Living in the city increases awareness of our privileged position because the hierarchy is extreme. The guilt that is carried by society as a whole needs to be repurposed into helpful action toward the homeless, especially when it comes to street children. But before taking action it is necessary to be informed and make sure it is the right one.
What to know
Poverty and a disintegrated, violent society are some of the biggest reasons that children end up on the streets. Children living on the street are often victim to poor choices made by those that should have taken care of them. We also need to remember that children are not on the same level of emotional and mental maturity as adults and cannot be held responsible in the same way for their reaction to difficult circumstances.
When dealing with street children our response should always be objective and clear, stemming from a place of knowledge. Often emotional manipulation is the only tool that these children have to survive, and they have become skilled in it. Unfortunately, often when given food or clothing they barter with the goods for money, drugs or alcohol. According to the Western Cape Street Children’s forum, even items like milk and cereal have been exploited by the local drug lord to be sold in a spaza shop. The children are paid for their items in drugs.
This addiction may keep children living on the street so that they grow into homeless adults. There are many challenges, some as simple as not having identification documents, which we may take for granted, could compromise their future. Not to mention human trafficking, serious illness, sexual exploitation, involvement in criminal activities on behalf of gangsters in the area and death. Street children are vulnerable, and we need to become more aware of what we are doing to provide for them.
Who is helping?
The Department of Social Welfare, registered Child Welfare Organisations (e.g. Badisa, Child & Family Welfare, ACVV) and Police are sanctioned by the Children’s Act to intervene if a child is neglected and abused. However, they do not have eyes and ears everywhere and therefore need the community to be aware and report children in need.
VRCID Social Development Manager Wilma Piek and her team are quick to respond when street children are reported to the control room by public safety officers or the public. They refer the children to Badisa after completing Form 22 to make sure that legal procedures are followed properly. If possible, they are then taken to the Badisa Offices. If the children are found after hours, they are taken to the nearest Police Station and the Department of Social Development is contacted for the after-hours Social Worker.
Piek is optimistic about the work that they have accomplished saying, “We managed to radically reduce the number of hardened street children, and even day-strollers through intensive campaigns that reduce the benefit children get from begging and other schemes.” Currently, their sector focuses on getting children off the streets, the many children in care and working to address the constant flow of children moving towards the street through prevention and early intervention services.
How can I help?
Become aware of the street children in the areas that you frequent. Do not give them anything but be warm and kind, this consistency will let them know that they can trust you. Find out where your local drop in centre is situated and direct the child there. They will provide food and hygiene services, counselling and home and school visits to ascertain the reasons that the child is on the street and adolescent development programmes.
You should also report the child to a DSD (Department of Social Development) and fill in a “Form 22”. Try to remember the Social workers name so that you can follow up within 48 hours- this is the amount of time they should take to handle the case.
Do not under ANY circumstances give a street child money or food. This undermines the work being done by organisations to discourage children from being on the street. Be aware that even giving money to children who park cars or are part of a dance or music group encourages them to stay out of school, leave home and live on the street. It is best to give a financial donation directly to a community-based prevention programme, local drop in centre or the Western Cape Street Children’s Forum.
Is there hope?
Once children are off the streets they are like any other child. If their basic needs are met and they receive constant love, care, support and education, they can grow into well-adjusted adults. It is possible, but may take a lot of patience, support and second chances to create long term change.
List of organisations in and around the VRCID area
- VRCID Control Room 072 792 7168
- After hours DSD Hotline 082 227 0478
- Badisa Trio Bellville 021-945 1064
- Badisa Tygerberg (Parow) 021-939 9120
- DSD Bellville 021-940 7100
- DSD, Metro North (Parow) 021-900 4500
Organisations offering outreach, early intervention and prevention services to street children in our area:
- Hewlin Compassion – 081 207 9485/ 021-938 437
- Bijou Bakole – 073 104 5525
- Olympians (Drop-in Centre, Langeberg Glen)
The Western Cape Street Children Forum have a wealth of knowledge and contacts to assist when dealing with street children. If they can’t assist they will refer you to the right number or organisations. For more information go to www.wcscf.co.za