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Child and Youth Care in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Innovative Responses to the Challenges of Poverty and AIDS

Merle Allsopp and Zeni Thumbadoo of South Africa's National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) spoke last month at a Conference in New York


“ ... we must do anything and everything to protect children, to give them priority and a better future. This ... is a call to action and a call to embrace a new morality that puts children where they belong — at the heart of all agendas.”
— Graca Machel, Report to the UN on the impact of armed conflict on children.

When South Africa’s democratic government was elected in 1994, it was faced with the formidable task of finding ways to nurture, develop and protect children whose growth environments had been distorted by the political, social and economic policies of apartheid and colonization.

Many years of political violence, migratory labour, forced removals as well as rapid urbanisation resulting from the abolition of influx control have severely impacted on the lives of children. During the years from 1976 when children became more prominent in the struggle for liberation, they were further subjected to gross human rights violations in a state-based movement against them. A culture of violence has become pervasive, and widespread poverty and lack of resources of all kinds have forced children into commercial exploitation at the expense of their development. Many of these problems have been further exacerbated by the rapid transition of South Africa into a globalizing economy. Inequality between population groups is considerable, with a widening gap between rich and poor. And South Africans are now faced with the devastating impact of the AIDS pandemic in the face of all the existing challenges.

The land of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu embraces great violence and great compassion, great greed and great generosity, great hardships and great luxury. And eight years into the democratic government, its rulers themselves display great extremes of wisdom and prudence in respect of certain policies and short sightedness on others.

It is our wish today to demonstrate how the field of child and youth care is contributing to the development of our country of extremes; how the profession which emerged in Europe and North America is being adapted in the African context, and hopefully will as a result add to the global diversity and richness of the child and youth care profession.


But first a little more of the context within which child and youth services are being rendered.

Key Poverty Indicators for South African Children

 - Six out of every 10 children live in poverty, mostly in rural areas.

 - School enrolment is high at primary and secondary levels but an estimated 5 per cent of children between the ages of 10 and 16 are not in school.

 - 42 per cent of children under 7 years of age live only with their mother and 20 per cent do not live with either parent.

 - In 1998, the Child Protection Unit and specialist personnel dealt with 37 352 crimes against children, of which 57 percent were sexual offences.

 - In April 2002, there were 2 334 children awaiting trial in South African prisons and 1 812 serving sentences.

Given these very difficult circumstances, it is understandable that the AIDS pandemic has contributed in a profound manner to the difficulties being faced by the people of South Africa. Poverty being undeniably linked to AIDS and the spread of HIV infection across the country, the combination has resulted in extremely stressful circumstances for many families and increasingly children being placed at profound risk. This is especially so in rural communities.

Some facts on the AIDS pandemic
 - 4 million South Africans are currently HIV infected.

 - 200 000 South Africans are currently living with AIDS.

 - By 2005 there will be around 1 million orphans under the age of 15.

 - 45 % of South African population (16 million ) is under 20 years of age.

 - 60% of new infections currently occur in those between 15 and 25 years of age.

These statistics don’t in any way capture the bewilderment, heartache, pain and trauma experienced by South Africans as they face the impact of Aids in the faces of those they love, in the faces of those they care for and in their own mirrors. These statistics don’t capture the loneliness, fear, rejection, pain and unimagined grief that the illness raises. The voices of children grimly illuminate these facts:

“Life at home is very difficult. Sometime we have to go to sleep without food. There is no running water, we have to walk a long distance to fetch water from the river. Even if we want to wash our clothes we use the river. We wash in the river though it is not safe. A lot of people are going up and down. Sometimes the boys who pass by just stand and look at our bodies. In our country school there is no one to assist children are hungry” Girl 12 years, Rural Kwazulu Natal

“Even in school they treated me badly. My skin was bad looking , it had funny things on it. They told themselves that I've got Aids and they ran away from me. Even my friend told me she won’t eat with me again. One told me right to my face that I've got Aids and I should stop going to school and stay at home. I would feel terrible. Cry deep down. I would sit alone and cry alone. People would be staring at you saying nothing, even those who were happy when they see you were not anymore” Teenager

And in 1995 a situational analysis of the S A Child and Youth Care System identified the following challenges:

Looking at these bleak facts, one may well become dispirited, for indeed they represent great hardship and suffering for many. Yet, as laid before you these are socio-economic statistics divorced from the spirit of our people. Consideration of the South African context must take this latter factor into account. Again and again we have visitors who leave our country renewed and hopeful. It is our belief that the liberation of our country has catalysed into being great positive energy in all fields, and very much so in the field of direct care to children in need. And additionally it has also brought into our efforts to rebuild the country, the spirit of Ubuntu —

“Africans have this thing called Ubuntu; it is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. We believe a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up and inextricable in yours. When I dehumanise you I inexorably dehumanise myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging."

So in the face of the hardships and suffering brought about by poverty and HIV/AIDS we have in our country a capacity to care and be present for others that has the potential to transform the most difficult of human circumstances within a spirit of connectedness. It is within this complex context that direct care services to children are being transformed in the Post-Apartheid South Africa.


Children’s legal rights in South Africa derive from international conventions, the South African Constitution and South African laws.

In 1995, South Africa ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child UNCRC) which committed South Africa to implementing a “first call for children.” This makes the needs of children paramount throughout government departments' strategies. The Convention rests on four pillars: survival rights, development rights, protection rights and participation rights.
The Bill of Rights in South African constitution specifically guarantees that “a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.” Article 28 provides for children’s socio-economic rights without any limitation, as well as protection from neglect, abuse and exploitation, and particular provisions for children in detention. Article 29 provides for the right to basic education.

During the first five years of democracy, much was done on providing an appropriate policy and legislative framework for children and youth at risk which articulates the notions of children’s rights. The first intersectoral integrated policy on the child and youth care system was developed. This policy articulates the need for effective life space work and recognizes child and youth care work as essential in providing effective services and transforming those inherited from the previous dispensation. Strongly supporting privatised services, and recommending a move away from costly state-run programs, the policy outlines the need to re-prioritize spending so that resources are used most effectively at prevention levels. It clearly indicates that residential services should be short-term and specialized. It focused attention for the first time in our country on the necessity to create community-based services for children and youth at risk, locating them where the children are B especially in the poorest of communities.

This encapsulation within policy of the importance of life space work provided the service framework necessary for the development of some of the programmatic responses described later. It also gave impetus to the need for building the capacity of workers to render direct care services.

Minimum Standards were developed for the first time and these were encapsulated into temporary amendments to legislation pending the development of a coordinated legal framework for children in need as well as those who face criminal charges. The Child Justice Bill focusing on diverting children away from the criminal justice system is now before Parliament and the Child Care Act is in the process of extensive review to ensure that it adequately reflects the macro policy requirements.


It is in an effort to ensure that Children’s Rights are realized and that these policy’s and aspects of legislation are given effect that the child and youth care field has been raised as significant and steps have been taken to ensure professionalization in the post-apartheid South Africa. To this end the following have been achieved:

The continuum of learning opportunities includes capacity building options for child and youth care workers at all levels of education and reaches out into rural areas through distance learning, through transporting trainers to inaccessible places and through developing leadership in rural areas to ensure sustainability. As a result of the continuum, illiterate and semi-literate child and youth care workers have the opportunity to progress to tertiary training levels, and it is anticipated that a Masters degree will soon be available.

There is need for child and youth care leaders to be effective in senior positions in residential programs, in critical roles in community based child care programmes and in advocacy on children’s issues. Regular leadership gatherings take place to support the development of informed committed child care leaders.

Registration of child and youth care workers with a Professional Board under the auspices of the SACSSP it is anticipated and will regulate practice to ensure that ethical standards are maintained. This body will set standards for the profession and contribute to its development through advocacy efforts. It will require child and youth care workers to be registered in order to practice the profession.


The integration of the context, policy and legislative changes and the development of professional child and youth care workers is manifested in the following programmatic responses:

5.1 Residential care
The challenge to residential programs to develop and respond to the Aids crisis has resulted in varied responses. At present residential facilities in provinces where the epidemic is severe are involved in work with young people and their families who are affected and infected by Aids. In the less affected provinces there still exists a level of denial of the reality. Residential care as an option for AIDS orphans has been found to be not viable given the large numbers of children who will be orphaned, and because of the concerns around the ill-effects of long-term residential care. A number of facilities have taken on this role but many more have recognized the need to provide care for children who are dying as a result of the disease.

The real day-to-day challenges faced by child care staff in these programs are overwhelming. The reality of the Aids crisis has challenged the programs and practices in residential care in concrete ways. The fact that many staff are themselves affected or inflected by Aids, brings the pain and vulnerability very close. The physical care of sick and dying children is exhausting. Arrangements for children to visit home have to be made with careful attention - sending them with enough medication and food parcels. In the face of abject poverty the need to support families in the physical care of children is part of the family preservation services - especially when children and/or parents are dying of Aids. The care practices in programs working with Aids victims are giving careful attention to meals and especially accommodating the special requests of children who are dying. In one program a child asked for KFC (a great treat) and the social worker drove him to the take away and bought the chicken for him. He couldn’t eat but clearly felt loved and acknowledged. He died the next day.

The fact that children are dying (sometimes daily) is traumatic for staff and children. Grief is present all the time. Child care workers have nevertheless to be present and care for each other and the children who are also grieving.

The arrangements for medical care and funerals are a serious challenge in a situation where there are insufficient resources — there are no graves available often and only pauper burials can be afforded. Culturally, burials are preferred to cremations the practical realities challenge comforting cultural beliefs at the time when people are at their most vulnerable.

The resilience and tenacity in some child care teams is a tribute to South African child and youth care workers. The teams depend and rely on each other emotionally and are finding a richer support in one another. Together teams have considered the cultural practices that have to be revived and introduced into child care programs to help them cope spirituality. One child care leader in Amaqhawe (Little Heroes) care centre says “I am concerned for our team – these courageous workers who with tender care minister to the needs of these children, who swallow their pain, who wipe away their tears and move to the next child who needs attention. Do I have the capacity to care for them and help them find the inner strength to keep going?” (See article in June issue)

One of the anticipated challenges is in maintaining children’s comfort and belief in spirituality. Story telling and the Africanizing of spirituality is now an essential child care practice — the comfort of ancestors and angels that are Black are important cultural sensitivities that are considered. Children doubt God and have said that God is bad — that he is takes away their friends and family. Child care programs include memorial services that help children and staff and families to grieve together. Respectful services, involving children is comforting to those who know that they too will soon die. They themselves are assured of a careful goodbye. Gardens of remembrance are being developed to pay tribute to each child who has died and create a safe place for children and staff to mourn. Child care workers are alert to the time close to death to ensure that family members can be present at the end of a child’s life.

“The last week before Mathanda died I got hold of his father. He didn’t argue when I said ‘Sir you son is asking for you’. He followed me to the hospital where Mathanda was staying . It was a joyful but also a heartbreaking moment when father and son met. Mathanda immediately put out his hand to greet his father. This was an achievement for me. Four days later Mathanda died.' (Rene Brown Koningsdal Babanango KZN) "A simple slice of white bread has brought a smile of joy to the face of a dying child. A few minutes of discussing the beauty of angles has taken away the fear of going to sleep and not waking. A gentle back rub has brought comfort to a dying child. The courage to talk about death and the life hereafter has brought peace to a nine year old boy who is dying. "

These are the true glimpses of courageous child care practice in the face of apparent hopelessness.

5.2 Community child and youth care work
The child and youth care field has been challenged to develop qualified community child and youth care workers to provide and developmental care for children and youth who are orphaned many of whom are living in child-headed households. This almost unimaginably concerning situation where children are rearing themselves has given impetus to policy recommendations indicting the role to be played by child and youth care workers operating in the original life space of the young person.

Child care workers are expected to provide these services in communities where there is no food - and children go to school hungry; where children face the burial places of their parents in their back yards daily; where the family is raised on an aged grand mother’s pension; where the local clinic is too far to walk to and there is no money for taxi fares; where the clinics run out of medication; where children stay out of school to care for dying parents; where children are at risk of abuse and rape; where legally their homes do not even belong to them. Taking child care services to our children in these contexts is a huge responsibility and a staggering challenge. But it is being done.

Many community-based models have been developed. Demonstrating partnerships between residential programs and communities. The NACCW has developed a model which we hope will be replicated across the country.

Here a small team of trained and experienced child and youth care workers from a children’s home are attached to the community child care workers to supervise, mentor and support the application of child care practice in vulnerable families affected by HIV/AIDS.

This program emerged in the context of community development work. Community training to develop safe communities for young people took place. Community leaders were developed who would network with each other and with other resources to strengthen support for children and youth at risk in their communities. Community leaders then identified the need for community-based child and youth care workers to work with vulnerable families. Hence the Isibindi Project : Creating Circles of Care was initiated.

Adaptation of this model will be supported at National level as inter-sectoral community-based teams work together in communities. The role of the community child care worker is critical in this team to ensure that child care services are present as well as health and social welfare services.

In this way community child and youth care workers take basic child care services to the homes of such families and often provide the only adult support in child-headed house-holds. They are also responsible for networking basic resources and service to families like health care, access to documents, funeral arrangements, spiritual support and grief work, income generating projects, admission and attendance at schools, housing and food security, advocacy and legal support.

5.3 Peer counselling
South Africa is a youthful country. The involvement of youth in positive action at a preventative level in respect of the AIDS pandemic promotes the true spirit of Ubuntu and generosity. The involvement of youth in Aids education work has been effectively demonstrated in a peer counselling program developed. In this program developed by the NACCW youth from residential facilities as well as from the communities were jointly trained and guided on how to share Aids information with peers in schools and communities. These youth are supported and monitored by trained child and youth care workers. Youth themselves are effectively educated about Aids as they develop leadership skills and learn how to work effectively in teams. This preventative program is a creative and essential addition to the comprehensive community Aids programs, ensuring that a responsible role is created for all community members. The challenge is to promote and replicate this models in more and more communities as fast as is possible.

5.4 Family preservation
In the development of family preservation work in South Africa, child and youth care workers are key role players in the family preservation teams providing direct services to children youth and families in communities. Residential facilities are embracing a family preservation philosophy, where effective reunification work is being demanded and all relevant team role players engaged and challenged. Intensive family support, preventing the removals of children who are at risk is a critical place where child and youth care workers find themselves working effectively in family preservation teams. The following story is a true example of effective family work in a community of extreme poverty.

As a man ...
As a man I had lost all respect in my community. This is because things were not going right in my family. I am a disabled person with a wife and five children, one of whom is blind and the other is a foster child. My wife began drinking and it ended up being a problem to herself and to my entire family. She began to neglect her duties around the home. She changed from being a clean person who always wanted to be surrounded by clean environment. She began associating with other women who indulged heavily in liquor. She was not able to discipline the children and she physically harassed everyone in the family. Teachers reported that my children were getting difficult at school and their performance was seriously declining. My wife took all the money I gave her to buy groceries and used it to buy liquor. The situation became so bad that I decided to move out of the house. The children were equally concerned and eventually we decided to go to the Welfare office, with the request that they should remove my wife. At the office I was informed about the Family Preservation and how the team can assist me to keep my family together. The most impressive thing that the Family Preservation Team did was to give each and every family member including children, a chance to say how they felt and how they saw the problem. I went there expecting that they will take over and make decisions for us but they told us that we had all the solutions. They never threatened my wife, they praised every good thing she did and gave her a chance to see how her drinking was affecting the children and the whole family. We started to talk as a family and eventually I moved back into my house. It was a long time, the team would visit us and spend a whole day with us helping us to see things differently. We kept motes of our meetings and we shared our ideas about how the problem could be solved. There came a point when my wife saw how she was affecting all of us and she decided that she needed help to stop drinking. The team helped her by connecting her with SANCA which had added benefits to us all because my wife learned weaving skills. A bonus was that there was a day care centre for blind children next to SANCA which meant that even our daughter would be like other children and attend a preschool. The team treated us with respect, they never looked down on us, some members of the team helped our children with their school work. They taught us as parents to be involved in monitoring the progress of our children. Now we know who our children’s teachers are, we ask how our children are doing. The road we have traveled has helped our family to get together. We are a stronger unit than ever before. I as a man have learned something in this process, the importance of communicating with your children. It is common for parents to think they as parents should tell their children what to do but children have minds too. We now sit together as a family and one by one my children say what they are thinking and what is troubling them. Family Preservation has been so good to my family because it brought back my wife. She has stopped drinking completely. She has regained her beauty and her weight. My children are doing well at school. I tell my neighbours about what I learned in Family Preservation. I have also regained the respect of my community and I am happy with my family and all this after just two months in the program.

Family preservation workers demonstrate effective working in the moment - being able to capture the energy and potential in the moment. Child and youth care workers are being trained to identify, and work with and within the critical moments to promote development and growth. Child and youth care workers are able to apply developmental assessment of children and design relevant programs to strengthen family work. The programs include youth mentor-ship, wilderness work, life centres for youth, income generating programs professional foster care, peer counselling, and the many models responding the the Aids crisis. In this way the linking of resources to families and communities in poverty allow the South African application of child care practice. The work with children in family conferencing ensures that their voices are heard in a manner that is both culturally sensitive and yet challenging to cultural norms from a child rights perspective.

5.5 Restorative work
The shame of over 2000 children awaiting trial in South African prisons and 1800 serving sentences is our reality. Our shame lies in the fact that some of the children in prisons and police cells are children who have stolen food — a banana — from a vendor because of hunger. Children can remain in prison for 2 years awaiting trial. A joint and harmonious response to children inter-sectorally, from the police, justice, welfare and correctional services in a true restorative spirit and practice is just not yet effective enough yet. We are aware of sexual and other abuses the children are subject to in police calls and prisons.

"There are kids that are 15 years and 16 years and every day I see them. I see the hurt in their eyes. Not I nor they can cope with this place. Only bricks and steel survive in this place." says one boy aged 18.

Nevertheless, with the challenge of so many young people in trouble with the law and a culture of youth gangs, street violence, violence in schools communities and in families, the approach of working in a restorative way with young people is being promoted and demonstrated. The African practices of Inkundla and Lekgotla have been introduced in training to encourage a reclaiming of African restorative practices, and adapting them to effective restorative work with children and youth and their families. Inkundla is a traditional court system which is based on traditional African values of belonging, orderliness, discipline, respect and tolerance. Young people are guided in their behaviour by all community members, due to the emphasis on inter-dependence, sharing and mutual support. The Sotho people in South Africa have a similar practice called Lekgotla.

Child and youth care workers are developing skills in creative restorative and reclaiming environments through a continuum of restorative practices as well as in facilitating formal restorative conferences. Conferencing circles are used to provide the opportunity for feelings to be expressed by both parties, draw on the support systems of both parties as well as invoke community participation. The definition of actions to facilitate the wrong doer making amends for the behaviour is promoted. These restorative practices offer child and youth care workers a simple but realistic method of taking seriously the behaviour that upsets the social balance — without overplaying the adult role. They maintain the focus of responsibility and accountability on the wrongdoer and involve those who care for that young person to support reparative actions.
Restorative work and restorative practices including conferences are being actively taken forward in residential care programs, in family preservation work, in youth programmes like the life centres and in wilderness programs. However these represent the first steps towards a truly restorative culture

5.6 Secure care programmes
With the growing number of youth people in trouble with the law the transformation policy supports the establishment of secure care programs and facilities to provided for the care, assessment and development of young people in trouble with the law and awaiting trial. The development of effective transitional care programs aims to ensure that the children’s rights are being promoted. The development of restorative responses within the program as well as the development of skills and provision of education are critical elements of the programs.

5.7 Life centres
Child and youth care workers have translated effective working in the moment in the development of the inner development of groups of troubled young people within the "Life Centre" programs. Child care workers creatively teach, discuss and use experiential activities to help young people understand their self-destructive behaviour, learn from each other and walk a journey of healing and recovery. This intense developmental program teaches young people to strengthen their belonging, mastery, independence and generosity by focussing on issues such as spirituality, African history, sexuality, substance abuse, self awareness, goal-setting, hope and joy. These and other such themes are integrated into helping the young people understand their world better in the moment and be guided to consider carefully the choices they make. Young people are treated as having an identity, the curriculum is flexible, the environment is youth friendly and relationships are crucial. Young people learn by experience as well as receiving theory. In teaching young people information and skills child care workers respond to the feelings of the young people as they emerge in a process of healing.

Appropriate ways of dealing with strong emotions are taught as the emotions arise. In fact, for many of the young people, being able to express and articulate emotions and feelings may be extremely painful and may be the first time that it happens for them. Young people are perhaps for the first time treated as whole beings with needs in every area, and thus they respond positively.

This program is unique in its focus on an intensive developmental curriculum. It does not seek to provide only vocational skills as it is believed that until youth reach a point of personal understanding of their own value, their place in society and the impact of their behaviour, it is difficult to generate the motivation to remain in a training program or at school.

Once rapport and trust are established, workers can participate in the youth’s life, interacting in the good and bad times and so be a present and vivid teaching agent. An inclusive approach is used. Participation of young people, their families, their communities and role players with youth at risk in the whole town and area is encouraged. Parents are viewed as vital partners, as are any guardians of young people involved.

This model is being replicated around the country and young people who are in trouble with the law, who abuse substances, who are expelled from school, who are on the streets access these programs. Some of the elements included in these programs are restorative work, wilderness work, income-generating skills, literacy, drama and music. The skills of the child and youth care workers involved in these programs are creative, complex and diverse.

Poverty is the other major motivator for the need of this service. Most of the youth served by the program are from families where all the responsible adults are unemployed or are in unskilled low paid labour. Poverty has a limiting effect on a youth’s ability to complete formal schooling and on the ability of a youth to access other training programs. Taken together with the more personal social and psychological effects of poverty on the development of a sense of mastery and independence it is necessary to provide youth with a program that addresses both internal and external needs and proved the social and personal skills along with the vocational skills that can enable a youth to escape a cycle of poverty.

5.8 Wilderness programmes
"Inherent in every encounter with wilderness, with that which is natural and abides by the rhythm of ancient lore, is the potential for an evocation of traditional wisdom of the indigenous nations of the land." Africans are born of traditions which are, historically, inextricably linked to the earth, to the natural environment. In ritual, song, play, and the ordinariness of daily living, the natural environment was guide, inspiration, and sustenance. It was home. This is increasingly no longer so. Each generation moves further from the earth both physically and culturally. Ancient traditions which provide a containing and guiding mythology to people are modernized, rejected, or simply not known, particularly to young people. These cultural traditions are held in the wisdom and stories of the elders of our country’s communities, elders from whom young people are disconnected, either through life circumstances or the rejection of that which belongs to the past. There is tragedy in the reality that much of youth behaviour which is labeled as deviant and anti-social is an active attempt to manifest in destructive ritual what the elders manifested in integrative ritual in their youth. What is lost and rejected of elders’ wisdom of ancient lore is so often what would bring to young people the essential experience which they seek.

By way of honouring this truth, one of the challenges adopted in the transformation of the child and youth care system is to bring to the youth of the country the traditional wisdom and stories of community elders. A wilderness-based experience for young people provides an ideal context for this to be made possible.

Thus a program for young people at risk was initiated where community elders guided young women and men through a wilderness experience in the bush. Bush walks imparting knowledge of medicinal plants, elders' councils providing answers to the enquiries of youth, story-telling to impart lessons on how to conduct oneself in life, basket-weaving and mat-making with indigenous plant material, history-telling through singing and dancing, and the sharing of food cooked in the ways of old are incorporated into these experiences.

The elders-guided experiences are a unique adaptation in a South African context of wilderness-based programs offered to young people at risk. If considered in the spirit of the Circle of Courage, it is clear that these experiences enhance the value of Belonging in a fundamental way. To be drawn into the realm of the ancestors through story, song and traditional activity fosters a deep sense of origin, of culture, and of community. It is a profound process of reclamation for young people. With the spirit of Belonging evoked and nurtured, so too are those of Generosity, Independence and Mastery. The creative art of craft-making from the materials offered by the natural environment enhances the spirit of Mastery and of Independence as one’s creativity offers a means of earning a living.

Wilderness based talking circles offer an ideal context for the exploration of Restorative Justice as a concept and way forward for young people within the juvenile justice system. The discussion of traditional approaches to restorative justice provides accountability to one’s community and restoration wrongs done, as was lived by their ancestors.

The integration of wilderness programs into residential progams is being systematically promoted. Skills for effective wilderness work in child and youth care worker is being developed with the training of child and youth care workers.
Potential exists for the integration of elders into the planning and facilitation of these experiences. Such programs can increasingly ground the philosophy, their course activities, and the fulfillment of the developmental needs of young people in the cultural traditions and mythology of South Africa. A mutual sharing of skills and knowledge between community elders and wilderness field staff is beginning to facilitate the development of a wilderness program which is richly nourishing for young people.

5.9 Street children's programmes
The challenge of children and youth on the streets of South Africa in the context of AIDS has resulted in a range of programmatic responses. Services are provided at three different levels. Phase one are programs on the streets provide food and shelter to youth directly off the street. These programs offer health care, showers and haircuts on the street. They provide support to youth who are in trouble with the law and accompany them to court. A phase two program offers greater assessment and a range of programs including in family finding, family reunification, skills training, literacy classes and a range of income generating programs. There is great creativity in the program responses. The level three programs operate very much like children’s homes with a strong emphasis on ensuring the educational and skills development of the youth for long term independence. There is also a commitment to family reunification. There are many successful stories of street children being effectively reunified with families after years of no contact. The forums for the coordinating of the different street children’s programs are challenged to improve the training and support to child and youth care workers who work with street children. The one area of child care services to be developed in relation to street work is in response to the girl-child on the streets. Generally the girls are lured into sex-work and are not as visible on the streets. Programs for them are few and scattered. The plight of the refugee child on the street is yet another challenge to address in the face of Xenophobia.

There appear to be three elements common to child and youth care practice within all of the previously described programs which are particular to an African expression of the profession of child and youth care. They are as follows:

6.1 African cultural expression
Increasingly the value of observing and incorporating cultural practices into the expression of child and youth care is being noted. Not only are workers sensitive to and mindful of appropriate cultural practices, but increasingly "exploit" cultural practices for their potential restorative and healing value in the same way that it is accepted that we "exploit" everyday events to provide optimum learning experiences for young people. Consider this example of blending culture and custom within family preservation principles:

“All family members agreed that stability had been established in this family as most problems had settled, thus termination of services seemed imminent. Father voiced out he was considering slaughtering two white chickens as a sign that the differences between him and the mother had been sorted out. He also desired that the mother’s aunt speak to her ancestors using one chicken as an offering whilst he spoke to his using the other chicken. Mother’s aunt agreed with that and she said that she could even explain to the ancestors that Nosihle was going to remain with her father as that was a private arrangement reached by both parents. She was positive about this as she believed that the ancestors would not be angered by this as the elders of the maternal family had not even been aware of the child’s existence.

Aunty (father’s sister) had a suggestion that the ritual coincide with the termination session as the successes made by this family needed to be celebrated as well. She felt that this was an ideal opportunity to incorporate the Western and traditional practice of parting ways, especially since the disengagement was their choice. The other family members felt that it was a splendid idea. The team felt honoured that the family wanted to associate them with their cultural ritual and also by the fact that the family wanted to associate them with their cultural ritual and also by the fact that the family had wanted their successes to be celebrated by ancestors as well.”

Increasingly too children and youth are being taught cultural practices which have been lost, in a conscious effort to promote a sense of belonging and a positive African identity. The diversity of a fully inclusive African identity is also being embraced so that young people are taught cultural practices of those around them with different traditions and histories. Modelling and living out the principles of inclusion and acceptance, young people develop interpersonal relating skills and a sense of the unique value of all. Often multi-lingual environments reinforce the lived experience of respect for different backgrounds and the richness of recognition of all expressions of being.

6.2 African creativity
All over the country young people sing and dance and are exposed to cultural fables and myths. A child and youth care worker working with a group of 25 toddlers warmly manages the whole group through interactive song. All 25 then sit in tiny chairs and wait to eat the food in front of them until a substantial and happy offering of thanks is sung. As we develop our South African child and youth care practice child and youth care workers are increasingly using these creative practices consciously for individual and group developmental goals.

In our process of reclaiming our African creativity and refocusing attention to creative child care practice, opportunity has been created for child and youth care workers around the country in both rural and urban townships to explore the story telling, drama, visual art and movement, play and games to strengthen the African spirit of being with and doing with young people. Creativity is being consciously integrated into the child care training at different levels of the child and youth care continuum of training opportunities.

The reclaiming of story telling, and dramatizing, dance and movement, games and activities and visual art has started child and youth care workers understanding that our work needs to be with young people. We have in the past been doing much for children which has created dependency. We are unlearning our approach of doing to young people  which has created separation between children and adults. In doing with we see a more active and restorative approach in practising child and youth care work.

6.3 African spirit
Most importantly of all there appears to be an expression of what we will call spirit or soul in South African child and youth care work. The African values of forgiveness, harmony, healing, belonging, relatedness, Ubuntu and participation are being captured in the behaviour management practices in child and youth care work and the spirit of working with troubled young people and their families.

The richness of compassion arising from the spirit of Ubuntu leads again and again to extraordinary contributions and action in exacting circumstances. The understanding inherent in Ubuntu is fundamentally non-dualistic. Embracing the notion that we are all part of one consciousness, child care workers are able almost effortlessly to take on and give expression to the responsibility for the other within the context of a professional relationship.

The African spirit or soul as expressed in South African child and youth care practice provides for young people again and again across the country a model of how to be in the world that embraces them within a joyful abundant resilience. Children and youth are privileged to have adults in their life-space whose lives and behaviour embodies tenacity in the face of hardship and distress. This African Sprit, voluptuous and embracing does not dissolve hardship but models for young people that hardship is weathered through standing together in dignified resilience.

Thus it is that we see South African child and youth care playing a significant role in bringing about a "new morality", making real for children the words of the international instruments and our own constitution; contributing to building a country and a child and youth care practice that ensures that children’s rights are fully realized. And we continue to be inspired in our endeavour by Nelson Mandela who has helped of us realize that “…if enough people were touched and imbued by the spirit of caring, it would in time change the whole landscape of how children are treated in this country.”


F. Coughlan: Phandulwazi Life Centre, Pilot Project of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Young People at Risk

Jacqueline Leslie Roberts: Wilderness a Circle of Courage, and the Wisdom of Elders, Guiding Development of Young People at Risk 

South African Inter-Ministerial Committee on Young People at Risk: Making a Difference, Third Progress Report on Pilot Projects 

South African Inter-Ministerial Committee on Young People at Risk: Interim Policy Recommendations 

G. Luthuli: Family Preservation in South Africa, A Guide to Recording 

Department of Social Development & Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund: Background Paper, A Call to Coordinated Action for Children Affected by HIV/AIDS 

The Henry J. Family Foundation: An Update on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa, Impending Catastrophe Revisited. 

South African Program, Save the Children: Research Report, The Role of Stigma and Discrimination in Increasing the Vulnerability of Children and Youth Infected with and Affected by HIV/AIDS

Article 40, The Dynamics of Youth Justice and the Convention on the Rights in South Africa, Volume 4 -Number 1 - April 2002

The Loss of a Child – A Personal Reflection, Mandy Goble, Child and Youth Care Volume 20, No. 4