“What about me? Do I even matter, why does nobody care for me, don’t they know all I want is love?”, these are the heartbreaking words from a teen girl I worked with whose foster parents could no longer accept her behaviourial challenges within their home and her biological mother was in prison for murder. These words have stayed and haunted me for over 10 years. The real issue is that our system is not working for our children at all.
You see this child’s behavior was not out of the ordinary particularly for a child who has been removed from biological roots, who witnessed that particular murder and who was a developing teenager with hormones raging through her body. The reality is that the social worker did not prepare the foster family for the work that was needed and the child received no intervention after she was removed. And so for years, she sat with rage and behaved like the compliant child never knowing when she would be uprooted. The insecurity, the pain, the anger, the hurt, the loneliness, the struggle to fit in is a lot for a child’s heart to handle.
As a team we have cried, we have screamed, we have raged together as over the years we have seen child after child falling in the gaps of our systems. Systems that are overworked, overstretched and overloaded with children that they cannot look after with great care. Our social development department is inundated with children needing to be removed and with over 400 000 children in foster care itself, we have not dealt with the overwhelming children coming out of homes with addiction and abuse which we know poses threat and challenges to their development- physiologically as well as psychologically. Our foster families are not being trained, and supported enough, our children’s homes are full and also not getting the support and care needed to handle many difficult challengesFurthermore, there are high turnover of staff in statutory work as each social worker can have up to 250 cases each. I can attest to this as I was one of these social workers over 10 years ago. This leads to burnout, trauma and a mental load that no one could imagine.
Our education department is not coping with the amount of learners needing extra assistance within the classroom as well as the curriculum is not inclusive for children with learning challenges which we know would be more prevalent in communities with socioeconomic challenges as well. With classes reaching up to 70 learners per teacher, with one education psychologist for 22 schools in a district and 5 social workers to 30 schools- how do we ensure that children are being assessed correctly?
Over the years part of Arise’s work was always advocating that no child that we know of will fall through the cracks. We are on the phone, we are sitting on panels, we are empowering caregivers in order for children to stay in school, to receive the interventions that they are in desperate in need of in order to thrive. We cannot expect a child who is sitting in a classroom with learning challenges to have a good self-esteem when they are told to colour in pages because they do not understand math. We can tell story after story after of children we have worked with where we can see our systems are failing our children.
We know of a young boy of 6 who was sodomized in the community, when the school heard about this they reported it to all the channels needed- statutory services as well as the education department. Nothing was done for over a year. Now the school is sitting with a problem because this very boy has now become a perpetrator as he has been inappropriately touching the girls in class. The school has sorted out intervention but there is a waiting list of 6 months and the family has neglected the child as they cannot come to terms with what has happened. Furthermore, the child has been named a ‘rapist’ in the community and he is only 7 years old.
We have recently worked with a 15 year old girl who is supposed to be in grade 9 but she is in grade 6 and is still failing. She has never had any assessment done and the school is waiting for her to drop out. Her family lives in extreme poverty as they are backyard dwellers and the parents themselves have learning challenges and struggles with the use of alcohol. There are three other children all with learning challenges as well and so as a team we are advocated for these children to be assessed immediately, but they have yet to be seen.
We have another girl who is 10 years old who has yet to be documented and has not been in a classroom at all. No school can take her in as she is too old to start grade 1 and has no documentation. The biological parents are known drugs addicts and she is taken care of by the community at large. We know her through a concerned community member who brought her to the office and she now is running as a drug peddler in the community.
This is our reality, this is the reality of many of the children and families within our communities. If we are serious about child protection, if we are serious about gender based violence, if we are serious about the next generation then we need to hold the powers at be accountable. We need to strengthen civil society. This requires long term financial partners, partners who can build capacity, partners who can work together for the greater good.
This is why we believe in partnerships. We partner with schools, local organisations and government in order to ensure families are strengthened. Children are not in isolation- they are part of a system a family system that they go back to. That is why we believe that we need to strengthen these families. When families are strengthened- they have strong relationships with each other, they have good problem solving skills, they can nurture each other’s strengths, build resilience and a sense of belonging within the home- then we can have stronger communities. Communities that will ensure that no child is left behind, that no child is being neglected and abused and a community that ensures the powers at be will do the job required.
If you believe in the work that we do and the importance of this work, then we encourage you to have a look at the work we do and partner with us.