Strengthening families key to tackling abuse

Most abused children are harmed by a relative or someone they know. The University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute found this to be true in 80% abuse cases where the victim was under four years of age. In light of this, local NGO Hope House has put a spotlight on families during the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, which runs from 25 November to 10 December.

“Many children are first exposed to abuse in the home, which has a lasting impact on them as they grow up and can lead them to become perpetrators of violence against others,” says Judy Strickland, child counsellor and founder of Hope House, a local non-profit organisation that offers donationbased counselling and runs community and schools workshops across Cape Town.

Even small interventions in family life have been shown to have an impact, with studies in the States showing that fathers who are involved in their babies’ lives from birth are less likely to commit abuse. Programmes that teach and encourage empathetic and supportive parenting, better communication, conflict resolution and nonviolent discipline to the whole family can lower rates of aggression, mental disorder and substance abuse amongst youth.

Strickland has adapted one such programme, called Strengthening Families, to the South African context. Hope House runs this eight-week workshop with families in communities with high rates of violence, gangsterism and substance abuse. The course uses role-playing, games and communication exercises to encourage empathy and greater stability within the family unit. “It is one of the most effective programmes we have come across, with participants reporting greater empathy and deeper understanding of their roles within the family unit at the end,” she says.

The team of volunteer counsellors and facilitators at Hope House share a vision to break cycles of violence. Through regular Strengthening Families workshops, child and adult counselling services as well as youth programmes, they hope to address past traumas and teach positive relationship skills.

Individuals (all ages) and families are welcome to attend counselling at the centres in Bergvliet, Kuilsrivier and Table View throughout the year, donating only what they can afford towards the running costs.. For more information contact Hope House on 081 500 3054 or visit