South Africa AIDS orphans overwhelm social work services
Lora Doman has 450 cases to keep track of: A daunting challenge typical amng those in social work services providing care and protection of South Africa AIDS orphans.
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While South Africa has Africa’s greatest concentration of HIV patients and AIDS orphans, it also has the best private and governmental social services to meet the challenge. But even so, experts say, South Africa’s social workers are swamped.Skip to next paragraph
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“Currently, we have 12,500 registered social workers, who care for all sectors – the elderly, the disabled, as well as for children – and the estimates are that we are only reaching a third of all the children in need,” says Lucy Jamieson, a senior advocacy coordinator at The Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town. “We’re far short of the 16,000 child social workers that we need, and with the number of students we are currently graduating with social work degrees, we will not achieve the [necessary] number of social workers in the next 10 years. The solution has to be more radical.”
Many social scientists believe that countries like South Africa simply have to empower more professions – early childhood development counselors, social auxiliary workers, child and youth-care workers, community development workers – to get involved in the tasks that usually fall exclusively on the shoulders of social workers.
By killing a family’s breadwinner, AIDS puts millions of families into poverty, Ms. Jamieson says. But one possible remedy is for community development workers in poor townships to provide job training for grandmothers who become responsible for the orphaned grandchildren left behind, so they earn better incomes to support their enlarged families. Auxiliary child-care workers, normally given smaller administrative tasks, could be enabled to do home visits, Jamieson adds, and lighten the load on social workers.
This load is unquestionably heavy. “I have met social workers with over 2,000 cases, and 200 to 300 cases is quite common,” she says.
In theory, the South African government is already well on the way to solving its problems, with some radical new ideas embodied in its recently passed Children’s Act. But in reality, South Africa is standing still. Citing insufficient tax revenues, the South African government has yet to implement the Children’s Act.
The state lottery was used to augment salaries for social workers for a one-year period, and Doman’s $1,200-a-month pay went up to $2,000. But next year, salaries will go back down.
When an emergency case comes up, such as the abandonment of baby boy Umfile in a Roodepoort cemetery last year, Doman’s first call is to a foster mother like Eleanor Dustin. A white, middle-class South African, Ms. Dustin renovated her home to become a shelter, The Lighthouse, for abandoned children.
“It’s about the child,” says Mrs. Dustin, holding the now healthy Umfile in her living room, during a recent home visit by Doman. Besides Umfile, Dustin has more than a dozen abandoned babies – most of whose parents are unknown, but assumed to be HIV-positive.
Dustin has taken the unusual step of putting a hole in the brick wall surrounding her spacious house in the upscale North Riding neighborhood and installing a “Moses basket,” where parents can leave infants anonymously. An alarm goes off in Dustin’s house to alert her when a child has been dropped off in the basket.
As the name “Moses basket” suggests, Dustin is a religious woman, and her faith helps her to keep going. “I do get tired,” she says, but “it’s through His grace that we’re able to do it.”
With nearly 43 percent of all South Africans living below the poverty line – defined as less than 400 rand ($53) per month – it is perhaps not surprising that many of the AIDS orphans in Doman’s caseload become financial footballs to be kicked around by family members. South Africa gives “child care” grants of $30 a month per child to poor families. And there are “foster care” grants of $90 per child per month for children who have lost at least one parent. Nearly 9 million South African children receive child-support grants, and the case of Rose Sesotho indicates just what a source of tension they can be within impoverished families.