A safe-house mother struggling for months to get social grants for her foster children says she is desperate after being turned away empty-handed from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) office in Wynberg.
Elsie du Plessis is the founder of Miracle Kidz, a Constantia safe house and is registered with the Department of Social Development and is an NPO.
She fosters six children – two of them have cerebral palsy – and she bakes biscuits to make ends meet.
She said 2013 was the last time she received grants for any of the children.
Ms Du Plessis said she had gone to Sassa’s Wynberg office last week full of hope because a manager had phoned assuring her she could help if Ms Du Plessis visited the office with all the correct paperwork.
However, instead of getting help, Ms Du Plessis said an official had been rude to her and she had left, upset.
Ms Du Plessis has been taking in babies and toddlers since 1997 many of those she cares for have suffered abuse, neglect and abandonment.
“We do not only see to it that they are fed, clothed and educated, but also provide a loving temporary home to them, tend to their illnesses, broken hearts and spirits,” said Ms Du Plessis.
She said she had had great difficulty getting social assistance for the children she cares for because of red tape and bureaucratic bungling: the foster care order for one of the children had lapsed in 2013 and only been renewed in July 2016 because they could not get the birth certificate from the parents.
Another child, she said, had been in her foster care since 2015, but she had been able to apply for a foster grant in 2016 because the child’s birth certificate had been outstanding.
One of the two children with cerebral palsy is bedridden, dependent on pain medication, needs to be turned every two hours and has to be fed through a tube in the tummy.
Ms Du Plessis has two full-time helpers and one who works from Tuesdays until Thursdays. Everything is paid for through much fund-raising.
They do receive some sponsorship for education related things such as gymnastics and pre-school.
The second child with cerebral palsy was abandoned at the age of one year and four months and is now 4.
Ms Du Plessis said she had reapplied at Sassa for foster care for all children in July last year. Then earlier this year he had gone to Sassa again with the required application forms, her identification, court orders, and whatever birth certificates she could get.
She had then learned from Sassa that one of their staff had given her the wrong forms: the two children with cerebral palsy needed care dependency forms.
“This also meant getting a medical record and having to wait until the child’s next appointment with a doctor at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. It can take months. But I did it,” said Ms Du Plessis.
She said a Sassa official at the Wynberg office told her they could not process the two care dependency documents while the other four foster applications were pending. But the manager who had phoned her last week and asked her to come into the office had told her that that was not the case.
“She gave me hope. And so, with a song in my heart and a big smile on my face, I greeted the person at the desk,” Ms Du Plessis said.
At the Wynberg office, she had asked to speak to the manager who had spoken to over the phone earlier that morning, but the clerk had mocked her for mispronouncing the woman’s name and told her no such person worked at Sassa.
After a long wait, Ms Du Plessis said, a more friendly assistant had helped her with a grant application receipt form. However that form could not be processed because of the other outstanding foster applications.
Now Ms Du Plessis is still in the dark as to when her application will be finalised so she can keep helping the children in her care.
To date, she said, no one from Sassa Wynberg had contacted her with any feedback about her social grant applications.
After meeting with Ms Du Plessis on Monday morning, the Bulletin went to the SASSA offices in Wynberg. They were not easy to find but, after asking various people, we were pointed to an entrance in a building at the William Herbert sports grounds.
The manager, Ebrahim Hendricks, said the offices were temporary, but they had been there since September 2014.
He said he could not speak to media but confirmed that a foster grant was R920 a month while a care dependency grant was R1 600. He said that in the case of a mentally or physically challenged child, the foster parent would get both grants.
In the case of the latter, a medical certificate was needed from one of Sassa’s listed doctors.
Mr Hendricks said Sassa was working towards paying all outstanding grants in July this year. He did know of Ms Du Plessis’s application and said she would be paid out in full for everything owed to her, which was a large amount.
The Bulletin sent questions to Sassa’s media office at about 1pm on Monday June 5. This was acknowledged by Lisa Kindo, on behalf of Sassa spokeswoman Shivani Wahab.
On Tuesday June 6, at 3.30pm, they asked for Ms Du Plessis’s ID number, but no further comment was forthcoming by the time this edition went to print.
For more information about Miracle Kidz, call 072 761 9301.