COVID-19 has highlighted and amplified structural inequalities; drawing attention to issues of racism, poverty, xenophobia as well as arguably ineffective government policies and procedures. In South Africa, the pandemic and the resultant national lockdown has highlighted the shortcomings in the protection and care of children. Children in alternative care are particularly at risk as a result of disrupted and uncoordinated service delivery. Authors focus their discussion on the necessity of a systemic response to child welfare, including a coordinated approach by policy makers, government departments and child welfare systems to address the structural factors at the root of inequality and inadequate, unacceptable care. This is essential not only during COVID-19 but also in pre- and post-pandemic context.