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The Cost of the Children’s Bill

Author: Conrad Barberton
Date: 2006-09-01

Download the full report.

This project is an activity-based costing of the Children’s Bill, and is comprised of the analysis of four costing scenarios. The report finds that, at the time of costing, the provision for children at risk was under-funded for existing obligations, regardless of the further provision envisaged by the Bill. For this reason, the report called for care in prioritising services, since capacity to deliver can only expand at about 10 per cent per year. The report also calls for the government to make full use of profit and non-profit organisations for delivery, given the limited capacity of the government to deliver.

According to the Children’s Bill, it is the responsibility of government to deliver a wide range of services to support children at risk or in need of care. The implementation of any national policy is costly, and given the need for substantial systemic and capacity development relating to children at risk, focus is drawn to high implementation costs. Given the resource constraints, it would be impossible to fund the Bill in its entirety; a deep understanding of the core issues and trade-offs is required to support a phased approach, based on the careful evaluation of priorities.

The method used in this analysis included extensive interaction with, and contribution from, the government departments responsible for implementation. The study uses an activity-based costing method, which aims to cost services as a product of the cost of inputs and the quantity demanded thereof. The study aimed to cost implementation for the period 2005/06 to 2010/11.

Four scenarios were developed in a matrix, considering high or low options under the Norms and standards assumption, and Implementation or Full cost options under the Demand for services variable.

What this ultimately provides is a comparative look at what the status quo costs, as well as the cost implications proposed by the Bill (Full Cost).

Key issues raised by the costing include:

  • The need to increase the number of social workers and auxiliary social workers.
  • The significant disparities in budget allocations for child welfare across provinces, which has repercussions for the implementation of the Bill.
  • Adoption rates appear to be declining. This is concerning as it is the most cost effective alternative to welfare.
  • The Bill proposes an alternative care order that needs to be reviewed in court, substantially adding to the required activities and costs.

The study found that prioritisation and planning based on sound information would be required to guide the delivery of services to children. At the time of writing, the obligations far outstripped available budgets, meaning that existing under-funding would only get worse as obligations were added.

Training costs are also analysed – costs that form the high-cost initial roll-out and require re-prioritisation of funds –as success hinges on this critical capacity-building link. Budget constraints could not allow a full roll out immediately, but rather one based on phased expansion over time.

The study concludes that, due to resource constraints, the implementation would need to be strategically phased. The potential for coordination failure due to the complexity and scope of the Bill was analysed, and the need for inter-departmental coordination emphasized. The impact of HIV/AIDS on the demand for services is also discussed.

Finally, the report strongly advises that the government bring in the for-profit, non-profit and voluntary sectors, as government’s capacity, given resource constraints, does not come close to meeting the need. Familiarity with the overall quantum of what is required, how these costs are divided between activities, and the contents of the Bill is a must for all role players.