News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Tuesday July 16th 2019

Children’s Act throws juvenile care centres into a quandry

The future for juveniles at the Ottery Youth Care and Training Centre - here rehearsing for a Shakespeare play - as well as those at 17 other such centres across the country, remains uncertain in the wake of Children's Act stipulations that they be transferred to the Department of Social Development. Photo: Yasser Booley/WCN


The future of hundreds of children placed in the care of the state remains unknown as government appears to have no plan to transfer Youth Care Centres from the Department of Basic Education to Social Development as stipulated by the Children’s Act.

The Youth Care Centres, of which there are 18 across the country catering for children under 18 who came from broken homes and needed state protection, as well as children who had broken the law.

But legal experts say the transfer of such centres from the Department of Basic Education to the Department of Social Development, which was supposed to take place between 2010 and 2012, has been chaotic.

At least one Youth Care Centere – the Ottery Youth Care and Training Centre in Cape Town – is facing closure, with the 62 youth there to be farmed out to other Department of Social Development institution.

But the Justice Alliance of South Africa (Jasa) has announced its intention to fight the closure of the Ottery centre as, according to Jasa director John Smyth QC, government had failed to consult with the relevant stakeholders.

He said their argument would be almost similar to those who successfully opposed the Western Cape Education Department’s intended closure of 17 schools in the province.

He said the Ottery centre, together with at least four other Youth Care Centres in the province, were set for closure by next year.

If the centres closed, he feared the youth were in danger of being placed in a facility alongside convicted criminals.

He said according to the Childen’s Act, the centres were theoretically transferred from the Department of Basic Education to the Department of Social Development between 2010 and 2012.

But there seemed to be “a confusion” between the two departments as to who should take responsibility for running and managing the institutions.

Morgan Courtenay, attorney at Pretoria University’s Child Law Centre, concurred with Smyth, pointing out that the government lacked a national plan or provincial frameworks to ensure a successful transfer.

He described the transfer of the schools across the country thus far as “ad hoc” indicating that some facilities were “being closed arbitrary” while others were being built.

He said a national plan to deal with the distribution of youth care centres was also lacking as there was an “over concentration” of such centres in the Western Cape while other provinces, such as Limpopo, had none.

There was also no assessment plan in place to determine the needs of the children being transferred.

He said the transfer could result in “white elephants” as the Department of Basic Education was only transferring the functions of the schools and not the physical buildings which could remain unoccupied.

Despite repeated questions and calls for clarity from the national Departments of Basic Education and Social Development over a two week period, no responses were obtained.

The Western Cape Department of Social Development declined to comment on the closure of the Ottery Youth Care Centre while the Western Cape Department of Education confirmed the transfer, saying would take the needs of the children into account. – Francis Hweshe


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