Family programmes key to protecting children’s rights

The latest Child Gauge, published by the University of Cape Town Children’s Institute, found that 33% of South African children are victims of sexual and physical abuse. This Human Right’s Day, local NGO Hope House Counselling Centre has emphasised the importance of safeguarding children’s rights through strengthening family units.

“When abuse is taking place in the home, or family members are not aware of how to be supportive, children do not get the help that they need. This can have long-lasting effects on the child’s psychological, educational and social development,” says Judy Strickland, child counsellor and founder of Hope House.

Young children can only access support services and the courts with assistance from a trusted adult – often the first port of call is a family member, yet, not all families are equipped to handle a report of abuse from a child; “Children are among the most vulnerable members of society and are dependent on their families, schools and the government for protection,” says Strickland. “If we are to address the high rates of child abuse, this is where we need to intervene.”

Interventions in family life have been shown to reduce the occurrence of abuse and neglect. Research in the United States shows lower rates of substance abuse in communities with family programmes. Studies have also shown that fathers who are involved in their children’s lives from birth are less likely to abuse them later on in life, with the simple intervention of involving fathers early on having a longlasting positive effect on the child’s upbringing.

Adapting this knowledge to a local context, Hope House has run Strengthening Families workshops in community centres and schools around the city. Strickland and her team work with families to address broken communication, trust and stability.

“Family members gain a greater understanding of what is expected of them within the unit. This means that when a child is in trouble, they have a safe place to turn to and seek advice and help,” she says. Participants in the programme report that they gain greater empathy with other family members.

Hope House Counselling Centre has been offering donation-based counselling services to the Cape Town community for 14 years. Their counsellors see people from as young as three years of age at the centres in Bergvliet, Kuilsrivier and Table View. Hope House, offers training in the Strengthening Families program to NGOs, churches, and organizations who would like to run this programme in their communities