Thursday, December 3, 2015

Saving Children is an Exercise in Futility if the Child Care Act is not used by Social Workers and Commissioners of Child Welfar

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20 December 2006

A typical example of how the Social worker and Commissioner of Child Welfare ignore the Child Care Act 

After years of fighting for children’s rights, particularly to ensure that Section 28 of the Constitution is adhered to by the officials responsible for children in our country, Dianne Lang is still battling and losing the fight for children’s interest to be taken into account on the very first levels of service.

On 16 December 2007, The Dianne Lang Children’s Home Supervisor, Diana Jagers, was telephoned by Sister Essex of the Wilhelm Stahl Hospital in Middelburg at 3pm to say that an abandoned baby had been brought in by the police.  The hospital had no place for the baby and that they had been instructed by the Senior Social Worker, Mr Johan Pienaar, of the Department of Social Development, to telephone the Children’s Home to care for the child until Tuesday, 18th December 2007.

The baby girl, aged 5 months, was brought to the Children’s Home by Police Officer SI Ngubentombi, who had also been instructed to bring the child to the home by Mr Pienaar.  The police officer stated that the baby had been brought to the police station by her father who was under the influence of alcohol.  The father stated that he was unable to care for the child and that the whereabouts of the mother were unknown.   They had been living on a farm and he had brought the baby into town after he could not find the mother anywhere.

The Children’s Home may not take any child into care without a Form 4 signed either by a social worker, a police officer or an officer of the court.  Diana Jagers attempted to contact Johan Pienaar and Pumza Mobo, both social workers of the Department of Social Development, but was unsuccessful in reaching them.   Police Officer SI Ngubentomi then completed and signed the Form 4. 

Hasty arrangements were made to have a supermarket opened on a Sunday afternoon to purchase bottles, nappies and baby formulae. 

On Sunday evening, 16th December 2007, the father of the baby arrived to tell Diana Jagers that he had found the mother in one of the townships of Middelburg.  The mother was also under the influence of alcohol.  She told him that both of them were to accompany her to the Commissioner of Child Welfare on Tuesday morning as she could not hand the child to them in the condition they were in and that the child has been placed in her care until Tuesday.  

On Tuesday, 18 December 2007, Diana Jagers, took the baby, Asemahle van der Berg and a staff member Emmanuel Moyana to the court.  The parents of Asemale were there.  This is the procedure according to the Child Care Act.  Diana Jagers phoned Johan Pienaar and told him that she was at court and he informed her that the procedure was correct and that the Commissioner would inform the social workers what to do.

After waiting for more than an hour, Diana Jagers was informed that the Commissioner of Child Welfare was on leave and that Mr Mata would stand in as Commissioner.  She requested to see him at once.  She explained the reason she was there and he told her to hand the Form 4 to the Clerk of the Court to open a case file.  He would then review the file and make a judgement.   The Clerk of the Court told her that she would contact Diana as soon as Mr Mata had signed the Form 5 granting a 2 week extension for investigation.

At noon, the Clerk of the Court contacted Diana Jagers to say that Mr Mata was not going to grant an order because the social worker had not signed the Form 4 and that there was no social worker’s report.  Diana then took the Form 4 to Johan Pienaar, who looked at the Form, wrote that the case had been referred to his department on it, and told Diana to return it to the Clerk of the Court, which she did.

At 17h00, Pumza Mobo, another Department of Social Development social worker came to the children’s home to interview the mother and father.  She said that Mr Mata had instructed her to do an investigation before he could make a ruling.  She wrote down some notes and phoned Mr Mata.  He told her to come to him.

At 18h00, Pumza Mobo arrived back at the Children’s Home with a hand written note from Mr Mata on a blank piece of paper, stating that the baby was to be handed back to the mother.   This was not a court order, but a note written on a piece of paper.

The correct procedure is for the magistrate (Commissioner of Child Welfare) to bring the parents, the child and their legal representatives to court.    The commissioner is supposed to allow the social worker to read his or her report under oath.  Further witnesses may be called on behalf of the state (the policeman and the hospital staff) where after the parents will be given an opportunity to present their evidence. 

Parties have the right to know what is in the social worker’s report.

If a social worker has not been able to do a report in time, a Form 5 is issued for a 2 week period, during which time, the social worker is given time to do a thorough investigation of the circumstances of the child.   Please note that the social workers were aware of this abandoned baby for a number of days before it came before the Commissioner of Child Welfare but since it was a long weekend ….

None of this happened.

The report of the social worker consisted of a few questions put to the parents and her reporting back to the magistrate via a telephone conversation.   When the Social Worker went back to the Commissioner of Welfare, it could not have been to court, otherwise the letter would have been a court order.  The court order was collected by Diana Jagers from the Clerk of the Court on 20th December 2007, date stamped 20/12/07, two days AFTER the removal of the child.

The reason given on the Court Order returning the baby to the parents states:  ‘They did not appear in Court.  They gave explanation to the social worker P Mobo about what happened’.

Our Constitution and Child Care Act only means something if it is implemented correctly.   When the Department of Social Development send memos to NGO’s working with children to attend updates of the amendment of the Children’s Bill, when they themselves do not have any idea of how to implement the current Child Care Act or Constitution, it would be laughable if it were not so tragic.  Needless to say, these meetings are cancelled at the last minute, when NGO’s fail to hear where the venue is to be held.

I never wanted to be an activist for Children’s Rights.  I was happy to just take care of those abandoned, abused, neglected and orphaned children.  You, the Department of Social Development, turned me into a political activist, when you wanted to remove the children from me and put them back on the street, where they would die of hunger, hypothermia, abuse and AIDS.

I would not have had to take on this job, if you had been doing something about our children. 

How do the Department of Social Development see me?  Do they see me as an interfering body that just shows them up?  Do they not see the good in our project, the determination and motivation to make a difference to the lives of the children of SA so that we have a future that is good?   Is it just easier to criticise, condemn and denounce those who want to make a difference?  Have I shown people how uncompassionate our society is and how uncaring our officials in the DOSD are? 

It is a crying shame that the world does not see how it really is for our children.  It is a disgrace that our President, Ministers and our Members of the Executive Council do not see this, do not respond to our letters, our telephone calls, our complaints and do nothing about it other than to continue to allow their personnel to persecute those who are caring for the children.

What kind of a future do we have when we do not care for our children and when we give our abandoned babies back to drunken parents without finding out from the witnesses what happened, because a five month old baby cannot speak for herself?  How tragic that the best interests of the child is so easily swept aside.

Dianne Lang © 2008
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