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Falling through the gaps

Our vision is for a world in which every child is raised in an environment overflowing with love, nurture and opportunity. Our mission, starting in Munsieville township, near Johannesburg, is to work with families and communities and all who work with them, to develop models of true excellence that demonstrate that the vision is not just a pipe dream, but a realistic aspiration that can become a reality even for children currently immersed in poverty.

Since 2009, there has been a steady growth in the number of community-based organisations and other agencies committed to the well-being of children in Munsieville. From a wasteland where most children struggled to access vital services, there has been more than a decade of steady improvements in many disciplines including pre-school education, health, including vaccinations, and the support of those who have been subjected to crime and violence. Organisations are beginning to collaborate as never before, aiming to offer joined-up services.

But the founders of Root and Branch Change, along with partners in Munsieville, have become increasingly aware that still many of the most vulnerable children, often those with serious, complex needs, are falling through the gaps between the excellent, pioneering services that are emerging in the township. That is why this charity has been established – not to duplicate, but to complement the work of the community in support of children.

Every child is precious, created in the image of God, loved passionately by Jesus, and also by us. We will not rest until all the missing links have been found so no child will ever slip, unnoticed, through the net!

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Our four-part plan

Over the next five years, we will work tirelessly to help families and the wider township community support children better so that they avoid falling into crisis. But some children simply can’t wait that long – they need help now, so we will also create a robust service that protects the most vulnerable immediately. Here is an overview of the plan which has taken shape through more than a decade of front-line ministry to children in Munsieville.

1) When all other safety nets fail

What happens when a child is abandoned by “the system” following a traumatic family tragedy? This happens often in Munsieville, especially in the sprawling informal “squatter” camps. Frequently, even very young children are deserted, left to fend for themselves. Others are abandoned on the streets or at a local shopping centre. Others are kidnapped or trafficked. And all too often, overstretched statutory service providers are unable to help or are paralysed by bureaucracy. Our first priority is to establish a network of child champions and safehouses, vetted, trained and monitored, and able to offer immediate protection and care, even in the middle of the night, and to help steer a course to an appropriate solution within a loving, nurturing context.

2) When parents are just children themselves

We are committed to crisis prevention by building the capacity of new and expectant parents and caregivers. We are developing an exciting and comprehensive curriculum for a three-tier course to develop highly-effective parents, even those with little education or literacy skills, and those experiencing long-term poverty. The course will be rolled out in Bana Pele (Children First) clubs, high on fun and engagement, leaving members with greater confidence in their own abilities as primary caregivers, and in accessing health, education, social and spiritual services in their location.

3) When a child is living in a risky environment, and in need of targeted support

Of course, children growing up surrounded by multiple threats to their physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing need to be protected. But over many years of working in locations beset by extreme challenges we have seen that investing in children themselves, to build their resilience, building their capacity to protect themselves, to reach out and access help, and to develop creative strategies to overcome barriers that block their progress, is one of the best ways of helping children grow into strong adults. Focused on those most at risk of abuse, neglect and the impact of long term poverty, we aim to develop a range of services such as residential camps, sports and performing arts clubs, and peer mentoring programmes, to support children to be instruments in their own safety, protection and development.

4) When a child is settled, but needs information, support and befriending.

In Munsieville township, and hundreds of similar undeveloped communities across South Africa, many children live in loving, supportive homes where they are safe and able to flourish, even when there is a lack of the material benefits taken for granted in more affluent locations. However, even in these settings, fear and danger is close. Many children are living with constant pressure to engage with child drug traders living next door, or just down the street. Others experience daily coercion, even from within their family or peer network, leading to sexual exploitation – pregnancy amongst young teenage girls is at epidemic proportions. All young people need access to sound and trusted advice, to a place where they can report criminal activity with anonymity, to practical support, and to befrienders who are trained, screened and committed to the highest safeguarding standards. Some of these services are already in place in Munsieville, and we are committed to support their development, and to guarantee that every child knows what is available and has the confidence to access this critical support.

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