Concern over roundup of kids living on the streets

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Two of the boys preparing ‘Skoppos’ for lunch with the skills they have learnt.

Covid-19 has added to the existing challenges of working with children and youth have been living on the streets. Up and above their daily hardships and struggles to survive, the lockdown situation has limited the provision of food and the monitoring of their health and hygiene.

“Unfortunately, Kidz Care Trust was not aware of the ‘roundup’ of street children as reported in the media. Neither do we know where the children and youth are being housed during the lockdown. What we do know after more than 25 years of working with street-living children, is that removing children and youth from the street is not an event but a process,” said Marita van Kraayenburg, Manager of Kidz Care Trust. Normally, introducing change is a diffi cult process and as experienced before, some of the children will hide away during a round-up or will temporarily go back to their families.

“Kidz Care Trust, will, as far as possible and at a later stage, continue with our street outreach to identify new children on the street, provide food and monitor their health. The past week not only highlighted our shortcomings but provided a unique opportunity to evaluate the impact of our services to those boys residing at the Kidz Care Trust Child and Youth Care Centre,” she added. In many cases Kidz Care has found that the boys, who, through a process of establishing trust, choose to move from the street to the centre.

The aim is to prepare the boys for independent living as well-adjusted members of society. Van Kraayenburg said these kids are obligated to stay at the shelter with no opportunity to visit friends. It is then when boredom will set in, especially if volunteers are not able to provide programmes and activities. “We have found that with the limited prosocial skills and being teenagers, we can expect an increase in the usual struggle with house chores after street-living kids are taken in! Last year, thanks to Credo Home of Hope, the children received cell phones for Christmas.

To keep them busy, they decided to provide them with data. Not only did they download games and music, but WhatsApp became the chosen medium to communicate with the social worker and rest of the staff. To our surprise they sent photos and messages via WhatsApp showing off their activities,” she said. Van Kraayenburg added laughingly that since teenagers seem to communicate better via social media, social work intervention had to adapt! “Communicating with the boys on WhatsApp created an opportunity to engage individually and in the moment with the boys. Problem-solving, decision-making and conflict managing were discussed and reported on. With the help of emojis, acknowledging and encouraging good behaviour became much easier.

This might seem insignificant to some, but considering the extensive process to internalise life and social skills, this was a major accomplishment for us,” she added. “Of their own accord they chose to engage in activities to keep them busy. One boy was preparing meals under the supervision of the housemother, the others worked in the garden. They prepared the vegetable garden for sowing of seeds previously donated under the guidance of the UFS Agriculture Department. Being teenagers, their physical appearance was very important to them.

They utilized sponsored gym equipment to stay fi t and ‘build muscles’. They kept themselves busy by recording their own songs – a process explained but not understood by the technology-challenged staff ,” she smiled. “Against all odds, our boys have always coped well.” Kidz Care Trust is not taking in any new children at the moment and is unsure as to how things will develop in the future. They would, however, like to thank their donors and volunteers support received in the past.

Heidre Malgas

heidre@mahareng.co.za