NGOs delivering child protection services on behalf of the government have reached “breaking point” financially as rising operational costs outstrip stagnant subsidies.

Subsidies for child protection NGOs in the Western Cape have remained at the same level for the past five years, the Western Cape Child Protection Alliance said on Monday. Because of rising costs and inflation, this meant a cut in real terms of between 20 to 25%.

Child protection week started on Sunday.

“It’s the worst it has ever been,” said Ronel van Zyl, director of social services programmes at Badisa. Ending violence against children required behavioural change at an individual and societal level, a complex process requiring resources and input from trained professionals. But as the gap between government and NGO salaries widened, NGOs lost senior staff.

“We are increasingly dependent on volunteers,” Nieuwoudt said, “who step in at 4pm when the paid social workers go home. These people are helping the community to tackle violence and we cannot even take them out of their own poverty.”

The alliance — which represents more than 70% of all the NGO child protection workers in the province — warned as financial reserves ran dry, NGOs could no longer deliver services at the level required by the Children’s Act. “Several offices have already closed, and more will follow suit as many are already running at a deficit,” it said.

Childline in the Western Cape receives over 1,000 calls a month on their toll-free 116 number. “Without the services provided by NGOs, thousands of children will be left without access to any kind of child protection service,” said Ricki Fransman, director of Childline Western Cape.

South Africa had a comprehensive legal framework aimed at upholding and protecting the rights of children, including the National Child Care and Protection Policy, that envisages a transformation of the model of care where investment in programmes to prevent violence, like Risiha, should reduce the demand for child protection services to support and treat children who have experienced violence.

Lucy Jamieson, senior researcher at the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, said: “Investment has been inadequate, and the pandemic created additional social pressures that drive violence — hence the demand for child protection services is increasing, not decreasing.”

Last year child protection organisations in the province made a huge impact, attending to 51,742 cases of child neglect or abuse, according to the alliance. They were responsible for 21,834 children in foster care, 860 children in child and youth care centres, 816 adoption cases and 6,525 children in drop-in centres.

A failure to invest in the safety of children would impede South Africa’s economic potential for generations to come, warned the alliance. “All line departments that provide services to children are under pressure and have had their budgets cut. The health sector, the education sector — everyone needs more funding.”


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