Income poverty & grantsIncome poverty & grants

Foster Child Grants

Author/s: Katharine Hall
Date: November 2019


This indicator shows the number of children who are accessing the Foster Child Grant (FCG) in South Africa, as recorded in the SOCPEN administrative data system of the SASSA.


Data Source

South Africa Social Security Agency (2008-2019) SOCPEN database - extracted data on child grants by special request. Pretoria:SASSA. 

Notes SOCPEN figures are taken from the end of March each year (the financial year-end).
The FCG is available to foster parents who have a child placed in their care by an order of the court. It is a non-contributory cash grant valued at R1,000 per month from April 2019. The grant was initially intended as financial support for children removed from their families and placed in foster care for protection in situations of abuse or neglect. The relatively large value of the grant, compared to the CSG, is justified on the basis that the child is technically a ward of the state, and the state is therefore directly responsible for all the child’s needs. However, the FCG has increasingly been used to provide financial support to caregivers of children who are orphaned and has effectively been used as a poverty alleviation grant for orphans in kinship care. The appropriateness and effectiveness of this approach was questioned as far back as 2003, particularly because many children live with kin, whether or not their parents are alive.1

The number of FCGs remained stable for many years when foster care applied mainly to children who were in need of care and protection because of abuse or neglect, or because they were awaiting adoption. Its rapid expansion since 2003 coincided with the rise in HIV-related orphaning and an implied policy change by the Department of Social Development, which from 2003 started encouraging family members (particularly grandmothers) caring for orphaned children to apply for foster care and the FCG. During the subsequent five years, the number of FCGs increased by over 50,000 per year as orphans were brought into the foster care system. The increases were greatest in provinces with large numbers of orphaned children: the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

However, by 2010 more than 500,000 FCGs were in payment and the foster care system was struggling to keep pace with the numbers due to the required initial investigations and reports by social workers, court-ordered placements, and additional two-yearly social worker reviews and court-ordered extensions. SASSA is not allowed to pay the FCG without a valid court order or extension order, and more than 110,000 FCGs lapsed between April 2009 and March 2011 because of backlogs in the extensions of court orders.2

In 2011 a court-ordered settlement stipulated that the foster care court orders that had expired – or that were going to expire in the following two years – must be deemed to have been extended until 8 June 2013. This effectively placed a moratorium on the lapsing of these FCGs. As a temporary solution, social workers could extend orders administratively until December 2014, by which date a comprehensive legal solution should have been found to prevent qualifying families from losing their grants in future.3 Yet no policy solution had been developed by the 2014 cut-off date. Instead, the Department of Social Development sought (and received) an urgent court order extending the date to the end of 2017, which was then extended until the end of November 2019. At this time, a legal solution was still not found and thousands of children in foster care stood to lose their grants. A further application for an extension was made, and the Department was given one more year to define the legal solution, draft the relevant legislative changes and submit them to parliament for consideration.  

Since 2012 the number of FCGs has declined, and there has been a substantial increase in the number of grants that terminate at the end of each year, when children turn 18. At the end of 2014, 300,000 court orders had expired, representing more than 60% of all foster care placements.
4 The grants remained in payment only because of a High Court order which prevented them from lapsing. In March 2019, 386,000 FCGs were paid to caregivers of children in foster care, substantially down from 2012 when 537,000 grants were in payment. The FCG is therefore now back to below 2007 levels. The most dramatic drop has been in KwaZulu-Natal, where the number of FCGs fell by 47%, from 142,000 to 75,000. 

It is not possible to calculate a take-up rate for the FCG as there is no accurate record of how many children are eligible for placement in foster care – and indeed, no clear guidelines about how it should be targeted in the context of high orphaning rates. If all double orphans were to be placed in foster care, this would require around 470,000 foster care placements, excluding those who need to be placed in foster care because they are awaiting adoption or have been removed from their families for reasons of abuse or neglect. This would once again send the number of children in foster care well above half a million – which the system has not previously been able to support.

The systemic problems that caused FCGs to lapse and reduced social worker capacity to respond to children in need of protection services will need to be addressed through a legislative amendment to clarify the eligibility criteria for foster care. An option still under consideration is to provide a larger CSG for orphaned children living with kin (colloquially called the “CSG top-up”). This would create inequalities in grant values between different categories of children living in the same levels of poverty but may alleviate the pressure on welfare services caused by high foster care caseloads.

An amendment to the Social Assistance Act was tabled in Parliament in April 2018, providing for a CSG top-up for orphaned children living with relatives. However, the Social Assistance Amendment Bill had not yet been introduced or considered by Parliament by the end of 2019. The CSG top-up approach would give orphaned children living with relatives access to a larger child grant, around half-way between the value of the CSG and the FCG, without first having to go through a foster care placement.

1 Meintjes H, Budlender D, Giese S & Johnson L (2003) Children 'in Need of Care' or in Need of Cash? Questioning Social Security Provisions for Orphans in the Context of the South African AIDS Pandemic. Joint working paper of the Children's Institute & the Centre for Actuarial Research, UCT.
2 Hall K & Proudlock P (2011) Orphaning and the Foster Child Grant: A Return to the ‘Care or Cash’ Debate. Children Count brief, July 2011. Cape Town: Children’s Institute, UCT;
Proudlock P (2012) The Case of Child SS and 1.1 Million Others like Him – Orphan Children in Need of Social Assistance. Paper presented at “Towards Carnegie3: Strategies to Overcome Poverty & Inequality” conference, 3 – 7 September 2012, UCT;
Skelton A (2012) The Story of 110 000 Foster Child Grants that Stopped Being Paid in 2010/2011. Paper presented at “Towards Carnegie3: Strategies to Overcome Poverty & Inequality” conference, 3 – 7 September 2012, UCT.
3 Centre for Child Law v Minister of Social Development and Others, North Gauteng High Court, Case no. 21726/11.
4 Department of Social Development (2014) Annexure to urgent application to the High Court In: Re: Centre for Child Law v Minister of Social Development and others. Unreported case 21726/110. December 2014.
5 For more detail on the foster care crisis and the proposed CSG top-up, see: Hall K, Skelton A & Sibanda S (2016) Social assistance for orphaned children living with family. In: Delany A, Jehoma S & Lake L (eds) South African Child Gauge 2016. Cape Town: Children’s Institute, UCT.

SOCPEN (the administrative database of the Department of Social Development) records the number of Foster Child Grants paid out every month. The figures are taken from daily reports for 31 March of each year, which is the end of the government budget cycle. For 2007 (the earliest year with available data from SASSA) the numbers are taken from the end of July.
Information on social grants is derived from the Social Pensions (SOCPEN) national database maintained by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), which was established in 2004 to disburse social grants for the Department of Social Development. Prior to this, the administration of social grants and maintenance of the SOCPEN database were managed directly by the department and its provincial counterparts.

There has never been a published, systematic review of the social grants database, and the limitations in terms of validity or reliability of the data have not been quantified. However, this database is regularly used by the department and other government bodies to monitor grant take-up, while the computerised system, which records every application and grant payment, minimises the possibility of human error. Take-up data and selected reports are available from the department on request throughout the year, and are also published every month on the SASSA website. Children Count provides grant take-up figures as at the end of March.