It is a fact that in this area many children are abandoned and abused; it is a daily occurrence. One of the biggest issues facing the police and social workers is where to take these children once they have removed them from their vulnerable situation.
Following an allegation of abuse or neglect the police need to conduct investigations which may lead to an arrest, family members have to be interviewed and extended family members traced. Until the situation is resolved there needs to be a safe place for the child to stay; ideally following the investigation the child could return to their family, second choice would be a foster family or failing that an orphanage / children’s home.
It is common for children not to be removed at all, some children are kept at the police station and others left in hospitals, all because there is no safe place for them to be removed to.
Isiphephelo meaning “place of refuge” in Zulu started with a Place of Safety – this is basically a short term home for up to 16 children who stay with us until a permanent placement can be found for them. Having a place of safety allows us to oversee the immediate needs of the child (safety and security) and to ensure they receive proper health checks and counseling as needed.
We can accommodate girls aged 0 to 12 and boys between 0 and 8. The children live in the house with 2 house mums and they live together very much as a family. The house mums keep the house clean and cook for the children and the older children help out with simple chores, we try to simulate their home environment as much as practicable.
We have a social auxiliary worker and an administrator who deal with all the necessary paperwork involved with the project as well as liaising with the department social workers. Another volunteer is responsible for the children after school; they have time for homework and free time which can involve group sessions as well as free playing.
Even though children are constantly coming and going, some staying for just one or two nights and others for almost a year we implement a daily routine. We find that routine and structure are vitally important for the children; they often don’t understand why they have been taken from their family so having a routine to cling to can bring them some comfort.
Our house is filled with love, patience and understanding. We try to create an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. With reward charts for good behavior, the children are able to learn the consequences of their own actions. Even though some children only stay for a short time we are amazed at how they grow and develop in an atmosphere of safety and love.
It can take some time for a permanent place to be found for the children and during that time it is important that they are kept occupied! In the time they are with us the children either attend our Baby Day Care/ Crèche or, for children of school age, they attend a small local school.
We don’t want to hinder the children’s development so school is an important part of their time with us; it is also important for the children, attending school can be the one familiar thing from their old routine that they can cling to. Many times when new children arrive they are keen to go to school with the other children from the home.
We have an amazing local school with very understanding and compassionate teachers, they allow our children to come to school from anywhere from a few days upwards and the cooperation is good.
Photos from August 2012 before we started renovating the house: