Despite prevention featuring in welfare policies and legislation such as the Child Care Act of 2005, the White Paper for Social Welfare and Finance policies in the late 1990s, this remains a neglected area in developmental welfare and social work services. One such programme, Sihleng'imizi, is a Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) evidence-based preventive family programme that seeks to promote child and family well-being.
This intervention was the main focus of a seminar hosted by the CSDA on Tuesday, 27 February, to advocate prevention services as a critical, and usually absent, aspect in the welfare field.
Sihleng'imizi (meaning 'we care for families') is currently being tested as a positive and community-based support service to families who receive one or more child support grant, to build on family strengths and offer new knowledge and skills so that children's well-being is enhanced. The programme was implemented in partnership with the City of Johannesburg in ten of its poorest wards. Social workers were trained to deliver the programme over 14 weeks. The content included parenting skills, such as enhancing positive family relations and cohesion; using alternative forms of discipline and strengthening family support. Practical skills are provided in financial literacy and nutrition. A major focus of the programme is on improving caregiver involvement in the child's schooling as this is associated with better schooling outcomes. The programme is targeted at children and families who received a CSG and who are in Grades R and Grade 1. Preliminary findings show significant improvements in child and family well-being as a result of the programme.
This programme is an example of a family intervention that could scale up the impact of the CSG. It is important because few welfare agencies have divisions that focus solely on prevention of social problems and the promotion of human well-being in their area of work. At a social policy level, we seldom reflect on the preventative and promotive potential of welfare policies such as social grants, or ECD services, or where life skills training programmes fit. Neither does the DSD have earmarked funds for preventative and promotive programmes. A UNICEF budget analysis between 2016-2018/2019 shows that prevention and early intervention services for children made up less than 1% of the national and provincial social development budgets; and except for Gauteng province, all provincial allocations showed a decrease in allocations.
Beyond government spending, training of human service professionals in this field is limited. Few if any Departments of Social Work in SA, have modules that focus on the science of prevention and its implications for practice. However, in some fields, such as substance abuse, education and life skills programmes do form part of the mix of intervention strategies. This also applies to HIV and AIDs prevention, but it is often perceived to be a health issue rather than an issue for social work practice, or child and youth care among others.
During the seminar, Prof Leila Patel, CSDA Director, said that "It is because of this reality that we asked ourselves at the CSDA how could we contribute to thinking about prevention in the SA context and how social workers could apply these ideas in their practice in welfare agencies. Our work is in the early stages and is experimental in nature."
Five dimensions that the CSDA focused on for the programme is based on theory and local and international evidence; these were shared extensively during the seminar. In our research, the Sihleng'imizi team hypothesise that the family, however defined, is the main mechanism for bringing about change in child well-being. Also, interventions in the early years of life are most effective in bringing about long-term benefits for children.
"Further, we argue that interventions that speak to child well-being are critical in shifting poor outcomes for children measured in terms of the material, physical, education, emotional and social well-being of children," adds Prof Patel. "The child support grant provides important material support (cash) to poor households but how can we step up the already positive benefits of the CSG through adding complementary care and support services for caregivers and their families?"
The team of CSDA researchers presenting the Sihleng'imizi programme included Prof Tessa Hochfeld, Jenita Chiba, and Kgomotso Mangolela. With special guests from the Department of Social Development in the City of Johannesburg, Faith Sibiya and Dikeledi Monareng who also shared their role and support for the implementation of this experimental programme.
Full report can be downloaded from the CSDA website.