Supporting vulnerable children through UJ’s Communities of Practice project

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Millions of children in South Africa, most of them African and Coloured live in poor households that struggle to meet their basic needs for nutrition, clothing and shelter. Such deprivations have consequences far beyond childhood, both for individuals and society more broadly. This tough reality, as well as the knowledge that strong policy interventions and focused collaboration between stakeholders can make a difference, prompted the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) to launch its Community of Practice (CoP) intervention research project.

The multi- and trans disciplinary project supported by the National Research Foundation involves collaboration between researchers and practitioners in, among other disciplines, social work, educational psychology, education, mathematics and language, mental health, nutrition, primary health care, community nursing, and public health and school health care services.

The CoP project targets children in the foundation years of schooling, Grades R and 1. To begin, it is being piloted in five Johannesburg schools. A Child Wellbeing Tracking Tool was developed by the CoP team to identify children at low, medium, and high risk across key domains of child wellbeing such as health, nutrition, education, safety and mental health. Armed with data from 162 participants in its first wave, the project team is now working with local level CoPs at each school – consisting of social workers, educational psychologists, community-based nurses/health workers, local NGOs and school governing body members working within the community and/or school.

Children and families flagged as needing support are receiving assistance. Some will be referred to schools and to community organisations for food parcels; others who experience learning difficulties were referred to assessments by education psychologists. Where children are behind with their vaccinations, they have been referred to local clinics so they can be appropriately vaccinated. In addition, families who are identified as needing support and strengthening will be invited to participate in the CSDA’s Sihleng’imizi programme. It covers areas like parenting skills, increased caregiver involvement in children’s schooling, nutrition, budgeting, and the use of alternative forms of discipline of children.

“Investing in children’s nutrition, health, improving their emotional well-being and schooling outcomes are important social investments in the human resources of a country,” says UJ’s Prof Leila Patel, South African Research Chair in Welfare and Social Development, who is the principal investigator and leads the CoP project. “Not only could this lead to them securing better jobs with higher income in adulthood, it could also create more stable families and communities and ultimately, a more stable and peaceful society.”

External collaborating partners include UNICEF, the City of Johannesburg, the Gauteng Department of Education, Department of Basic Education and the Department of Health. The research is funded by the National Research Foundation.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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