Innovations from South Africa

There are many benefits to be obtained from attending the FICE Congresses. One is seeing friends and colleagues of many years standing and renewing both friendly and professional links.

Another is meeting different people and making new contacts, because somehow FICE always manages to attract a number of first time participants.

Also for those of us who want to look outwards to other countries and other continents there is always the enrichment of learning from others, as well as validating our own good practice both in the formal lectures and seminar groups and in the informal refreshment breaks.

This time for me in Helsinki, in June 2008 the outstanding professional and emotional experiences came from presentations by members of the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) from South Africa.


The first was a formal seminar about the ISIBINDI Programme, Creating Circles of Care, run by NACCW, as part of its response to the huge problems of child-headed households in a country ravaged by HIV/AIDS.

I learned that under the South Africa Bill of Rights all young people have the right to be children, to laugh and to play and to share enjoyable experiences.

NACCW believes that every child needs to play and have accessible adults they can turn to. So, Child and Youth Care Workers are trained and supported by NACCW to work with bereaved orphans, who often have to care for younger siblings.

Safe Parks

One project is to set up Safe Parks, where all children, orphaned or not, can come together to play. There they find workers trained to work with young people in their life space, to talk with them and to offer them loving care. The workers help children to make Memory Boxes as places to keep safe their precious family documents, photographs and any trinkets of significance.

For a while those children who are the heads of households can shed their adult responsibilities for a while and play with their friends and the child care workers at the Safe Parks. They have the usual equipment which we recognise, swings, roundabouts, skipping ropes and footballs. Adults and children also had huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm in using the equipment.

However, there were also underlying serious purposes and goals. Whilst offering practical expressions of love, care and support, the care workers are also trained and skilled in assessing the children, in order to try to address their emotional needs and offer therapeutic care.

Because so many of the elders have disappeared from community life, emphasis is also placed on reclaiming cultural activities with the young people, who take part in story-telling with any surviving grandparents, and learn to dance and make music in the traditional ways.

Community Food Programme

Another ISIBINDI-led project is the Community Food Programme, where children and adults work together to grow vegetables for a more healthy life style. It is also an economic venture since the fresh produce is much cheaper than shop-bought alternatives.

Differences and similarities

While on one hand the AIDS pandemic in Africa is way beyond our own experiences in the UK, some of the problems encountered by the child care workers in the Safe Parks do resonate with us. They too encounter problems with teenage and unwanted pregnancies, substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases among the young people they try to work with.

Their response to both AIDS and these other problems has been to inspire people to pull together in safety to help themselves, healing, supporting, sharing, teaching and lending courage to all.

On 16 June South Africa celebrates Youth Day. Is this something child and youth care workers should be lobbying for in the UK?

Looking ahead to 2010

There was a vibrant and moving conclusion to the Helsinki Congress as members of NACCW presented an invitation to the next FICE Congress. The beauty and the desolation, the noise and the peacefulness and the hope and despair were shown, with a background of haunting music.

I recalled tearfully (to myself in the darkened hall) the admission of South Africa into full FICE membership in Milwaukee in 1994. Our colleagues in NACCW have moved mountains since that time.

Why not go and see for yourself at the next


in early December 2010?

For more information, the Congress website is already up and running – .

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