Mixed messages on alternative care causing more harm than good
We know, without any doubt, that a supportive family is the best environment for a child. If children are loved, respected and secure then they have an opportunity to thrive, regardless of the type of family or its social and economic standing. Research proves this, but it is also something that we know instinctively. We do not need to be told that a family is important to a child’s development.
Therefore, all of us should be deeply concerned about the increasing pressure that families are under in South Africa. Substance abuse and sexual violence are on the rise and the safety net of the extended family is under tremendous strain. We see this in our communities, and we read about it every day in the news.
Family breakdown has become a familiar feature of our social landscape. We are seeing more children removed from their families and placed in “alternative care” within a foster home or a Child and Youth Care Centre. This is an absolute tragedy, and there is a responsibility for government, civil society and communities, you and me to do something about it. When a child loses parental care, it affects all of us who look to a brighter future for South Africa.
We are complicit if we stand by and do nothing. At SOS Children’s Villages, our dream is for all children to belong to a family in which they are loved, respected and secure. However, we accept the current reality that many children are neglected, abandoned and abused, and in need of alternative care. The caregivers provide constant support to children who have experienced upheaval in their lives. Given this necessity, we strongly promote the provision of family -like care as a suitable option.
SOS Children’s Villages pioneered this approach 70 years ago, and has since adapted the model across South Africa providing a family home within a village, for children who have lost their parental care. The model is in line with South Africa’s Children’s Act, and influenced by the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.
A key principle is stability for the children. The caregivers at SOS Children’s Villages do not work in shifts; instead, they provide constant support to children who have experienced upheaval in their lives. Siblings stay together in the same family home, and every effort is made to integrate the villages into surrounding communities.
As with other forms of alternative care, this model is not without its faults, and requires regular scrutiny and evaluation to ensure its efficacy, in the best interests of the children. There should always be a focus on quality and improvement.
Every child has a right to a supportive family environment. This means, among other things,greater investment in strengthening families and communities. It also means individual South Africans playing their part in standing up against the abuse and neglect of children, and supporting quality alternative care in a family-like setting. This is how we ensure a better future for all of us.
But for now, there is an overwhelming need for suitable alternative care for children separated from their families, and we should strive to re-create as best we can the components of a loving and supportive family in our Child and Youth Care Centres.
SOS Children’s Villages South Africa is passionate about improving the lives of children who have had difficult upbringings.