Fundamental Understandings

  • The issue of Street children is a very politically sensitive one with many vested interests determining approach, policy and programmes. Seldom do any of these put the interests of the children first, but at the Homestead our focus and success is based purely on doing this, placing the best interests of the children first, not an easy task, especially when one is funded by some who have vested interests.
  • The Homestead’s belief is that any child left on the street is child abuse, but the Homestead does not support the belief that you have to force children off the street, and we certainly do not support the alternative that you have to leave children on the street and support and develop them on the Street. the street environment is extreme, damaging, violent, exploitative and abusive, children on the street are actively being sexually abused,  encouraged to take substances and exploited in so many different ways.   The Homestead believes that by creating the right relationship, by controlling the street  environment, by reducing support and exploitation, by  having a consistent approach across sectors,  and  by putting the right services in place that street children can be successfully moved off the street and away from street life.  Our approach is proven by a 90% reduction in the number of children on the streets of Cape Town since the year 2000.
  • For the most part getting children off the street is actually a fairly easy thing to do, the difficult part is creating a viable future for them away from street life. What I mean is that with the right approach you can get children to leave the street and come into services, but then the real challenge starts  the massive effort needed to heal and develop these children properly and so that they do not return to the street when things get difficult, or when they are too old for child care.  To do this one has to look beyond getting children off the street, beyond just holding them off the street, and on towards restructuring their shattered lives.
  • There is a lot of nonsense written about street children and what the street environment means to them. Street children are, contrary to the belief of many social service professionals, not dangerous criminals, they are traumatised children, abandoned children, chronically neglected, physically and emotionally abused and exploited children. These are children who have sort hope away from the pain of their violent and tragic home communities.   Many  have mental and health conditions, even disabilities that poor communities and under resourced schools cannot deal with, such as ADHD, FASD, Autism, mental disabilities.  They also exhibit behavioural challenges associated with trauma, they are not simply “naughty” children choosing to be one the street.
  • Poverty does play a contributing factor to why children on the street,  it does not however define what they need.  Street children are not simply looking for food and shelter. Street children  are a symptom of our failure as a city, as a community, a people to provide for their hurt, their needs, their futures, and to protect them from neglect, exploitation and abuse.  For these children the street environment is not a playground or an escape from obligations, parental control and school.  For street children the street is a “place of Hope”, a “Psychological Shelter”, it represents unconditional acceptance, the certainty of hope of a meal, support, food, drugs to numb the pain, freedom from parental or sibling abuse, etc.
  • As children lock into street life,  the street becomes their home, it provides psychologically, physical and emotional safety, it is the place they turn to in times of need, in times of stress, just as we look to our own family homes in times of despair, they look to the street. Street children know the street will be there for them tomorrow, they know it will not judge them, have unrealistic expectations of them, it cannot fail them.  Knowing this is fundamental to successfully getting childen off the street.
  • It is this connection street children have to the street that is the reason why trying to force children off the street does not work. Forcing traumatised street children away from their safe space just just pushes them further away, deeper into street life and deeper into the hands of those unscrupulous adults on the street who want to exploit them, who offer them the acceptance and protection they seek.
  • We cannot forget that street children are just children, they do not understand consequences of abuse, of taking drugs, of selling your body for sex. Attacking street children draws them closer together, it creates a gang mentality and the more extreme your action towards them, the more negative their reaction towards society and the more extreme their behaviour becomes. Under apartheid the police in Cape Town locked street children up, tortured them, beat them, sprayed them with fire hoses, even dumped them in the desert in winter, some children were shot, some died of exposure, but the number of children on the street continued to climb and the children’s behaviour continued to decline. On the other hand giving direct support to children on the street, such as providing them with money, education, food, education, etc also does not work, it only serves to make street life easier and to affirm that street life is the best option. Why would a child go to a shelter for a nice cheese sandwich for lunch when on the streets of Cape Town he can get a steak roll from the local restaurant
  •  Supporting children on the street keeps children on the street, even worse it affirms that those who exploit them, such as adults who use them to beg, are doing the right thing and that their exploitation is right. You trap children in exploitation when you give them direct support on the street. Everything on the street has value and can be traded, everything you give can be used to help justify that these children remain on the street.
  •  A key aspect to our approach is that we treat children as children, we work individually with children, do not treat them as a homogeneous group, and do not treat them as second class citizens. Traumatised children deserve the same treatment, if not better, than all other children. They need a nice, peaceful, healing and therapeutic environment, so the Homestead strives for the best facilities, the best services you can possibly provide.  We do not buy into the thinking that “street children” deserve only basic services or the crazy idea that children will not want to go home if you make things are too nice for them. All street children want to go home to their families as a first choice if they can.
  • Success is based on how we treat each individual child, how we reduce street level support and exploitation, how you protect their rights and in having the right people and services in place.  With the huge numbers of vulnerable truamatised children in communities surrounding Cape Town, throughout Southern Africa, we cannot hope to solve the problem, we can however manage it, keeping the number on the street down to a bare minimuim at any one time.
  • Reduce the number of children vulnerable to Street life through Early intervention and Prevention work, including drop-in centres and after school care programmes in street children communities of origin. These consist of outreach, family preservation, school attendance support, school after care programmes and poverty relief services. We also provide social worker intervention, therapeutic counselling and referrals to state and other services. This is simply about supporting and reducing the vulnerability of children in our most desperate of communities so that children do not drift towards the street or get the help they need before they move onto the street. Actually these programmes also work with children who go onto the street to beg from time to time, trying to reduce their vulnerability and the time they spend on the street.  Generally it is small things that keeps a child at school and off the street, for instance a pair of school shoes, a new school uniform, decent nutrition and health care and programmes during their most vulnerable times of the day, such as after school and before their parents get home from work. Sometimes however it is really big stuff like horrific sexual abuse, chronic neglect, family drug abuse, etc. This is when our social workers and state statutory services are required.
  • Outreach to children living and working on the street has outreach workers who identify and connect with children on the street, build a positive and consistent relationship with the children and encourage the children to attend our drop-in centres or early intervention programmes and to move off the street and either back home or into our intake centre. If necessary we might get court action to intervene if the child needs desperate help, but the best result is when the child moves off the street on their own accord. We strive to reach a space where no child is left on the street and as numbers on the street decrease we keep having to deepen our services to deal with the more difficult cases still on the street. Chronic drug addiction, horrific psychological damage, severe disabilities and more make structured and multi-disciplinary action a requirement and an approach we are still developing.
  • An Intake and Stabilisation Residential Programme is key to our success. A shelter is the wrong word because we provide much more than basic food and shelter. Our intake centre works with a purpose to transition children off the street, to stabilise them, restart their education, begin dealing with their substance abuse issues, legal work, reconnect with families, begin therapeutic individual and group work, life skills development and more. The aim is not to hold children in a shelter but to move them back home ( 37% a year), or on to alternative care, or over to our therapeutic programme or transitional centre.  The Intake programme is really trying to reconnect the child spiritually, mentally, socially, legally back to main stream society. We have a morning education programme for those children who are not ready to go back to school and while we provide a structured programme this is not a lock up facility. The door is locked at night and during sessions children cannot just come and go as they like, but ultimately a child can leave any time they want. Most children self-refer to this centre, or are brought in by the outreach workers, but we also have children placed there by the courts or by other social services.
  •  The therapeutic unit takes the stabilised street child and continues their healing, trying to get their education, trauma, substance abuse, mental health issues, disabilities, life skills, etc. sorted. This requires time and patience as well as money spent of psychological and education assessments and special schooling. It also has a morning education programme for those children who fall out of school or who we are battling with to get back into school. Education, in the broadest sense of the term, is central to our approach, as without skills and an education our children will not be able to support themselves when they reach adulthood and will return to the street which we do not want.
  • The transitional unit on the other hand prepares the very settled children, those doing very well at school, and who are no longer abusing drugs, etc to either return home or to ready themselves to move on out of our care away from street life. This unit invests a lot in education, skills development, developing community networks and completing all the little things that