It is widely acknowledged that South Africa faces serious challenges ensuring the wellbeing of children, due to the fragmentation of health, welfare and education sectors that serve children and their families.
An extraordinarily large number of South African children (12,2 million children) live in poor households that are unable to meet their basic needs for nutrition, clothing and shelter. Growing up in families with high levels of income poverty compromises child well-being in a range of different areas including, health, nutrition, education, safety, security and psycho-social wellbeing.
Despite the fact that South Africa has one of the most expansive cash transfer programmes for children in the Global South, the South African government is not able to address the multi-dimensional needs of children with cash transfers alone. Consequently complementary care interventions that combine cash and care initiatives such as parenting interventions, services for vulnerable children and preventative interventions are being piloted to meet the complex needs of children.
A large body of research shows that investing in and promoting child well-being has enormous long-term benefits that include enhanced education outcomes, improved employability and higher income earning potential as well as improved psychosocial outcomes.
Research also shows that poor school performance in the foundation years of schooling have 'knock on' effects on subsequent educational attainment, the foundations for learning in school are laid in early childhood development.
Within this context both international and South African social and educational policy scholars and development agencies have consistently made the case for more integrated and complementary social investments in health, education and social services to address the cycle of disadvantage that millions of South African children experience.
The Communities of Practice (CoP) pilot study that Prof Leila Patel, SARChI Welfare and Social Development (based at the CSDA) is leading is an exciting initiative that will integrate various interventions to create nurturing support systems that address children's needs in the early years.
Central to such nurturing environments requires access to quality learning opportunities; supportive social and health services; nutritional support; material support for those who do not have access to social protection (cash transfers); promoting the safety and security of children; and having responsive and informed caregivers and families, as well as well-versed and knowledgeable teachers.
The aim of the study is to establish a CoP to strengthen and promote functional collaboration between the health, welfare and education sectors serving children and families for improved child well-being.
By working together the CoP will develop and test a digital tool to assess and track child well-being. Using data gathered through this digital tool the teams will then design, implement and evaluate cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary local level solutions to combine cash transfers and care services and learning opportunities for children in disadvantaged communities.
Finally the study will produce invaluable knowledge about this kind of inter-sectoral collaboration and make recommendations to government and non-governmental partners about the potential for integrated social systems strengthening solutions to better serve children and families.
To achieve this the project will establish a Community of Practice made up of healthcare, education, and social service practitioners at community level who will be responsible for implementing the interventions.
The project is a collaboration between three South African Research Chairs based at UJ, Prof Leila Patel (SARChI Welfare and Social Development), Prof Jace Pillary (SARChI Education and Care in Childhood) as well as Prof Elizabeth Henning (SARChI in Integrated Studies of Learning Language, Mathematics and Science in the Primary School) as well the Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Human Development at Wits University.
"We are excited about this innovative study, it will provide us with an opportunity to get a real understanding of how we can support child well-being through integrated health, education and social services. Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, it will be more critical than ever to provide our most vulnerable children with holistic support to improve their development trajectories over the long-term," says Prof Leila Patel, Lead Investigator on the project.