South Africans are doing their best to cope with the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. Children are as stressed about the situation as adults are, with a recent World Vision study conducted in 13 countries finding that 71% of children and young people interviewed felt isolated and lonely due to school closures.
And 91% of them said they were experiencing emotional distress and feelings of anxiety, anger and worry due to the uncertainty brought on by the global health crisis.
Many children have families to help them navigate these difficulties and teach them positive coping strategies.
However, for children in care facilities the sense of isolation can be overwhelming, as they are away from their families and communities.
For the 44 children living at the SA Children’s Home in Gardens, Cape Town, contact and activities with their birth family members and foster families are highly regulated and specially arranged on an individual basis.
The cancellation of visits and holiday plans, as well as school closures, means these children have become strictly confined to the home for most of 2020.
“I was upset and disappointed when it was explained that we can’t go out, can’t go home, can’t see our friends and also can’t go to school any more,” one 17-year-old at the centre said.
“I had lots of things planned, and I’ve missed out on activities and family gatherings. It ripped away my normality,” she said.
A 10-year-old boy at the centre added: “The worst thing is not to see family properly, especially my mom.”
SA Children’s Home acting GM Dawie Marais says the children have experienced a range of emotions.
“At the beginning, like all of us, the children were in shock,” he says. “Their first reactions were of disbelief; they could not understand what we as adults tried to tell them.
“Some were scared, some got angry and frustrated. Staff had to patiently keep explaining what was happening, reassuring them that it wasn’t only happening to them.
“Schools were closed for everyone and unfortunately, for them, the regulations did not allow for any of the visits, outings and holidays that were already planned.”
Social worker Vasti de Villiers says it has helped to involve the children in watching President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Covid-19 briefings, and they have been quick to adopt preventative measures and become part of the effort to keep themselves and others safe.
“We started an organised programme for each section of the home on the hour, including sanitising routines, to keep them actively involved with the process.
“They also have always had time for fun and play, and special arrangements were made for the children to phone family and other loved ones three times a week.
“We have managed to maintain regular individual therapy sessions with social workers, and children in therapy took part in online counselling. We also introduced sibling sessions to foster family contact and support for each other.”
With 44 children in 17 different schools, the centre’s staff had to pull out all the stops to link them up with their teachers for continued education. Some have found the transition to home-schooling challenging, and all of them miss their friends and favourite school activities.
Senior childcare worker Foezaile Booysen says: “As lockdown eased gradually, we started taking the children out for morning jogging and exercise. This is playing a crucial role in getting them active and releasing their energy.”
SA Children’s Home have also had to get creative with few resources to keep the youngsters occupied these past months. Everyone at the centre has been involved in a variety of art and cooking events.
They even held their annual Youth Day concert in June, but it was bittersweet. “It was the worst thing to have our concert without people,” one six-year old girl whose family usually attend the event said.
To help support the SA Children’s Home you can add them as a beneficiary on your MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet card or you can visit www.sakinderhuis.org/donate/ The home always needs donations of toiletries for the children (boys and girls aged six to 18) and food parcels for their Transitional Support Programme students.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are able to assist.