We have just celebrated the 2021 matrics who have passed and made it through one of the toughest years of education. The matrics of 2020 and 2021 deserve the highest praise, making it through such unpredictable years, and yet as we see the smiles and newspaper articles discussing the matriculants and pass rates, I can’t help to think about the reported 750 000 children who have dropped out of school.
Yes, you’ve read that right. It is estimated that over 750 000 school children have dropped out of schools since the pandemic and yet, we have heard nothing about how to get them back into the classroom. I was told in a meeting that there is nothing we can do and we must count that generation as a loss. I seethed just from the very thought that we have not included these kids in any type of intervention so that they can have a future. Furthermore, that nobody is thinking of the long-term consequence of nearly a million children who will one day have their own families to support, not having an education and feeding into the system of poverty and social ills. What’s worse is that this is all preventable.
November is World Adoption Month. A month committed to exploring adoption. As Angela Tucker from The Adopted Life says repeatedly, adoption is nuanced. In an ideal world, no children would need to be considered for alternative care – whether temporary (safe care or foster care), or permanently (adoption). While we work towards strengthening families, we know that we aren’t in this ideal world and so our energy is focused on strengthening existing families – regardless of how they are formed, as well as future families.
For World Adoption Month 2021, Arise sought to commit to doing what we repeatedly hear from people who have been in care – whether foster or adoption – which is identifying what would be helpful in supporting children’s families so that the children in care can thrive. To paraphrase a number of adult adoptees “Parents need to do the work”. We did an informal anonymous online survey and had 114 participants. We want to provide an overview of the responses received for you to consider as you listen and lean into what we are hearing so that you know what to advocate for in the spaces where you have influence!
Who responded? Adoptive parents, Foster parents, parents caring for children in temporary safe care, and parents who are caring for children who aren’t born to them and have no legal care order for, through informal arrangements. 80% of the respondents had children 9 years and younger, with 48% of all respondents having children 6 years younger in their care.
What were the primary reasons that children were placed in care? As was to be expected due the majority of respondents being adoptive parents, 68 % were due to an adoption plan being made, while 15% was due to direct social work intervention. 31/114 respondents cited parental abandonment as the reason that their children joined them. Only 11/114 respondents stated that children were said to be placed as a known consequence of teen pregnancy. Private social workers (20%), Private agencies (69%) and government organizations (11%) were responsible for the processes and experiences when it came to adoptive families.
Did you know? The biggest concern parents identified in their their children was the struggle with anxiety. Evidenced based research indicates that behaviour, learning and emotional regulation are all impacted by anxiety. The experience and feedback given by parents was that this concern was complicated by the fact that there was a lack of adoption competent professionals, with specific reference to understanding adoption dynamics. As such, some of the interventions ended up harming rather than helping children and families: well intended but damaging in their impact.
Post placement support by the social workers was understood as the home visits and telephone calls to ‘check in’ by the majority of respondents. Respondents in the Foster Care system noted that there had been no post placement support. Additional post placement support for children as well as parents who wanted to access support was impacted by a lack of access to appropriate resources, as well as financial constraints. The details of life story work elicited a range of responses, with an overwhelming sense that parents would like to have more documented information as well as where possible, openness in being able to ask questions as their children grow and ask questions. Some respondents did reflect a sense of mistrust in the information that they were giving, providing reasons for this too.
The support that parents seek includes, but is not exclusive to the following:
Parenting skills for children whose starting point is before you (regardless of age when meeting them)
Children’s life story work (including deeper and documented information as opposed to verbal information)
Understanding alternate care (Foster/ Adoption) dynamics and processes.
Increased access to information for families whose diversity includes race, gender and responding to the questions that are asked by their children.
A recurring theme in response to the different sections within the survey revealed a mistrust of social workers professional insights when it came to the needs to children’s psychosocial needs. Respondents felt that much of the work and learning that they had acquired was dependent on their ability to access information and support, rather than social workers specifically imparting information and skills as part of the preparation process. One respondent noted that this wasn’t specific to social workers only, but across multiple sectors where there is a lack of inclusivity and understanding with regards to adoption.
78% of respondents stated that there was insufficient support for families in South Africa, whose children joined them through adoption or foster care.
We are listening, leaning into these challenges as Arise and practically exploring how to advocate for children and their families in response – through this survey as well as the evaluations and feedback given throughout 2021. As we reflect on the broad outcomes of this survey, we recognize that professionals as well as parents and caregivers need extra support and upskilling in seeing children through lenses which see the fullness of the children and their stories. We recognize that this is a small snapshot of a much larger cohort of people, but also acknowledge that it affirms the anecdotal evidence that has happened in conversations, during Arise’s On the Couch evenings as well as in the Q&A’s that happen during our workshops and events.
In 2022, we plan to engage and offer professional workshops to offer learning opportunities that will upskill professionals and as a direct and positive consequence, impact families and children. Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate – thriving children and thriving families need to be supported. We press on with this as the goal!
Survey results summarised by Alexa Russell Matthews
If you are anything like me, I have been asking that a lot these past few months – who do I vote for? Who can I trust to get the job done? Which of the two or three or four evils do I cast my ballot against? So I decided that for the first time since I came of age, I will not vote. I will not be put into a corner and forced to vote for parties who make empty promises; who serve only themselves, who steal from those very people they are elected to serve or who only serve the rich, so that the system works for them.
But just a few hours ago, I was sitting in my office having a meeting with a teammate when we heard gunshots for at least 15 seconds. This was followed by screaming coming from down the road. I jumped up from my chair and saw people running and panicked. A picture in my head that I can’t erase is of a grandfather with his grandchild in a pram and a toddler next to them, running down the road for safety. Some people running away from the gun shots and some running towards. Young men running with excitement to get involved and the vulnerable, scared and running for their lives. I saw my team shaking in fear and our minds trying to figure out what had just happened and were we all okay.
You see, every morning when we drive or walk into work, there is a long queue of about 50 to 60 people waiting for their SASSA grants at the post office. At first, I have been concerned about Covid infections from the long queues, but lately I have noticed more and more people lining up earlier and earlier. This has been going on since the Covid Relief Grant was first issued. We have seen more and more children drop out of school in the community; graffiti painting our walls with signs of old and new gangs forming; people sitting on corners; clients begging for food and petty crimes increasing around our neighbourhood.
The hypocrisy of the shooting event earlier today was that just a few minutes before we had a parade going down the road from a certain political party, trying to get the community to vote for them so that they can change the lives. But when the incident happened it was silent; no parade, no showing up, no one dancing and walking the street promising that voting for them will change their lives.
The reality is that our country is a mess. Our youth unemployment has increased to unheard of highs; we have over 700 000 children who have dropped out of school since the 2020 lockdown; and I live in a city where there is increased inequality and a governing party who chooses to ignore systemic racism and to work to close the gaps of inequality. We see daily corruption on all levels of government and civil society, children falling through the cracks in our systems, a growing mental health crisis, a poor Covid vaccination strategy and the list goes on.
So, I have decided that I will vote. But I am not voting for the party who I think I can get behind. No. I am voting strategically this year. I will be voting so that my vote helps to strengthen our democratic right to receive responsive governance in my municipality. You see, me choosing not to vote gives politicians’ power, those who think they have the vote in the bag. And I will not allow politicians to think we are puppets, but rather make them work to stay in power, to ensure that I can see the results particularly in our marginalized communities. Unfortunately, competitive politics is the only way we can sustain our democracy, though I do think we need to rewrite our political system but that’s another blog for another day.
I refuse to give up on our country. I believe that we still have so much to offer and despite the darkness that fell over me today, I will cast my vote on the 1st of November, and I hope you do too.
Heritage Day is fast approaching. Each year we see the braai day specials appearing, and while a good braai is definitely something that is inherently South African, the 24th of September it’s not only National Braai Day but more importantly National Heritage Day. As we said on our recent podcast, how do we keep the fires lit, for those grills we cook on and for those reflecting on our South African Heritage?
Another senseless, brutal murder of a young South African woman, Nosicelo Mtebeni (23 years old); over 10 000 rape cases reported between April and June of this year alone with more than half of them committed within the home; and over 15 000 domestic violence cases reported in the past year. Though women have come so far in South Africa, many remain marginalised from the economic and social mainstream and face a constant threat of violence and abuse.
From the 9th to the 17th of July, South Africa went through one of its most violent weeks in decades – the worst violence, in fact, since the end of apartheid. More than 330 people died, and many more have been arrested following a wave of protests, riots and looting. The immediate spark for the protests was the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma, but we know there is so much more to it than that.
Attachment is often described as the dance between two people – the dance between a caregiver or parent and child, the dance between partners, or friends. It’s what we use to learn to trust as we learn to move in sync with the people in our world. Each relationship has its own music and its own dance.
On the eve of this year’s Child Protection Week and it’s the time for us to ponder the importance of child protection and how it relates to all of us. Not just this week, but throughout the year. Child protection should be at the forefront of our minds. We need to ask the question how do we keep our children safe and what is our role? Child protection is more than a system of laws and policies put in place to prevent harm coming to children. It is more than the professionals and designated child protection agencies that dutifully investigate and intervene in crisis situations. It is more than removals, places of safety and court proceedings. Child protection is about all of us and how we are raising our children. It is the relationships we build, the connections we forge and the support we give.
It’s been a year of big feelings, for all of us. Big feelings, scary feelings, overwhelming feelings, and yet we have mostly continued to dig deep, push forward and take action in the midst of this storm of feelings. This is emotional resilience at its core and one of our skills that has been put to the test the most during this pandemic. Like never before, we are all having to find ways to identify, name, talk about and cope with our feelings.
Is 21 March just another public holiday or an opportunity to talk about our history?
The 21st March falls on a Sunday this year, which makes Monday the 22nd a public holiday. Our public holidays, while well utilized for rest, recreation, adventure or that long overdue nap, are actually days of remembrance in our own South African story.