By Nennivah Hazvinei Jijita
A child and youth care worker is “a person who works in the life space of children and adolescents with both normal and special development needs to promote and facilitate optimum development through the planned use of everyday life events and programmes to facilitate their ability to function effectively with different contexts”.
This week is marked to commemorate child and youth care worker’s world-wide. We have witnessed a wave of solidarity marches, people flighting banners and placards bearing messages of appreciation to these professionals.
Some continued with their day to day businesses not even realising that 6-12 May is set aside for the child and youth worker’s week.
It is a week to celebrate these selfless people on the significant work they are doing with neglected and sheltered children.
Many of us become emotional bursting into songs of praise and pouring our hearts to them for the exceptional work they are doing.
After all it is said and done, have we pondered that it is not just our ecstatic praises of the day that can sustain their careers and help the profession grow.
But, what we do on other days that ensures sustainability.
This whole week is a time to reflect on a number of issues that includes the welfare of these professionals and map a way forward.
Traumatised and vulnerable
The tremendous work done by child and youth care workers in this field mostly goes unrecognised despite working 24/7 in child care homes. These professionals are parental figures to the children and these children look up to them. The child and youth workers sacrifice a lot by sharing their love between abandoned children and their biological children.
They take care of children who are traumatised and vulnerable as well as experienced the worst in life.
They nurture them, identify their talents and help them develop skills necessary for survival. They provide rehabilitation services until they are fully recovered. This is not a simple task for everyone but passionate and warm hearted individuals.
These caregivers give up their lives just to be there for vulnerable children. Caring for children is embedded in legislations such as the Children’s Act of 2005 which make provisions for a wide range of child care and protection services.
The goal is to make children’s rights accessible and a success.
This includes supporting families and sheltered children. Research findings show that not even the support from government or NGOs is adequate to meet all the needs of vulnerable children (The presidency 2009).
This reveals that South Africa has a lack in social services.
According to statistics there is only 7 754 child and youth care workers in South Africa. The ever increasing number of vulnerable children create a high demand for a redefined social services sysyem.
The current number of child and youth carers is inadequate. For example, according to statistics South Africa is experiencing a high level of suicide between the ages of 10-14 years. It is reported that the number has doubled over the last 15 years in the country. It means that there is need for appealing social intervention programs to curb suicide.
All stakeholders involved in child caring should be more worried with the statistics of teen suicide. Having more of these professionals will go a long way in reducing suicide cases. It has been established that most of the children who commit suicide lack social support.
The antagonistic day to day challenges makes children more vulnerable. Mr Alfred Harris said “children face the challenge of HIV, levels of poverty, unemployment of parents and access to medication and education”.
Children living in established shelters and many are cases of abandonment, maltreatment, child run away, orphans or extreme juvenile cases. In most cases the children are emotionally unstable and they have to undergo a rehabilitation process.
The challenges faced by children have a negative impact on their physical and psychological and social development. Most of them are hopeless. The carers offer counselling services and ensure that they create a conducive and homely environment for these children to thrive.
They support them in many ways to get access to their basic rights and realise their full potential. The caregivers help children with coping strategies to navigate the harrowing effects of all social mishaps.
They work tooth and nail to ensure the children have a happy childhood just like children who live in ideal homes.
The workers work under extreme conditions. Given the conditions of child and youth carers work we do not just need frog marches and butterfly kisses celebrations every year.
All concerned parties need to be offered genuine support not just a window dressing of their problems. It is requirement to build a sustainable support system in place to make the child and youth carers work manageable.
I appeal to the government and relevant departments to develop a robust framework that will put into consideration the needs of child and youth workers. This can only be achieved if we are sincere that children are the future generation.
In the light of the millennium developmental goals that are fast approaching we need to be accountable. During an interview with ENCA Alfred Harris a member of National Association of Child and youth care (NACCW) had this to say “there is no real career path for these young people.
There is need for rigorous development of the profession since many young people do no find the job attractive.” Given the population of vulnerable children and alarming statistics on broken families and homes it is necessary to have more professionals in the social service department.
The government and the private sector organisations need to rethink the culture of celebrating the child and youth care professions based on the 2030 agenda for development. Goal 4 “ensures healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.”
The United Nations document on child policy and youth care vision 2030 envisages a “world in which the human rights of every young person are realised that ensures a young person is empowered to achieve their full potential and that recognises young people’s agency, resilience and their positive contribution s as agents of change”.
Based on the documents and policies developing the profession should be made a priority. Going forward, the government and responsible authorities should develop child and youth care profession as a fully-fledged career path.
I suggest that the country needs to invest in luring more child and youth care workers. By offering attractive incentives/packages like they do with social workers.
There that can be learned from European countries which have a strong emphasis on children and youth care. The countries value children and any child related job has attractive remuneration and benefits.
This is so because children are a sensitive group which deserves special attention. South Africa could learn a lot from frameworks and policies in America on child and youth care. Caring for children needs a holistic approach and a collective effort so that we raise responsible children who can be responsible citizens.
Basing on the official interview Mr Harris had on ENCA, child and youth care is still institutionalised in South Africa.
Since there is an ever-growing need for social services, child and youth care services needs to move from being institutionalised to community based. This calls for the expansion of the child care and youth care work force in the country.
Jijita is a child rights activist, advocate and researcher. She writes in her own capacity.
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