Over the 75 years of its existence, many children in our area would probably be able to attest to the difference a timely intervention by Child Welfare Hermanus has made in their lives. But things are tough these days, many families are under extreme pressure both socially and financially and children in underprivileged communities are more vulnerable than ever before.

Nelani Jacobs of PBO God Shift Era and Sally Titelstad, Hermanus Child Welfare Centre manager in the newly-upgraded counselling room for children in need of emotional support.

Whether they are affected by rampant drug, alcohol or other forms of abuse; if they have been caught up in civil unrest, they are simply neglected, unloved or unwanted, the children in our communities are being seriously harmed every day.

It is often a hidden affliction, well camouflaged by both victim and perpetrator, but if left undetected and unsupported, it may come back to haunt both the individual and the community many years into the future. This truth was recognised by Nelani Jacobs, founder of Public Benefit Organisation, God Shift Era, when she volunteered at a children’s Safe House run by Child Welfare. She was so moved by the stories she heard of children who had been traumatised in one way or another that she decided she had to do something about it.

Nelani knew she was taking on a major long-term responsibility when she launched the Creating Hope project, but after discussions with Child Welfare Centre Manager, Sally Titlestad, she is more convinced than ever that it will provide the emotional support and assistance many vulnerable children so desperately need.

With a case load of between 600 and 700 families in Mount Pleasant and Zwelihle alone, Child Welfare Hermanus (soon to change its name to Hermanus Child and Family Services) is stretched to the limit, in terms of both financial and human resources, and welcomes any assistance it can get in providing an holistic service to the many children on its books.

“It’s absolutely critical for children at risk to receive professional counselling at the earliest possible age,” explains Sally, “and we can name any number of them in the ECD centres we manage, or amongst those who have either been placed in foster care or are waiting for the opportunity.

“So when Nelani approached me with her proposal to provide financial assistance for this aspect of our work, I couldn’t have been more grateful. As aware as we are of the importance of therapeutic interventions for both children and their families, we simply do not have the capacity to employ a psychologist of our own. And to expect members of our communities to carry the cost of counselling referrals is simply unrealistic.”

As she emphasises, it is, for instance, a life-altering experience for children to face removal from their biological families, and to expect them to deal with it on their own, both before and after the event, is not acceptable. The high incidence of sexual assault is also having a major impact on many children in this area. “There is no doubt about it,” she says. “We are facing not only an increase in the number of child-centred crimes, but also in their level of severity. On top of that, sometimes several months after every protest action, we see delayed emotional trauma.”

Child Welfare is pleased to have established a good relationship with most of the psychologists in the area, who charge them a discounted rate of around R350 per session for a child in need. However, in most cases, it takes a minimum of six sessions per child just to get to grips with the problem, let alone provide longer-term support.

This is where Nelani and God Shift Era come into the picture. “We would like to take on the financial responsibility for providing this service for as many children as possible,” she explains. “It’s not just a matter of assisting with the child’s immediate circumstances, but we view it as an investment in the future as well; we see it as building well-balanced, emotionally-stable citizens for the future of our country.”

Over and above enabling the counselling of severely traumatised children, she would like to be able to provide therapeutic training for the organisation’s social workers, so that they can offer group therapy sessions, where necessary, and also assist with family therapy. In fact, some children may simply need help in overcoming behavioural problems. As Sally adds, “We always view parents as the primary guardians, but often they are so stressed themselves that they need assistance in developing the necessary coping skills.”

Nelani has thrown herself body and soul into the creation of a child-friendly consultation and counselling room at the Child Welfare offices, the first step in cementing this collaborative relationship. Both she and Sally are also very excited to have referred the first two young clients for counselling.

Although Nelani has already organised several fundraising events for the project, she is hoping that members of the Hermanus community will be prepared to sign a monthly debit order to provide for continuity and assist with forward planning. Another option might be to sponsor a minimum of six counselling sessions for a total of R2 100. “After all, it’s in the interests of everyone in our community to create an environment in which our children can grow into healthy, well-adjusted parents themselves.”

Child Welfare Hermanus can be contacted on info@hermanuschildwelfare.org.za or 028 313 0830 and Nelani can be reached on info@godshiftera.com or 076 0777707. The God Shift Era bank account details are: God Shift Era NPC; First National Bank (branch code 25 06 55); account number: 6277 5793 170.

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