Moving Child and Youth Care into a New Era

Five representatives from Woza Moya joined 865 delegates from 13 countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Canada, Lebanon, the US, the UK, Australia, Lesotho, Nigeria, Zambia, Austria and all the Provinces of South Africa to attend the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) Biennial Conference in Kimberly, South Africa from July 4 through 6th. Forty-eight students from The Durban University of Technology who are pursing a degree in Child and Youth Care Work, as well as 181 employees of Department of Social Development, were also in attendance.

Entering the Conference on the first morning accompanied by a parade of fellow attendees singing and dancing, I quickly realized this was going to be quite a different experience from conferences I’d attended in the United States. The Opening Ceremony consisted of each of the South African Provincial NACCW Representatives lighting a candle to represent bringing light to the darkness of South Africa and the world. We paused for moments of silence for Child and Youth Care Workers (CYCW) who had passed away and the NACCW made a presentation to the families of the fallen CYCW. Amandla, a Kimberley NGO for the arts, performed a dance routine entitled “Visions,” which dramatically set the tone for the next three days of charismatic speakers, diverse breakaway sessions and numerous opportunities for networking.

Some salient facts that immerged in the proceeding presentations included the fact that 12.6 million children in South Africa are considered at risk and receive grants from the government. Rose September, the Director of Department of Social Development, shared that 63% of children in South Africa live in poverty, 5.5 million children live in households in which no one is employed. She urged that investment must be made for children aged 6 to 18. Children’s vulnerability increases as they age. Isibindi, the flagship program of the NACCW, has reached 1 million children, 360 NGO partners and trained 6,000 CYCW to date. Hermann Radler of FICE Africa, an organization that promotes child and youth care, shared that FICE South Africa is looking for organizations in South Africa to assist. FICE goes to areas where others don’t. He stated that there are 140 million orphans worldwide, 350 million street children, 385 million children living in extreme poverty and that young people aged 10 to 24 comprise 1 in every 3 people on earth. Aziwe Magida, Chairperson of Professional Board for Child and Youth Care, shared her vision for Child and Youth Care Workers to be fully regulated by 2021, to which the crowd cheered.

Lorenzo Davids, CEO of the Community Chest, provided a riveting Keynote Address, which challenged us to shift conversations from poverty reduction to wealth creation, imploring us to work with people to empower them to see themselves as productive and engaged citizens. When planning programming, he encouraged us to be clear, asking ourselves what our desired intentions are with our strategies of working and areas of engagement, transition from interventions thinking to solutions thinking, boldly design strategies using influence, rather than power to impact communities and integrate new intelligence and innovation to solve and shift social ills. He suggested we challenge anything and everything we hold to be true and embrace change. Lastly, he emphasized that we ensure we speak with integrity to the communities we serve through introspection and personal change.

Jack Phelan of Macewan University in Canada recommended four ways in which effective Child and Youth Care is implemented: through relational practice focused on encouraging children to make connections, requiring there be connection before correction; developmental awareness where we use the developmental level of another to connect and inform the way we relate to them rather than distance ourselves from them and to inform our own professional journey; lifespace work which recommends to community-based organizations, such as Woza Moya, in which staff live alongside the community members whom they serve, to use the environment itself to teach and live every moment and opportunity to its fullest; and experiential connections in which CYCWs honor the space between so that they may share in the experiences of the children they serve, taking into account particularly those children who have been abused, as they have been neurologically conditioned to believe that people are unsafe. It is the responsibility of the Youth and Child Care Worker to provide experiences that override the messaging of the brain and speak to their hearts. Working with children to create a free space in which they can turn the page of the story they tell themselves is essential.

The choice of 40 different Breakaway sessions over three days included topics such as, “The Essential Role of CYCWs in Contributing to the 90/90/90 Strategy towards the Target of an AIDS Free South Africa” which focused on CYCWs role in the promotion of HIV testing and discouraging stigma around HIV and AIDS to “The Me I am: Exploring Self-Reflection” which outlined the benefits of self reflection for those in the helping professions that include professional and identity development and the prevention of burnout to “What is Happening to Child and Youth Care Workers and How can they be Supported?” that provided a comprehensive look at the unique challenges CYCWs face and the ways in which both first-hand and secondary trauma and adversity affect both CYCW and the children with whom they work to “Think Outside the Box” that provided tangible, creative ideas for holistically engaging youth highlighting the returns on creative play which include the creation of space for children to vent their feelings and relax, the promotion of communication and insight into a child’s world.

One of the most poignant presentations at the Conference was the 132 Youth Delegates, all recipients of child and youth care services, reporting back from the gathering they’d attended that ran parallel to the Conference. The Youth spoke about the social problems they face, the rights they deserve, actions they, as young people, can take to mitigate those challenges and they asked for detailed support from Child and Youth Care Workers to solve the problems. They detailed crime, substance abuse and peer pressure, poverty and a lack of infrastructure to be the most pressing problems facing youth. Several youth shared their stories of overcoming adversity with the assistance of Youth and Child Care Workers.

Other themes from the NACCW Conference included the importance of youth input when planning successful programming, the value of resilience and social entrepreneurship for youth and the significance of engaging systems that surround youth to increase their connectivity. For example, CYCWs should be involved with the parents and schools for each child with whom they work. Finally, the importance of CYCWs dealing with their trauma is important, as working with traumatized populations can re-activate one’s own trauma. Secondary trauma occurs when one is exposed to others’ trauma and can accumulate. Creating trauma-informed environments, providing relational supervision, the creation of caring communities and proactive Child and Youth Care are key to combatting the effects of trauma.

Overall, the Conference has the potential to greatly impact the direction of Woza Moya’s Afterschool Program and Youth and Child Care Work. It is now up to us to sow the seeds of information, cultivate effective programming and nurture the connections made at the NACCW Conference for the betterment of the Ufafa community.

Effective community development activates scaled social reflexivity, sufficient to create a tipping-point towards locally perpetuated ownership of improved outcomes.  Woza Moya’s ultimate success, therefore, would be indicated by a transformed Ofafa Valley, driven by local volition, resilience and agency; where every member is healthy, well nourished, feels safe, and experiences an annual progression towards an improved future.