for staffing,
The results of this scenario are devastating. In the unit at the JCWS which is responsible for dealing with most reported cases of abuse, neglect and abandonment, five of its eighteen social workers resigned in the past week to join the Love Life organisation at a starting salary of R7 000 plus a R500 transport allowance. At least another seven are known to have applied for very attractive positions which are currently being advertised by the South African Police Service. The toll taken by other posts currently being advertised will become clear in the next few months. Last year between January and September, almost 40% of social work staff up to supervisory level were lost to the organisation. The situation appears set to be far worse this year.
Child protection work is not only poorly paid, it is also highly stressful and can be dangerous. Apart from the possibility of encountering violence in the course of their duties, staff have to take agency vehicles into areas where hijacking is common-place. A number of our personnel at any given time are recent hijack victims. It is not surprising that social workers look for the first possible opportunity to remove themselves from such poorly rewarded and hazardous work. The costs of continually replacing vehicles is another drain on our resources.
In order to be effective and to minimise the risk of secondary abuse within the protective system, child protection services must be delivered by skilled people who are properly trained and supported.
Training is a notoriously vulnerable commodity in this sector - when budgets have to be cut and
services are threatened with closure, training inevitably suffers.
The consequences of all the above factors for the abused child in need of urgent intervention, or the
child at risk who could be safeguarded if skilled and timeous services were delivered, are of course
appalling. Such a child often has to depend on a new recruit who is still finding his or her way around and has had no prior training n child protection work. Just as the child begins to develop trust in the helper, he or she may leave. The case may then be unattended for months while a new staff member is recruited and orientated. The cycle may then quite soon repeat itself. Clearly this is no basis for the type of skilled, sensitive and intensive process which should be under way for every child who comes to the attention of the child protection system. Against all the odds there are pockets of quality dotted around in the present system and, fortunately, many children find their way into them. But this is a "luck of the draw" situation which is completely unacceptable when it comes to enabling vulnerable children to realise their constitutional right to protection. NGO's without dependable and sustainable funding are and never will be in a position to consistently deliver child protection services at an acceptable standard. It is of crucial importance that government implement a form of financial partnership with these NGOs which will enable them to attract, retain and develop the calibre of staff they require, and properly develop and improve their services.
4. Falling through the fnancing cracks
Child protection NGO's at present fall through all manner of cracks in current funding provision. State subsidies are discretionary and unpredictable from year to year. Both subsidies and per capita grants for children in residential child care tend to be frozen for years on end and have fallen far behind inflation. Last year, for instance, the grant per child in a children's home was increased by 10.4% after remaining unchanged for seven years! Corporate donations to child protection NGOs have also been shrinking. Both local corporates and foreign donors regard child protection services as a direct responsibility of government, and most are therefore reluctant to finance NGOs for this purpose. The centralised trusts which soak up money which used to be directly accessible to NGOs take the same approach. The NDA does not in general contribute to mainstream social welfare services as its emphasis is on grassroots development. The Lotteries Act has relegated child protection organisations, along with all other social service NGOs to the status of "charities", and the Distribution Board makes decisions about its limited contributions to child protection organisations on what seems to be an ill- informed and inconsistent basis. Meanwhile the income which used to be forthcoming from Viva, Ithuba and the Community Chest scratch card games is no more.
In short, child protection organisations are no longer able to tap a number of their traditional sources
and nothing is in place to fill the vacuum. There is no plan for consistent and sustainable financing of child protection services. We would argue that the child's constitutional right to protection requires at very least that there be such a plan. The fragmented assortment of organisations which are expected to carry out this crucial task are meanwhile spending an undesirably high proportion of their limited resources in a competitive and time-consuming chase after funding simply to survive. Some have closed their doors: many others have cut back their services and almost all are threatened.
5. ECD services - a crucial link in the child abuse prevention prevention chain
We know from research worldwide that good Early Childhood Development programmes help prevent all manner of social evils. They give children in socio-economically deprived circumstances a headstart and enable them to benefit more fully from formal education once they enter the school
system. They ensure a safe environment for children who would otherwise be uncared for or receive
inadequate care while their parents are employed - and we know that a lack of proper care and
supervision is often associated with child rape and other forms of sexual abuse. We know also that
good ECD provision enables families to break out of poverty. This is true both at the level of the
parent who receives backup enabling him or her to earn a living, and of the child whose health and
development are enhanced in ways which will have ripple effects throughout childhood and into
adulthood. ECD interventions to promote self-esteem and social skills also lay foundations which later help prevent children and adolescents from abusing younger or more vulnerable children, a
phenomenon which is causing widespread concern at present. Further, the ECD sector is a creator of
jobs, especially for women, and a promoter of family and community self-reliance.
It has long been recognised that the rapid expansion of present limited ECD provision is of enormous strategic importance in protecting children from abuse and neglect and promoting their overall health, wellbeing and development. This recognition is embodied in any number of policy documents. It is therefore a matter of the utmost concern that the Department of Education has resolved the matter of its ECD commitment in a manner which in effect only addresses the so-called Reception Year, without the remainder of this responsibility having been allocated anywhere. This, as has been pointed out by ECD experts, leaves most of the big picture as regards preschool care and development out of the equation. ECD services to the disadvantaged majority of children thus continue to be left to community initiatives and NGOs with, if they are lucky, a little assistance from the Department of Social Development. Such assistance is an entirely discretionary matter determined by each provincial department. The subsidies in question are not a financially viable basis for running these services, which as a result are far too dependent on fees from parents. The provincial Departments of Social Development have a combined budgetary allocation of less than 1% for ECD services. The combined provincial Departments of Education also allocate less that 1% to ECD. This lack of adequate public financing results in a situation where the poorest children who are most in need can often not be accommodated, and in the end the service becomes unsustainable. My own organisation is in the process of withdrawing from four ECD centres in disadvantaged areas which it cannot afford to sustain. We are painfully aware that this will remove important preventive capacity from the communities in question. We know that this is a situation in which an increasing number of services are finding themselves. ECD, despite all our policy commitments, is busy falling through the cracks between the education and social development sectors. Crucial infrastructure is being lost and many more children will suffer all manner of infringements of their rights, including sexual abuse, unless there is proper planning and systematic intersectoral budgeting to halt this process.
6. A BIG weapon n the fight against child sexual abuse
I am going to end with a plug for the Basic Income Grant. My organisation is a strong supporter of the lobby by the Alliance for Children's Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS). While poverty on its own is not a cause of child sexual abuse it facilitates the occurrence of such abuse and makes it more difficult for children who are caught up in it to move out and to access protection. The following are just a few of the ways in which an assurance of a basic income for every family could help address child sexual abuse:
• It would help prevent children from entering prostitution as a means of survival for themselves and/or their families. This would be of particular significance in child-headed households and other households affected by HTV/AIDS.
• It would enable women and their children who are dependent for food and shelter on perpetrators of sexual abuse, toleave these men and and/or report them to the authorities.
• It would promote micro-enterprises. Widespread unemployment is a contributory factor to child sexual abuse.
• It would reduce the demoralisation and despair which are generated by severe poverty, by providing people with leverage to emerge from absolute poverty. Child sexual abuse is one of many manifestations of demoralisation.
There is really no end to the issues that need attention if we are to tackle the factors in our society
which are combining to generate the epidemic of sexual abuse of children in our society. But
systematic planning and budgeting for key children's services, and a universal cushion against the
ravages of absolute poverty would make a substantial difference.
JOHANNESBURG CHILD WELFARE SOCIETY