Too many children in South Africa are without parental guidance, care or supervision. As many as 3.7 million of our youth are orphans. Caring for our communities is up to us, but sustainable improvement depends on the dedication of future generations. This betterment can only be achieved if we nurture the kids of today. That’s where organisations like Durbanville Children’s Home come into play. They are crucial to the positive growth of South African.

Caring for 144 children, each between 2-18 years old, is no easy task. However, the result is priceless. By stepping in, Durbanville Children’s Home works to safeguard children from drug abuse, gang violence, poverty and crime. Unfortunately, many children are not as lucky, and the chance of living on the periphery of society or leading a life of crime escalates drastically.

We spoke to Johanna Strauss, one of the driving forces behind the care facility, to find out what it takes to keep a children’s home running smoothly and how one comes to help vulnerable children.

Johanna Strauss, the marketing and fundraising manager at Durbanville Children’s Home, has always been drawn to social causes, specifically those focused on children. After completing her BA Degree, with social work as one of her main subjects, Johanna headed into the field of marketing.

The unlikely combination of marketing and social work has proved a match made in heaven. Now, Johanna’s 25 years’ experience enables her to raise the much-needed funds for the home.

Running a children’s home comes with a broad range of challenges. What are some of the hurdles Durbanville’s Children’s Home faces?

“As a residential care facility, the Durbanville Children’s Home has a high fixed cost per child. It is 20 times more expensive to treat a child in a residential facility, like the Durbanville Children’s Home, than in their community. As we only receive 30% of our expenses per child from the Department of Social Development, we need to raise a substantial sum to make up for the shortfall.

School placements are becoming more and more difficult. Durbanville Children’s Home admits children throughout the year, and many have no evidence of prior formal schooling. Some children are also in much lower grades than they should be at their age, and some have a mental or developmental delay as well. Because of these circumstances, it is challenging to secure school placements as some schools are hesitant. Special needs and English medium schools are also limited in the area. We need more specialist schools to address the unique academic needs of some of our children.

These challenges lead to behavioural problems amongst some of our children. When a child is placed correctly, scholastically, their behaviour stabilises because then the child feels that they can do their work. Building healthy self-esteem and self-worth is vital. In this, and for the benefit of our children, we need the assistance of a remedial teacher.

Due to the vulnerability of countless children and the shortage of care facilities in South Africa, children are exposed to various forms of abuse, including emotional, psychological and physical abuse for prolonged periods.

Children who did not form healthy or normal attachments with their primary caregiver will suffer from the consequences thereof later in life. One of the characteristics these children may display is what we perceive as challenging behaviour. Correcting and managing behavioural problems puts great stress on child care workers and Durbanville Children’s Home’s resources.

Some of the Home’s buildings are very old and have been in existence since 1918 when “Sweet Home”, the original house and outbuildings, was purchased. Due to a lack of funds and deterioration, our buildings are in urgent need of repair to create pleasant living conditions for our children.”

How does Durbanville Children’s Home overcome these challenges?

“We are planning to extended our care programme by opening more satellite houses where children can be housed in their area of origin, closer to families, schools and friends. We also work hand-in-hand with designated social workers to promote family reunification. Making parents and families more accountable for their circumstances, helps to improve the situation.

We render care with the belief that the best place for a child is in the community. We provide support, therapy and bridge education services, and we also place a strong emphasis on effective tracing and family reunification. On entering our programme children remain integrated and in contact with the society for which they are being prepared.

Our residential and therapeutic programme does not stop the day our young people turn 18 years of age as we have a holistic community bridging initiative in place.  We believe that our children deserve every opportunity to succeed in life.  We have added specialised units to our support programmes, like early childhood development, occupational therapy, psychometric assessment and remedial support.

We also have satellite and bridging programmes as extensions of our care program.

We believe that empowered staff ensures that our children feel nurtured and protected. We are proud to announce that the majority of our child and youth care workers completed their FET Certificates in Child and Youth Care through NACOSA. We are awaiting the results, but we can already see the positive effects of having a skilled, trained and professional child and youth care workers working with our children.

We have a diverse marketing strategy that gives donors the option of choosing how they would like to engage with the organisation. The donor landscape has changed considerably over the past few years. Increasingly, the concept of “social entrepreneurship” is replacing traditional non-profit funding models, with the promise of greater self-sustainability, specified donor fund allocations and easier exits for donors.

We have made strides towards self-sustainability, creating income-generation units by offering second-hand books and clothing for sale. We also started a training center for child and youth care workers on site and will be offering conference facilities in the nearby future.

We have a dynamic volunteer department that knows how to match the needs of our children with the passion of a volunteer.  At present, we have 168 local and 20 international volunteers who are fully integrated into our homework support, mentoring and logistics programmes.”

Durbanville Children’s Home is making a difference in the lives of many children. Child-by-child, South Africa’s future is getting brighter.  

“We serve the needs of 144 vulnerable children placed in our care by the South African courts.

Durbanville Children’s Home has established itself as an example of excellence in child care, and the core business is in line with the sustainable development goals for 2030. We understand our children’s needs, are committed to eradicating the maltreatment they have been exposed to and to finding innovative ways to serve the individual developmental needs of each child best.”

There is hope in the future, through perseverance, persistence and compassion.  

“I have seen first-hand how children are able to turn their lives around once they receive support. I believe that if people who are part of their community’s neighbourhood watch are compensated, they will be a positive force that can drive out drug abuse – one of the biggest challenges South Africa is facing. We won’t lose the hope of bettering the lives of the most vulnerable.”

Find out more about Durbanville Children’s Home, contribute or get in touch via their website here: www.durbanvillekinderhuis.org.za.