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How a “social franchise” supports over 100,000 orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa each year 

Children now receive help in the home thanks to thousands of Child and Youth Care Workers

Today, around 3.5 million orphaned children and a further 12.7 million vulnerable children struggle against poverty, disability, violence and the impact of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Now, thanks to collaboration between the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) and the Department of Social Development (DSD), the country’s most vulnerable children are receiving comprehensive support.

In the Isibindi model of care, unemployed community members are trained to become accredited Child and Youth Care Workers (CYCWs) to provide respite and capacity-building support in the home. Isibindi workers help under-18s manage households in the absence of parents by sending CYCWs to conduct home visits. Domestic tasks, cleaning, caregiving and supporting ill siblings and family members are all on the agenda. Conceived in 2001 by the NACCW, the Isibindi model has been rolled out to over 320 sites in South Africa, employing around 6,700 CYCWs, and serving over 100,000 orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) each year. 

“Violence prevention is a crucial element of the project,” explains Sinah Moruane, UNICEF’s South African Child Protection Specialist. “Isibindi CYCWs go into children’s homes to provide support to stop them turning to a life of violence. They educate caregivers on child rearing, dialogue and on violence against children, including on the adverse effects of violence on the behavior of children.”

Isibindi aims to preserve families. Removing children from the home can cause long-term trauma and puts pressure on South Africa’s stretched social services. Where home-based solutions are not viable, however, CYCWs are trained to recognize signs of abuse and refer children to social services and the police. According to the NACCW, referrals by CYCWs have led to 2,410 children being removed from situations that endangered their well-being since 2013.


Isibindi’s success in supporting children has yielded solid results: one quasi-experimental post-intervention trial shows ex-participants of Isibindi reporting higher self-esteem and problem-solving abilities, more family support and significantly lower HIV risk than control group members. While orphans and vulnerable children are disproportionately likely to drop out before completing their studies, 70% of Isibindi participants graduated from high school in 2017. 


The strength of the programme, explains Moruane, is its flexibility: as a “social franchise”, the scaling process is more flexible than much centralized programming. Under the aegis of the NACCW, which regularly monitors progress and ensures accountability, local organisations own and implement the Isibindi model according to their context and capacities. Additional components are also incorporated where funding and capacity allow: specific programmes target young women and girls or those with disabilities, while related initiatives include the Safe Park programme to provide secure environments for children to play.


“The benefits of Isibindi are not limited to children alone,” noted Moruane. Isibindi CYCWs are equipped with the skills to become competent social care and youth workers, and their salaries are funded by provincial government. Unemployment in South Africa remains obstinately high: in the first quarter of 2017, unemployment rose to 27.7%, its highest rate since September 2003. Isibindi provides one method of government intervention in one of South Africa’s intractable economic issues. 


Moruane stresses the work is not over for Isibindi: “We are always trying to innovate and improve the model,” she explained. In 2018, the DSD and UNICEF will collaborate to introduce a Child Well Being Tracking tool, an application on a handheld device that CYCWs will use to assess, track and monitor the well-being of children and create a care and referral plan. UNICEF has also worked to refine the case management system with DSD and to simplify the forms Social Service Professionals use. 


For now, however, scaling remains the priority so that, in Moruane’s words, “no child in South Africa is left behind.”

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