CYC-Online 59 DECEMBER 2003
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From Soup Kitchen to Community Programme

In this issue we talk to Kathy Scott, principal of James House in Hout Bay, South Africa

James House in Hout Bay (named after a young boy who begged for food and shelter for himself and his sisters) grew eight years ago from a soup kitchen service to a shelter for street children.

Initially a community undertaking operating as a project under the wing of Cape Town child and Family Welfare Society, it is now a registered children's home for 20 children, and an independent branch of the society.

Today it offers a differentiated residential, family and community programme which demonstrates how the “new paradigm” in child and youth care can be explored even before the new structures and funding are in place.

Changing circumstances
The mission statement of James House was well intentioned from the start: to achieve the return of a child to family or community within a turnaround time of six months to two years. However this goal was hard to reach with the only child care worker on duty in the evenings preoccupied with the children in residence. But change is often kick-started by necessity, and when the child care worker became through other circumstances unable to remain resident, yet wanted to stay on to develop new directions, principal Kathy Scott and her management committee decided to bite the bullet. At a time when many children's homes were reducing staff, James House increased theirs. A new resident child care worker was appointed, while the former staff member started moving outwards to work with families.

It was a slow and carefully planned change, since the children were anxious over the comings and goings, but in retrospect it is seen as a turning point.

The family worker, and thus James House, became better known in the community, and the community in turn increased its support. Fortunately the home remained full (even had a waiting list) so state funding stayed constant.

New work
Exciting things happened. The new role of a family/community worker required that a new job description be worked out, and this was largely decided by events, children returned to their parents were supported by the worker in child management skills, and the children could continue to attend some of the afternoon programmes at James House. The parent support included elements of parent effectiveness training and elements of counselling. The worker then offered parent effectiveness training to local school teachers who were able, in turn, to be helpful to other parents in the community. The family worker still does some shifts in the children's home, and some James House staff (now also including a relief child care worker and two full-time students) may in time do “shifts” within family settings. What is common is the essential nature of “life space” work as distinct from social work, though, when convenient and appropriate, some tasks are shared between the child Welfare Society’s social worker and the James House workers. Also, some of the existing activity programmes in James House could well be moved to community venues, thus being accessibly to both the children's home and other children. So, the walls of institutions become more permeable, and the roles and tasks of child and youth care workers more widely applied.

This development requires thoughtful planning. Here are two object lessons apparent in the James House story. The first is related to staff. James House, like most children's homes, would not normally be able to afford the staff needed for a development of this scale. Instead, it makes active and sensible use of volunteers. The small permanent staff is complemented by two full-time Danish student volunteers, and a corps of twenty volunteers from the community who help with the home’s activities programme: arts and crafts, sports and recreation, sewing and carpentry, reading and tutoring and with the administration: transport, collections, fund-raising, typing and general administration. Further, a consultant psychologist contributes time, and members of the management committee itself are quick to stand in for any of these many tasks when needed.

Much staff attention is placed on this volunteer corps, who are properly involved in planning, supervision and feedback, and for whom regular training and social events are planned. James House demonstrates that there is an effective way past the excuse that “we haven’t enough staff.”


Using volunteers is an excellent way to increase the capacity of your organisation by adding more hours for adult-child interaction. In work with troubled youngsters, one-to-one time is so important, and in most child and youth care situations we would always like an extra pair of competent hands around.
There are some simple points which should be remembered when using volunteers:
  1. Volunteers must be competent people, and have something real and useful to offer to children and youth. As Lorraine Fox once said: “Wimps need not apply!”

  2. Volunteers must be regular. Even if they have only one hour to spare a week, we can use that hour. But the hour is a firm booking and important to the child.

  3. Volunteers cost everything but the salary.” This means that all of the other staff costs apply “clear job descriptions, available space and facilities, involvement in decision making, good supervision, regular feedback.

  4. What the volunteers actually do is less important than the fact that they come to interact with the children. If they offer hiking or music or knitting “whatever “they are doing something positive and ordinary with kids.

  5. Volunteers, unless invited, keep to their times. It is unhelpful to the life-space when its boundaries get blurred and people come and go too freely.

  6. The skills and experience we may give to volunteers are things they can take away with them they continue to be useful in their own families and communities.

  7. Volunteers can offer so much “in return for no more than a Thank You.

Ecological standards
The second object lesson is related to the home’s careful monitoring of levels of services. While client needs are accurately assessed and service quality in terms of these needs is consistently high, the resources and interventions are never so sophisticated or complex as to be beyond the normal reach of the children, families and community itself. This is a powerful element of the James House programme.

For example, they have refused donations of M-Net and a swimming pool, as these would not be part of the children's normal lives. Further, James House intentionally has no transport so that there is no learned reliance on a resource which would not be part of the children's future. Most importantly, all of the activities programmes are geared towards skills learning and not towards passive entertainment; everything they get in the programme is something they can take away with them “something which will “fit” with their own homes and families and will be helpful there.

The future
James House is considering several possible future growth points: an emergency care service (already several children, and even a whole family has been offered respite accommodation and care on a short-term basis); a foster-care level of service for children no longer needing the intensive programme; more access to the activities programme for those in the wider community who may benefit from it, bringing them into the ambit of James House and thus offering some early intervention service; more parent training and other information giving in the community, contributing to prevention. Kathy Scott feels that probably half of the present parents could be helped to resume responsibility for their children through this extended programme. This would leave about one-third of the present enrolment still needing the more intensive residential programme at any one time.

The graphic illustration shows the direction in which James House is growing and the degrees of impact it can have as it moves out from clinical to community work. Whereas the home has accommodated and helped just twenty children at any one time, the future operation could have a far smaller residential group – but the rest of its programmes would impact on hundreds of youngsters and their families in the Hout Bay community. In all of this there is a widening range of roles and tasks for child care workers, developing their existing individual and group skills towards other life space applications, for example, families, settlements, and wider community.

This accords very well with the vision of the Inter-Ministerial committee which foresees existing children's homes becoming resource centres, with fewer children resident and more children being helped in their family and community contexts.

This feature: Scott, K.. From soup kitchen to community programme. Child and Youth Care. Vol.15 No.8 pp 4-5

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