What is family in South Africa?
Not all families look the same. International research shows that our country is unique by the extent in which parents are absent from their children’s daily lives. Recent studies have shown that over 20% of South African children do not live with both biological parents and up to 57% of children have absent fathers. Many of our families consist of female-headed households, child-headed households, and combinations of families with aunts, uncles and their children all living together.
We know that the cause of parental absence is related to our historic past including labour migration, poverty, housing, educational and employment opportunities among other reasons. In South Africa, it’s not uncommon for children to experience a sequence of different caregivers ranging from relatives to neighbours to communities. However, parental absence doesn’t necessarily mean parental abandonment, as many parents still provide financial support from afar or arrange to see their children on the weekend or during holidays. Despite these arrangements, we have seen that children suffer from the loss of a consistent parent in their lives; the lack of attachment to their mother and father and the loss of a sense of belonging in a stable home environment. These are key components necessary for children to thrive.
Why the big fuss about family?
The household that a child is born into dramatically affects the development and life outcomes of that individual. Moreover, the general environment a child faces during the early-life years, up to age 8, are particularly important for developing skills and capabilities (UNICEF, 2012). This environment is critically shaped by other members of the household; principally, the parents, as well as the broader community. This environment can be either an enabling or disabling foundation for the child’s development potential.
From our base at the Arise Family Centre in Heideveld, on the windswept Cape Flats, we believe that it is only through strengthening families that we will start to see lasting and sustainable change in our country. We are deeply committed to seeing every child created by God grow up in a thriving family, no matter how that family is formed. And in order to thrive, families need to be given the tools to grow stronger and to help children reach their full potential.
A whole family approach is a useful way to work with families experiencing the most significant and complex difficulties. This approach consists of assessing and addressing the needs of the children, adults and the family and ensuring that support provided to them is coordinated and focused on concerns affecting the whole family. That’s why Arise partners with exisiting organizations in our communities. Our dynamic team works hard to ensure that every case is handled with care, that we walk a journey with a family and that our programmes are geared to meeting the needs of families. When we strengthen families, we strengthen communities.
How do we grow strong families?
Resilience, attachment and family preservation are the bedrock on which all our programmes are built, and we believe that family strengthening needs to be the cornerstone of change built into every development programme across sectors. Our family strengthening work focuses on building resilience, deepening relationships, nurturing strengths, growing problem solving skills and developing a sense of belonging in all families, regardless of how that family is formed.
Through the work that we do with existing families in marginalised communities, we also see the need for families for children without families because we know that children do best in families. Yet, too many times we see children lost in the system of child protection and institutionalised homes. Through our Adoption Support work we believe in providing families FOR children, not children for families. That is why many of our workshops and conferences are geared for prospective and adoptive parents.
All our workshops and conferences are centered on current research, best practice and the voice of adoptees. We have strived more recently to include South African adult adoptee voices. We want to equip adoptive parents on the understanding of attachment, grief and loss, transracial adoption, and the importance of telling your child’s whole story to them. Through our workshops and conferences, we discuss difficult topics such as race, being a conspicuous family, how to be school savvy and how to prepare for contact.
We need your help to grow more strong families!
At Arise we are determined to see a family strengthening approach included in every sphere, across departments and sectors. In health, education, in ECD, social development, justice, child protection, in business. We can no longer work with children in isolation. In all programmes, we need to incorporate the main role players in a child’s life to continue the work, to develop the sense of belonging, trust, care and safety. We can’t do it on our own, we need your help!
Attempting to reach more families, we began training professionals and community leaders to run our award-winning programmes in their own context. Our vision is to see these programmes rolled out nationally, so that all children can have the opportunity to grow up in thriving families. We’ve ensured that our programmes are replicable, adaptable, easy to use and include monitoring and evaluation tools. All income made from these training events flows back into our Family Strengthening Services, while also developing and deepening our understanding of the South African families we seek to serve and empower.
Children remain at the centre of our services, but we know it is not their responsibility to create thriving families for themselves – it is the caregivers in their lives who need to be equipped in their parenting, in the understanding of how to create stable environments and by meeting their basic needs. We believe that it is necessary to work together in order to truly support and walk a journey with a family towards change. This is how we strengthen families; this is how we change communities; this is how we help children reach their full potential; this is how we help families thrive.
If you’d like to join one of our training workshops in Cape Town, Joburg, Durban or Port Elizabeth this year, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.