Income and Social GrantsIncome and Social Grants

Foster Child Grants

Author/s: Katharine Hall
Date: October 2016


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

Department of Social Development (1997-2002) SOCPEN database- special request. Pretoria: DSD; National Treasury (2005) Provincial Budgets and Expenditure Review 2001/02-2007/08. Pretoria: National Treasury (2008) Estimates of National Expenditure 2008. Pretoria: Treasury; South Africa Social Security Agency (2008-2016) SOCPEN database- special request, Pretoria:SASSA. 

  1. SOCPEN figures are taken from mid-year (June/July), to coincide with data collection for the annual General Household Survey
  2. For trends from 1998 to 2009 (April figures), see the Social Grants link on the home page
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 R890 per month from April 2016. 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. However, it is increasingly used to provide financial support to caregivers of children who are orphaned and has effectively been used as a poverty alleviation grant for orphans. The appropriateness and effectiveness of this approach was questioned as far back as 2003.1

The number of FCGs remained stable for many years while foster care was applicable mainly to children in the traditional child protection system. Its rapid expansion since 2003 coincides 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 associated grant. Over the following 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 2009 the foster care system itself was struggling to keep pace with the number of FCGs due to the required initial investigations and reports by social workers, court-ordered placements through a children’s court, and additional two-yearly social worker reviews and court-ordered extensions. Neither the welfare services nor the courts had the capacity to keep up with the two-yearly extensions. SASSA, which administers the grants, is not allowed to pay the FCG without a valid court order or extension order. Over 110,000 FCGs lapsed in the two years between April 2009 and March 2011 because of backlogs in the extensions of court orders.

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 No policy solution was 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.

Since 2011, the number of new FCGs appears to have 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 of court orders had expired representing over 60% of all foster care placements.4 The grants remained in payment only because of the court order which prevented them from lapsing. In March 2016, 470,000 FCGs were paid each month to caregivers of children in foster care, down from 500,000 in March 2015. The FCG was back to 2009 levels.

Nearly half of all grants go to just two provinces: KwaZulu-Natal (107,000) and Eastern Cape (110,000). These are also provinces with large numbers of maternal and double orphans.
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 rising orphaning rates. The systemic problems which caused FCGs to lapse will be addressed through legislative amendment, which will need to clarify the eligibility criteria for foster care and the FCG.
SOCPEN (the administrative database of the Department of Social Development) records the Foster Child Grants paid out per month according to the number of children and their caregivers (beneficiaries). Figures are taken from the daily report on the last working day in July.
There has never been a published review of the SOCPEN database, and the extent of the limitations of validity or reliability of the data has not been quantified. However, it is regularly used by the Department of Social Development and other government bodies to monitor grant take-up.

 1Meintjes 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.

2Hall 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.

 3Centre for Child Law v Minister of Social Development and Others, North Gauteng High Court, Case no. 21726/11
4Department 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. December 2014.