Mail and Guardian, 4 October 2002, A Helping Hand for HIV/Aids Orphans, Thabo Mohlala

A moratorium on the registration of new children's homes in Gauteng has forced the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCWS) to come up with innovative ways to help children in need of support.

The JCWS has expanded its care and shelter programme for abandoned and neglected children with the launch last weekend of a pilot project to help children who head households as a result of HIV/Aids in Eldorado Park and Klipsruit in Soweto.

The programme will provide training to community caregivers who will make daily visits to homes that are headed by children. The new programme is a shift away from the institutional homes provided for neglected and orphaned children.

JCWS director Lyn Perry says: "Children do not do well in institutional care facilities because kids need one-to-one interaction where they can bond." Such facilities only provide for "physical needs and lack an emotional and real family environment".

Perry says another problem with residential foster care centres is that children are not in a position to identify with a particular parental figure because staff at these institutions keep changing. "This could have long-term effects in the development of the children as they grow up," Perry says.

The programme seeks to provide a holistic family environment. Younger children will have access to a special day-care centre, while the older children attend primary and secondary schools.

Children will be given nutritious meals and caregivers will assist them with their homework during their home visits.

In the pipeline is a clothing depot and laundry facilities. Counselling by social workers will also be provided.

The JCWS will build on the existing support system of extended family and community support that is practised in many black communities.

Perry says statistics show that South Africa will have between 50 000 and 800 000 Aids orphans by 2005 and that 90% of the global figure of 13-million children who have lost one or both parents, will be on the African continent. She says the problem is that most underdeveloped countries have weak existing infrastructures, which can barely provide adequate support to these children.

The JCWS already has a child abuse treatment services unit that provides training to nurses in hospices and community caregivers to help them cope with the trauma and challenges posed by HIV/Aids.

Mpumi Zondo, who heads the unit, says the aim is to give people who deal with cases of HIV/Aids coping mechanisms. "A lot of these people tend to bottle their emotions and this could have devastating effects in the long term. We teach them to be in touch with themselves, their emotions and also motivate them to work with passion".

The unit also teaches people how to handle loss and grief. "Most of these people get overwhelmed especially after they witnessed the death of one of their patients. And sometimes they do not know how to break news of death to the affected family members," Zondo says.

So far the unit has trained nurses in Winterveldt and St Francis Care Centre in Boksburg, in the North West province and the East Rand, respectively.