South African social services for children and families are often hampered by fragmentation and lack of coordination of services as well as limited resources. The needs of children are however multi-dimensional, and a holistic approach is needed at a local level, where services work in concert to ensure better outcomes for children.
The CSDA led a two-year Communities of Practice (CoP) research and intervention study that sought to fast-track child well-being outcomes for early grade learners in five public schools in the City of Johannesburg. The two-year project tested a joined-up approach to child well-being to understand how the integration of services can improve child well-being outcomes.
The CoP study involved a multi-disciplinary team including teachers, social workers, nurses and school psychologists who conducted the assessments and interventions tailored to a child’s specific needs.
The project included 162 children in grade R and 1 who were child grant recipients and aimed to address hunger, material deprivation, parental engagement in learning, psychosocial well-being, caregiver mental health and child health while also improving learning outcomes in maths and language.
“The data that has emerged from the research shows that integration of services can make real positive changes in the lives of the children at home, school and in the community. Services delivered by different experts working collaboratively brings together scarce resources and avoids a duplication of interventions,” explains Prof Leila Patel, Principal Investigator and South African Research Chair in Welfare and Social Development.
Another major benefit of this joined-up approach to service delivery is that project partners found that working together in a CoP facilitated greater knowledge sharing, building networks and resource sharing.
“Our CoP partners appreciated the cross-disciplinary learnings while still being able to own their different specialities and skills. For example, social workers felt that the CoP provided them with a platform to ask questions and seek solutions that would make use of skills from more than one profession,” says Sadiyya Haffejee, CoP research manager.
One social worker said: “Sometimes, we would ask the nurses, if we find a child that is stunted or wasted then what do we do then as social workers, as teachers? The child who couldn’t see well, what do we do?”
Another remarked on the value of feeling supported by the broader team, “For me working in a multidimensional team is the best, because as a social worker you feel like you have to do everything by yourself and sometimes it becomes overwhelming, and you can’t do everything by yourself. Our role was clear; what we were supposed to do, we had other people supporting it, we had other professions supporting it.”
Bringing together teams from different disciplines also creates space to learn more about the role of other disciplines and methodologies. Prof Elizabeth Henning a mathematics and language learning expert expressed a newfound appreciation for the methodologies of social development as a field, “What brought me happiness is to learn so much about how social development people think”.
Teachers also felt that they had been upskilled and had a change in perception of how they see children. “Right now, I can say that as an educator, I am even more involved with the learner’s well-being. I do not just focus on what the learners are doing in their books. I look at the learner holistically.”
“These views show that there is not only a need for collaborative work for the benefit of children but that it is also seen as beneficial by practitioners across sectors and we hope that these benefits will continue to grow and cascade to all partners in the CoP during the next two years of the project,” says Prof Patel.