“You stand out in the crowd only because you have these many, many carrying you on their shoulders.” Desmond Tutu
Kemo joined Kids Haven this year as a volunteer in the Donation office. She is loving her work and bowled over by the wonderful generosity of people bringing us second hand goods and school children using their community hours to help Kids Haven. She sat down this week to ask a few ‘big picture’ questions so that she could share what she knows with visitors popping into the office.
These are Kemo’s questions….
“Who lives at Kids Haven and how do they come to Kids Haven?”
Any child in need of care and protection can come to Kids Haven BUT there is a regulatory process that has to be followed. This is especially since 2010 when the new Children’s Act was implemented. In the early days of Kids Haven, our outreach workers connected directly with children on the street and encouraged them to take a chance to leave the streets and move into Kids Haven. The legislation at the time allowed Kids Haven to offer ‘shelter’ to a street child while they learned to trust staff and become more stable in their behaviour. Then the child would be legally placed here.
The current Act only allows law enforcement such as SAPS or Metro police to remove children from their homes, or a designated social worker usually with the Department of Social Development. These services then approach Kids Haven and ask if the child can be placed here. While we are situated in Benoni, we do accept children from other parts of Gauteng but mostly we take in children from within the Ekurhuleni Metro.
Kids Haven used to have a dedicated outreach worker who would seek out street kids specifically. Now, we have a TEAM of community workers and dedicated social worker, who are out and about daily in the communities around Benoni. This team does more than identify only street children. They provide programmes and services to empower families to protect and care for their own children, building protective and caring communities around the families. When we identify a child who is not safe, our team rapidly contacts the designated social workers and raises the alarm. Following a short assessment period which we monitor, the child is often brought directly to Kids Haven and our programme of care and protection can begin.
Over the years, Kids Haven has gained a reputation for coping with ‘challenging’ children and those that need extra care and attention. Our social workers have a joint discussion to plan a programme for such children. We are a little cautious not to admit several similar children all at once because we need to carry on the protection and care of children even inside Kids Haven. We have to balance the care of children already living with us against the challenges of taking in a group of new, very unstable children. We also have to be sure that our programme suits the new child. We are not a drug rehab centre and it might be better for a child with a drug problem to first go to a rehab centre before coming back to us. Sadly, there are not many available drug centres and if the child is young (we see children of 10 who are taking drugs), Kids Haven may admit the young child and support him through an out-patient drug process while living in care with us.
We do keep records of why children come to us for protection. Mostly we see that children, especially those with challenging behaviour, come out of homes where they have been neglected, abused and abandoned. Our child, Mamella, for instance. She joined us with her younger brother because a neighbour called our team to investigate these two small children locked into a shack all day. Their mum was always looking for employment and couldn’t manage to care for them. Sometimes she forgot them. These two young children urgently needed to be cared for and protected and they came to Kids Haven. We have helped them to maintain a relationship with their mum while they live here. Her circumstances are better than they were, and they are both older and less vulnerable too. This Christmas, they will get to spend a short time with her but they will come back to us to continue schooling and living safely. Our community team maintains close links with this mum and is supporting her to get the right documents so that she can secure more permanent work and create a safer home for her children.
Abel’s story is a little different. His mother abandoned him, leaving him with his father who was abusive and harmful. The police removed him and initially placed him with a foster family. Sadly, the abuse continued in this place although it was supposed to be a safe one. He was sent back to his father, who also hadn’t changed, and finally young Abel was removed again and placed into a short term centre before being welcomed into Kids Haven more than four years ago. We have traced his mum but she keeps moving and we lose her again. Abel has visited his dad but things go badly and he comes back as soon as he can. Fortunately, his older sister is in his life now. Abel is turning 18 this December and will carry on staying at Kids Haven to complete his schooling. He has been in our care leavers programme to prepare for leaving and will join our youth skills programme after school. Kids Haven will support Abel to live independently of his family.
Kids Haven needs to provide a safe and caring space for children so that they can grow up, go to school, have therapy, enjoy sport and have a happy childhood. We know that they cannot live at Kids Haven forever, so our community team works hard to trace and counsel family while our social workers meet the needs of the child here and build bridges if possible to restore the relationship with family. Around 30% of the children living at Kids Haven simply do not have any connections to any family members and they will live here a long time while others cannot return to abusive families. Our Care leaver programme offers practical activities to prepare for independence and Kids Haven’s AFTERCARE team is ready and waiting to continue our care even when children and youth leave the centre. The admission of children is closely linked to the exit plans for children from the very beginning. In between these two points, the INCARE childcare team, social workers and others create a caring place for every child.
“Where do the donations go? Do you need other volunteers and do you have plans for Christmas?”
Kids Haven is able to protect and care for children because of the donations that we receive. We couldn’t have a team in the community, or social workers providing counselling, or Therapists offering specialized support if it wasn’t for the many contributing donors that believe in the work that we do.
Firstly, Kids Haven is registered and compliant in every possible way so that we are legally able to do this kind of work, and that we meet the standards expected of an Organization like ours. The Children’s Act only allows registered Child and Youth Care Centres to provide a home to children in need of protection and care. Kids Haven is fully registered with the Department of Social Development and they provide annual funding to cover the basic care of children placed at Kids Haven. It amounts to around 50% of what it actually costs to look after a child and allows us to provide a foundation of care which we build onto through the donations received from Companies, Trusts and individuals. We always provide a tax receipt for every donation received.
“Foundation” means ‘basics’ and excludes things like schooling, sports, therapy, enough social workers who have time to really SEE children, or special programmes like care leavers and youth skills. Kids Haven adds these extra programmes because our experience shows us that they are essential, plus we keep up to date with research into the needs of “looked after” children. I keep mentioning “care leavers”. This is something that researchers at the University of Johannesburg, and other children’s homes, including Kids Haven, have been looking at for a few years now, keeping up to date with international research on how the care system is extended to prepare children for independence. Our CEO, Sam Mokgopha, completed his Masters Dissertation on the needs of street children before entering care, while living in care and AFTER care. This kind of research and thinking turns into programmes that we deliberately and intentionally run with the children and youth. You can find out more online on our website kidshaven.co.za/about-us/
At the moment, the Department provides basic funding for our INCARE children. All the extra work that we do in communities is not funded by the Department. It is up to us to share information and look for donors who recognise the importance of preventing families from falling apart. These donors help Kids Haven to cover the fixed costs of our community team for instance. Remember hard lockdown? Our community team worked seven days a week during level four and level five lockdown to deliver food to stressed communities. Now they work six days a week! It is a bit of a joke that they are our Duracell bunnies whose batteries never die and don’t need to worry about load shedding! They are always ready, always committed and constantly busy providing workshops, hosting dialogues and discussions, overseeing home gardens, serving food to homeless youth and adults or driving up and down tracing families, gathering information, knocking on the door of the Department of Home affairs and… The old “Outreach worker” who was only concerned about street children is now a team of seven skilled specialists who build relationships everywhere they go constantly working towards the care and protection of every child.
Lastly, every single THING that is donated finds a home here. We have a big store room to sort through each bag and box to set aside the clothes and resources that our children need and that the community team needs. Ever since our earliest days, we have realised that we must also try to be self-sustainable by selling extra items that we don’t directly need to use. We have created jobs and two charity shops in Benoni to sell these extra items. This generates money for us to plug any gaps and also offers community shoppers the chance to buy many different items for their own families or even to run micro-businesses. It is a very l o n g string of support that we create from every bag that is donated. Today one of our children may wear these takkies, but when they outgrow them, they will end up in the shop for a mama to buy and sell in her community so that she can buy shoes for her own child. Find our wish list here: kidshaven.co.za/donate-goods/
The support we enjoy from school children earning community hours enhances our other donations. These young people bake, cook and shop for us. Our children enjoy homemade Macaroni and Cheese every week and the cupcakes and big cakes turn birthdays into celebrations. Food parcels, meals-in-a-bag and toiletry packs are shared through the community. New children receive a beautiful welcome pack of toiletries and a teddy or toy through this initiative. Our website has an easy link to our needs and hours available kidshaven.co.za/community-hours/
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted our face-to-face volunteering but this is getting back on track now. We are asking that in-person volunteers are fully vaccinated to limit exposure to the virus and better protect our children. The new Teen Hub programme will need many volunteers to join us in the afternoon and on Saturdays when we welcome inner city teenagers into our space. We are excited that many young people who have left Kids Haven or who are part of our community programmes are joining us to volunteer in the Hub and ‘give back’ to Kids Haven. The Hub will be a vibrant safe space for learning and playing. There is nothing like it for the teenagers who live in the inner city of Benoni and we know that they are excited to join the Hub in January.
In-person volunteering suits people living in or around Benoni best because of transport and distance. Volunteers who help with homework have to be able to come one afternoon a week for the whole school term. Company volunteers are welcome for special projects and activities. We have missed this help and these connections. We invite volunteers to chat to Lindiwe on firstname.lastname@example.org
“Is anything special planned for Christmas?”
Definitely! While our heads are down at the moment to study for school exams we will be straight into HOLIDAY mode once these are over!
We will once again host our #7Colours campaign so that families in the community can look forward to a special meal this Christmas. A #7Colour meal is traditionally a meal of celebration for many people in our rainbow nation. It’s even referred to as ‘eating the rainbow’! A typical #7colours meal will reflect several bright colours of fresh vegetables like carrots, broccoli, butternut, beetroot and spinach. Potatoes or mielie meal adds a contrast alongside a juicy piece of chicken or chop. Please join this campaign 7colours for Christmas This delicious meal is followed by everyone’s traditional favourite dessert of tinned fruit, jelly and custard.
We would love you to donate your R70 towards a #7colours meal for a family member this Christmas. We will be providing gift cards to the families so that they can buy their favourite ingredients. Typically, our families are four to five people each although we do have families of ten, eleven and even twelve people. You may prefer to send an electronic food voucher (e-voucher) to our dedicated number 071 860 0505 and we will flip it forward to the identified family. We keep records and registers of everyone who receives a food voucher, gift card, e-voucher or food parcel. You are also most welcome to donate dessert items like jelly powder, tinned fruit and Ultramel or other ready-made custard. Contact email@example.com or WhatsApp 071 860 0505 to find out more.
Children who live at Kids Haven will enjoy a special Christmas lunch and we plan a picnic for the 26th of December and again on New Year’s Day. We cater for between 110 – 120 children of the usual 155 children living here over the Christmas week. The other children are able to make short home visits or host home visits. Every child is given a Santa Shoebox on Christmas Day or as they leave for their home visit.
We would be grateful for donations of snacks like chips or peanuts and cold drinks. You may even be able to help us to buy the chickens and boerewors we need. Connie would love to hear from you firstname.lastname@example.org or 011 706 7959.
Thank you for your questions Kemo.
Thank you being a valuable part of the many shoulders who collectively carry Kids Haven and reach so many children. We would love to hear YOUR questions – please email us at email@example.com and we will feature your questions in upcoming newsletters and via social media.
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” JF Kennedy