Months down the line, we’ve all had plenty to say about the COVID-19 pandemic and its unfolding impacts on our lives. But, we’ve barely heard the voices of children. Their day to day existence has been upended just as much as ours, and it causes them no less stress. A recent World Vision study conducted across 13 countries found that ‘71 percent of the children and young people said that they felt isolated and lonely due to school closures’ and ‘91 per cent of respondents acknowledged that they were facing emotional distress and troubling feelings, including anxiety, anger and worry due to the uncertainty of how long this crisis will last and dealing with isolation.’
Some children will have the benefits of families navigating the adversities well and resilient parents who are modelling positive coping strategies for them. However, for children in care, already removed by the courts from their families and communities of origin, the ongoing pandemic restrictions can only exacerbate their sense of isolation. For the 44 children who currently reside at the SA Children’s Home, contact and activities with birth family members and foster families are highly regulated and specially arranged according to the best interests of each child. These vital aspects of life, that most other children naturally take for granted, are exceptional to children in care, and play a great role in their well-being. The cancellations of visits and holiday plans, as well as school closures have instead strictly confined them to the care home in Gardens, Cape Town for most of the year.
A 17-year-old girl at the SA Children’s Home describes her reactions to COVID-19: “I was upset and disappointed when it was explained that we can’t go out, can’t go home, can’t see our friends and also can’t go to school anymore. I had lots of things planned, and I’ve missed out on activities and family gatherings. It ripped away my normality.”
A 10-year-old boy adds, “The worst thing is not to see family properly, especially my mom.”
Acting General Manager of SA Children’s Home, Dawie Marais explains that the children have experienced a range of emotions from sad and disappointed to upset and unhappy. “At the beginning, like all of us, the children were in shock,” he says. “Their first reactions were of disbelief, they could not understand what we as adults tried to tell them. Some were scared, and some got angry and frustrated. Staff had to patiently keep explaining what was happening, reassuring them that it wasn’t only happening to them. The whole world was going into lock down. Schools were closed for everyone, and unfortunately, for them, the regulations did not allow for any of the visits, outings and holidays that were already planned. We often used the example that even at old age homes, nobody from the outside could come in and visit the elderly.”
Social worker, Vasti de Villiers noted that it helped to involve the children in watching the President’s COVID-19 briefings, and they were quick to adopt preventative measures and be part of the effort to keep themselves and others safe. She says, “We started an organised programme for each section of the home on the hour including sanitizing routines to keep them actively involved with the process. They also have always had time for fun and play, and special arrangements were made for the children to phone family and other loved ones three times a week. If necessary, some extra video calls were occasionally made. We have managed to maintain regular individual therapy sessions with social workers, and children in therapy took part in online counselling. We also introduced sibling sessions to foster family contact and support for each other.”
With 44 children in 17 different schools, it was no mean feat for the staff to get them all connected to their teachers for continued education. Many of the children were anxious about being left behind in the school year, and others found the transition to home-schooling challenging. A 10-year old boy says, “It’s very disturbing for me. The way the work is taught at school is different from here at the home. I have enough school work to keep busy but I want to get back on track. I am excited to go back to school in August.” Across the board they have missed friends and favourite school activities. Senior Childcare worker, Foezaile Booysen says, “As lock down eased gradually, we started taking the children out for morning jogging and exercise. This is playing a crucial role in getting them active and releasing their energy.”
Staff at the SA Children’s Home have had to get creative with few resources to keep the children occupied and balanced over these past housebound months. Everyone has been involved in a variety of art and cooking events. They went ahead with rehearsals and the performance of their Youth Day concert in June. This helped to keep up spirits, but concert day was bittersweet. “It was the worst thing to have our concert without people,” says a 6-year old girl, whose family members usually attend the annual event.
The global pandemic has been a near-universal test of our resilience, and the residents at the SA Children’s Home have bravely found their silver linings:
“The best thing for me has been becoming closer to the girls in my section. We were just stuck together and we had to make it work. I’ve connected more inwardly with other children in the home.” 17-year-old girl
“I’ve enjoyed doing the activities – playing outside and inside, and playing with the other children. My relationships with other kids and the Ooms have been good.” 10-year-old boy
I believe that without family, friends can stand by you and support you. I’ve become closer to some children, but some other boys – not so much.” 17-year-old boy
“Playing in my section has been good, and all the girls are getting along better. Like we are one big family.” 8-year-old girl
You can support the SA Children’s Home by adding them as a beneficiary on your MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet card or visit www.sakinderhuis.org/donate/
The home also always needs donations of toiletries for the children (boys and girls aged 6 to 18) and food parcels for their Transitional Support Programme students. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are able to assist.