CYC-Online 116 OCTOBER 2008
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Exploring the role of community child and youth care workers in South Africa: Where to in developing competencies?

Zeni Thumbadoo

In this chapter I start a process towards the articulation of competencies for community child and youth care workers in South Africa. To do this it is helpful to understand the emerging and significant role of child and youth care workers at an auxiliary level in communities. Experience with workers in practice at this level has indicated their potential impact in the development of child and youth care services in South Africa. On one level they provide a relevant response to children affected and infected by AIDS in the context of poverty. On another level their existence challenges current thinking related to professional registration, training and development in the field of child and youth care. On the foundation of a few stories from child and youth care workers in the community, I will explore some of the issues that face child and youth care workers in the community in the context of the AIDS pandemic and outline some of the challenges in the South African reality which are significant in understanding the need for child and youth care workers in South African communities. I will explore a humanistic theoretical orientation that should be considered to guide practice in communities in South Africa and articulate what I think are indicators of specific competencies that need to be developed for workers in communities.

Some stories
A recent visit of a funder to the Isibindi Project, which utilizes auxiliary child and youth care workers to help child headed households and vulnerable families in response to the AIDS crisis in the community of Umbumbulu in Kwa-Zulu Natal, was an awaited opportunity for the team to share their stories. Each child and youth care worker bubbled over with words in English (a second language to all) to tell their stories:

“Granny is very old, 87 years, physically very shaky but otherwise, alert and active. She is caring for the grandchildren of three of her children who have died of AIDS. I assisted her to apply for the grants and when the money came we arranged for a trusted niece to collect the grants for her. I also assisted the grandchild Malindi who was failing repeatedly at school. I went to school as Granny could not go, and asked the teacher how to help her. Every afternoon I supervised her homework and gave her tuition. Would you believe that at the end of year she not only passed but was promoted to the next grade? She was so joyful “so was I!”


“The younger brother Vuma came to my home and called me to help. Siphiso was being arrested for stealing money from the neighbour. I hurried over and once I assessed what was the situation, I went to the neighbour and negotiated for a restorative family conference. I spoke to Siphiso before the meeting and when we all met he apologized and we made a plan as to when and how he would return the money. There is a lot of work to still do with Siphiso “he is smoking dagga and needs to go for treatment but at least he is not in prison awaiting trial.”


“At last the grant came through and we sat down together and did the budgeting. They said that they wanted to buy duvets not blankets but asked me to first buy them some nice clothes so that they could dress up when we went shopping. These three boys and I shopped for some time. I asked them if they were they not hungry and what should we buy to eat. They said that today they want to eat at KFC and we did! We afterwards went to the bank, met the financial advisor who guided us on how to open an account and save some money every month. They now they have a bank account.”


“Sometimes the children say to me 'lets go and talk to dad', and we all go to the backyard and sit on their father’s grave and talk. When mother dies (she is terminally ill now) the children have to remain in their family home as there is a close connection with the ancestors and an emotional connection with the father. I bath the mother now and do all the household tasks. My supervisor wanted to arrange a place for the mother at the hospice, I said “don't” – the children need to be with their mother now. They want to sit with her on the bed and talk to her.”


“We were sitting together on the sofa looking at the family photos and talking about their mother who had died of AIDS. I found a picture of Mother in a mother’s union uniform. I asked them which church their mother had belonged to and if they wanted to go to church. They were eager to go and I went and met with the Pastor, made the arrangements. On Sunday I visited the family early and helped to iron their Sunday clothes and took them to church. They were warmly welcomed and even received food parcels from the church while waiting for the grant.”


When I listened to the stories it seemed to me that it was not just “what” the community child and youth care workers did, but “how” they did it, that made this child and youth care work.

What a wonderful way of being with children – doing grief work while looking at photos, talking and connecting the dots (mother’s union, church, spiritual care, social connections). Being available early on a Sunday to iron clothes so that a good first impression is made! Helping children in their own home! Helping them to live their lives.

The South African context

Implementing policy
There are certain issues that are significant to understanding the role and development of community child care workers in South Africa. The first is the emphasis in transformational policy on services to be delivered to South Africans who have been historically disadvantaged. These people are generally in rural areas, in informal (slum) settlements and in situations of abject poverty. Developing child care services for these children and families requires creative and innovative initiatives and programmes as historically the child and youth care services in South Africa were only residential care, offered predominately to advantaged sectors of the community.

Developing and strengthening services to communities requires a commitment to social development and nation building and attention to culturally sensitive and competent services. It demands developing and networking basic resources to families in poverty stricken communities. Policy at all levels emphasizes developing communities and taking services to where the needs are. The policy for the transformation of the child and youth care system is the critical policy that guides our practice. Other supporting policy documents include the Draft Children's Bill (with a whole chapter dedicated to children made vulnerable through the AIDS pandemic) and the Child Justice Bill (promoting restorative justice and diversion). The Education Act and White Paper 6 also focus on inclusive education for children affected and infected by AIDS, young people in trouble with the law, and children who are emotionally, behaviorally, physically, and mentally challenging. All documents promote services to the most vulnerable children in the spirit of nation building.

The issue of poverty in South Africa affecting the most needy and vulnerable has to be acknowledged. It is sometimes impossible to understand exactly how under resourced and desperate children and families in communities are. There are almost 18 million children under the age of 18 years in South Africa: 60 % of these children live in poverty. It is estimated that 2.3 million South Africans are nutritionally vulnerable. “Children are our most treasured assets and the future of our country, yet they are silent innocent causalities of poverty” (Smart, 2003. p. 9). Working in these contexts requires a serious adaptation of any first world approach in child care

Defining an orphan as a child under the age of 18 whose mother has died, it is estimated that there were over 885,000 orphans in South Africa in July 2002, 38% of whom were orphaned by HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS accounted for 73% of all new orphans, (81% in Kwa-Zulu Natal where our Isibindi Project exists). It is predicted that this number of orphans could reach a staggering 5,700,000 by 2015 (Smart, 2003. p. 11).

It is in the face of such hardships as poverty and AIDS that the presence of community child and youth care services are needed. There is no social service professional that is more useful for children and families in communities at this point in South Africa’s history. Children are vulnerable. They head households, care for dying parents, and are cared for by aged grandparents (who need to be cared for by the children). They are deprived of education, exploited by neighbours and relatives, stigmatized, and sometimes go without food and shelter.

Professional registration
Ironically the professionalisation of the field of child and youth care in South Africa – our most treasured achievement, consisting of years of struggle and advocacy – meets with the challenge of providing an immediate response to such a desperate need. While policy promotes the services of child and youth care workers in the community there is no concomitant provision made for salaries for child care workers on the staff of the State Departments. This further contributes to the difficulties of funding community child and youth care workers even in innovative outreach programmes from residential facilities. At the same time there is a view that only child and youth care workers with degrees or diplomas should service the field as child and youth care workers. The reality is that there are not enough child and youth care workers in South Africa with these qualifications. Our degree programme was established only 5 years ago. It is not realistic that these workers would be available in the numbers required in communities. So the contradictions raise many debates and discussions:

Should all child and youth care workers have a degree or diploma? Is this possible?

Education and nation-building
The transformational education policies in South Africa promote a culture of life long learning. We are as a nation challenged to create opportunities for those who have been previously disadvantaged, to access step by step accredited courses and qualifications that lead to completing formal school education, certificate courses, diplomas and degrees. The child and youth care field has developed a Standards Generating Body (SGB) for the field as part of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). This SGB will develop the standards for child care training and development.

Again the debate prevails – should entry level for child and youth care workers be available at an auxiliary level. Can the competencies required in the field allow a worker at certificate level to practice? A creative team design could work with educated and experienced supervisors but where are these people? They don’t exist in many residential centers in South Africa so how would you find them in remote rural communities? So what’s in a name? (see McElwee and Garfat, 2003) We can call them anything but they want to be called child and youth care workers – auxiliary or professional. It matters!

The South African reality
The child and youth care field in South Africa is representative of the contradictions in South Africa. We have the beautiful, exotic, five-star tourist resorts, the best international conference centers, the beachfront glamour, and the wealthy with mansions, beach cottages, and timeshares with BMWs in tow. At the same time we have abject poverty, starvation, malnutrition, poverty driven crime, unemployment and yes, this too to spoil the picture, AIDS and almost a million orphans. This is all our beloved South Africa. In Child and Youth care we have our professional registration board, our standards generating body, our Masters degree, our international affiliations and liaisons, and our international supportive colleagues. We also have to provide service to the most vulnerable children in communities of abject poverty in the face of the devastating impact of the AIDS pandemic.

We have to face the contradictions, be positive, resilient and creative and work with the “both/and”. We have to develop a South African response that is relevant to the realities of our country. The development of community based child and youth care workers, community child and youth care teams, and community child and youth care agencies is a logical step for the field.

Humanistic theories, the phenomenological orientation, and the educateur approach
Humanism has demonstrated itself differently in different times in history and the humanists were historically not committed to one particular set of beliefs. Crain, referring to Hawthorn (1961) and Fromm (1967), indicates that “Humanism historically has emerged whenever people have felt that some system or authority – political, moral or intellectual – was undermining human dignity or human unity” (Crain, W. 1992. p. 317). Human dignity is being devastated in the context of HIV/AIDS and poverty. The time is ripe for a clear humanistic orientation to the child and youth care practice in South African. The humanist theories embrace developmental, social ecological and phenomenological theories. Also significant is the European educateur model embraced within the humanistic theories.

Development implies improvement in the social conditions and in the quality of life of people in society (Grey, 1996). Grey also indicated that Social Development is a specific approach to social policy, which requires a society to have a sincere commitment to eradicating poverty. It is further noted that, “the transformation of South African society can only be achieved through the adoption of social development policies within the context of a national social developmental plan” (Grey, 1996. p. 1). Community work is historically connected with neighborhood work, yet many professionals have moved away from the community. Social work, for example, in it’s push for professional status abandoned it’s community thrust for clinical theory and practice both in South Africa and abroad” (Grey, 1996. p. 10). The Social Work profession exposes many errors of judgment in the development of its profession in South Africa – resulting in a noticeably irrelevant and inadequate service provision. As I reflect on importance of these debates for childcare, I am convinced that the childcare workers in communities are vital players in ensuring that the blend of clinical practice and community work finds synergy in South African society and that within the humanist theories lies the creative blend of community social development work and clinical child care practice applicable to South Africa. It was the humanists, after all, who called for renewed attention to inner experience and the need to suspend ordinary ways of classifying people from the outside and understand how the world feels to people from the inside (Crain, 1992. p. 327).

In child and youth care Garfat (1998. p.155) has said that “There is no field on earth whose mission is to tie as closely as possible to the lived experience of our client group: children youth and families” and that “the phenomenological orientation offers the opportunity to humanize the experience of child and youth care practice and to be better positioned to understand and appreciate their individual stories”. He further states that the phenomenological orientation offers the “opportunity to encounter others in a way that is intimate, close, human, real” (Garfat, 1998. p. 155). The humanistic theories captured in the educateur approach represent a relevant theoretical approach to the widespread need for developmental care for children in communities.

The educateur approach was developed after the Second World War in Europe where large numbers of war orphans were at risk and traumatized. Children needed to be cared for creatively and in large numbers. The educateur approach focuses on health and well being versus illness, teaching versus treatment, learning versus personality reorganization, the present and the future versus the past and the holistic social context versus individual psychological make up (Technikon SA, 2000). It embraces the creative spirit of the child and encourages the opportunities for children to play, paint, sing, dance, and act as ways of learning, developing and understanding their world.

Young people in communities facing poverty and grief require an intervention that heals and prevents further deterioration in their lives. The humanistic approach may provide a relevant theoretical base for community child and youth care in South Africa and through the educateur approach and phenomenological orientation, the opportunity to explore the yearnings, fears and creative urges towards health and personal integration. They offer direction for the competencies required by the workers.

Functions, tasks and methodology
Powell (1977) and Whittaker (1979,1985) are of the view that “professional child and youth care should be defined by generic functions rather than by the narrow parameters of specific settings or specifically identified populations set apart from the mainstream of community”. This implies that child and youth care workers in communities must be trained in a standardized relevant curriculum at professional or auxiliary level. Small and Dodge (1988. p.7) categorized the specific skills and job tasks of child care workers into six distinct categories:

It is interesting to note that the community child and youth care worker engages in tasks in all the job function areas. They provide services in the therapeutic helping role, in education and primary care, in organizational/systems maintenance and in professional development. Some services are offered at an auxiliary level with appropriate referrals to professionals; many are offered at early intervention level preventing the removal of children from their homes and strengthening their competence and capacity to survive in very difficult life situations.

The tasks connected to being a parent substitute are significant in the context of the AIDS pandemic and in services to child headed households and vulnerable families. Workers in the community have listed the primary care they offer as: cooking, mending clothes, playing with children, accompanying them to school, giving them medication, teaching them how to bath, washing clothes, polishing shoes, re-building their mud houses with them, developing memory boxes, supervising homework, applying for documents and grants, growing vegetable gardens together and assisting families to access a funeral cover. The details in the care tasks describe the breadth and depth of the tasks. For example in the administration of medication, most homes don’t have electricity and certainly no fridges, yet they are supplied with critical medication that requires refrigeration. The workers indicate that if there is no fridge they “put the medication in a bowl of water and cover it with a lid to keep it cool”. They also collect and administer traditional healing herbs, ensure that children eat before and after their medication, ensuring there is appropriate food to eat which means accessing food parcels, ensuring that different medication for different family members are separated and that all instructions are followed.

Again it is not the tasks but the “being” in the tasks that is significant. Austin and Halpin (1987) explained that a caring person values the other, views the other as a subject not object, sees the other as needing care, has the energy to care, respects the authenticity of other, sees the caring act as an end in itself, is non-judgmental, assumes that the other can be helped, is available to the other, is not fearful of caring, and is prepared to adapt to the needs of the person being cared for when that is necessary.

Child care workers in communities offer their care in the true spirit of Ubuntu “I am because you are”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s (1999) definition of Ubuntu demonstrates the connectedness of those who care and those cared for and the inextricable link between them. “Africans have this thing called UBUNTU; it is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift Africa will give the world. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. We believe a person is a person because of another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up and inextricable in yours. When I dehumanize you I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work form the common good because your humanity comes into it’s own in belonging.”

Caring in child care, especially in the context of South African communities, connects the worker deeply to the child and family. It is in the performing of child care tasks that the worker develops, grows and blossoms. In South Africa, in the spirit of Ubuntu, workers know that they are contributing to nation building when they persist in accessing the documents and grants, when they walk long distances in the hot sun to visit families, when they sit in long queues to collect medication, when they wipe tears, when they respond immediately to calls for help, even in the night. “I am because you are.”

Kahlil Gibran wrote that “when you give of yourself then you truly give, there are those who give with joy and that joy is their reward, and there are those who give with pain and that pain is their baptism and there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with the mindfulness of virtue: they give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes it’s fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these god speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.” (1997. p. 27).

According to the International Child and Youth Care Education Consortium “professional child and youth care practice focuses on the infant, child, adolescent, both normal and with special needs, within the context of the family, the community and the life span. The developmental-ecological perspective emphasizes the interaction between persons and the physical and social environments, including cultural and political settings. Child and youth care practice includes skills in assessing client and program needs, designing and implementing programs and planned environments, integrating developmental, preventative and therapeutic requirements into the life-space, contributing to the development of knowledge and practice, and participating in systems intervention through direct care, supervision, administration, teaching, research, consultation and advocacy” (International Curriculum, 2001, p.4).

In considering this definition it is clear that workers in the community perform the critical tasks identified in response to children at different developmental stages in the context of their families and communities. Their effective referrals network the relevant therapeutic developmental and preventative resources into the life space of the child. They develop and design daily and other routines and programs for children in their families and in the community.

The debate about child and youth care as a profession is an interesting one especially as the debate is contextualized in Canada, a very different context for child and youth care services compared to South Africa. Gaughan and Gharabaghi contend that not enough attention has been paid to the generation of knowledge in child care and that “we need to take greater responsibility for the knowledge and therefore the clinical practices we employ in our practice” (Gaughan and Gharabaghi, 1998. p.11). I believe that knowledge generation from practice in South Africa will demonstrate an African contribution to child and youth care knowledge. This knowledge will develop in the longer and complicated processes of knowledge utilization (Beker, 1991); contextualized interactions (Garfat, 2001) and other child care processes of accessing and developing professional knowledge.

The unique practice of life space work creates the opportunities for the worker to develop trust, creating the environment where daily life events become therapeutic moments. The capacity of the worker to function as a specialist and as a generalist at the same time is a special challenge. In the life-space the community child and youth care worker functions in varied specialist roles – the teacher, parent, advocate, nurse etc. In multi-disciplinary work, the worker must be able to communicate the meaning of the daily events in the child's life to the other multi-disciplinary role players. Child and youth care workers indicate that in communities their role with educators, social workers, magistrates and police is significant. They know the policies and legislation that protect the rights of the child and their fierce advocacy role ensures their respect in multi-disciplinary negotiation. Hence in the stories shared the worker was able to motivate a magistrate to allocate a foster care grant to a 19-year-old youth heading a household but who is still attending school, negotiate with the police for a restorative conference as a diversion option for a young person in trouble with the law, motivate social workers to prioritize grant applications and food parcels for children in child headed households, quote the education act to school principals who were not admitting children because of lack of school fee payment. All these tasks, undertaken in the spirit of advocacy, interpreted the children's daily life to other professionals.

Training affects our ability to represent the child care discipline confidently. The approach to training in South Africa needs to be in keeping with the national education policy, which supports concepts of life long learning, basic adult education and acknowledgement of prior learning. NACCW has developed “a continuum of child care learning opportunities” allowing and developing both auxiliary and professional practitioners to find their place in child and youth care services. In South Africa the Association (NACCW) has clearly advocated for, and developed, the discipline within the country to the official establishment of the Professional Registration Board. This Board has the task of professionalizing the field in a creative blend of auxiliary and professional child care workers in the ratio required by the child care needs of the country now. The Association supports the development of community child and youth care workers as reflected in the resolution passed at the 14th Biennial conference.

This conference resolves that Community Based Child and Youth Care and Community Based Child and Youth Care Workers be a focus of training and support by NACCW and the partnerships for CBCYC work be formed with the Department of Social Development.

Being and knowledge utilization
One of the defining characteristics of a child and youth care approach is “being with people as they live their lives” (Garfat, 1998). This characteristic represents one of the significant ways that child and youth care workers in the community functioning at an auxiliary level utilize existing child care knowledge and contribute to knowledge development in our profession.

A coherent professional identity in child and youth care has to be grounded in “knowing” (theory, information and data) but also, and significantly so, on “doing” (emphasizing growth and development through activity) and “being”, described as child care work being a process of “self in action” (Krueger, 1996). In the development of child and youth care workers in the community, the challenge is to keep the knowing, doing and being in the right balance.

The accessing of tacit knowledge is critical and making meaning of this with existing knowledge and theories will enhance and develop a South African child and youth care knowledge base or theory. In the community, workers often use their innate, unarticulated, buried knowledge to respond to situations. Through reflection they become aware of implicit knowledge or informal theories. These informal theories through reading, discussion, reflection (in effective supervision) strengthen these informal theories. Schon (1983) refers to this concept as action refection. According to Foley “Seen this way professional work is a cycle or spiral of action and reflection. The practitioner acts, reflects on the action and learning from the reflection and plans new action. This is theory. A conception of theory and practice which emphasis their mutual dependence is more useful than one that sees theory as prior to practice” (1999. p. 110). Knowledge or theory in community child care should be grounded in an understanding of what workers in the community think and believe about their practice (i.e. their informal theories). These informal theories should be tested and reviewed through formal theory. In this way formal theories can be challenged and deepen the understanding of experience in daily work; to transform abstract or formal theories from abstract to tacit. “The dual process of creating tacit knowledge by making abstract knowledge tacit and making tacit knowledge explicit is the process of knowledge utilization”. (Eisikovits, Beker and Guttman, 1991). Hence the perspective articulated by Arieli (1996) that child care workers can create new knowledge instead of simply relying on previously acquired information.

Child and youth care workers use the knowledge from their training in their work with children and families. For child and youth care workers in the community functioning at an auxiliary level the process of supervision is critical in the process of knowledge utilization. Through supervision there is reflection on practice. Workers, in considering the actual application of knowledge and the aspects of self that were demonstrated in the practice, become more conscious of actually applying theory with their own style. This action reflection in child care represents one of the ways that supervision can be used effectively in developing professional practice and knowledge utilization in child care.

Performance, according to Anglin (1992) requires the effective application of knowledge, skill and self-awareness. In one of our Masters classes we developed a similar model – the AWA concept – which makes reference to ability, willingness and awareness in child and youth care practice and development. The capacity to enhance performance by integrating and developing the level of awareness, willingness, and ability in workers through supervision will contribute to developing a continuum of competence in workers in communities. In this way, supervision will be congruent with practice in the field (Garfat, 2001b).

Being in contextual interactions
The professional development of a child and youth care worker can be seen in the “contextual interactional relationships between the worker and the young person. Transformational events and experiences between the young person, the workers and their joint context create the context for transformational learning.” (Garfat, 2001a. p. 5).

The intensity of emotions in the context of death and dying in the community result in many opportunities/events and experiences for transformational learning for child and youth care workers. Lungi, the child and youth care worker in the opening story, sits on the father’s grave and is “being with” the children in the only way they know how to communicate and work through their grief. She was not taught this but used the moment to entrench her relationship with the children in the context of their mother’s impending death. She demonstrates an intuitive understanding of “being with”. Lungi knows how to sometimes be “in front”, sometimes “be beside”, sometimes “be behind”. She knows what “being” is and when to “be” where. At the grave she is “beside” the children; when they sit with their mother and talk with her whilst Lungi cooks quietly in the background she is “behind” the family; and when Noni, the 10 year old is not attending school she is in front, advocating for school admission and encouraging mother to support Noni’s school attendance. As she applied her basic child care skills in the context of this family she was presented with an array of complex issues that she considered and responded to intuitively – in considering the characteristics of child and youth care workers, Lungi in the context of this family practices all of them.

Being and professionalism
In arguing whether what Lungi does is child and youth care work or simply what any trained volunteer would do I would respond that is again not what is done but how it is done – what methodology is utilized. The next question about Lungi’s practice links to whether it is all intuition or was there any conscious application of knowledge, skill and self-awareness taking place. Lungi and her team indicated in a workshop session that some of the self awareness aspects they considered when they worked with children included being conscious of not-labeling, being culturally sensitive, creating situations that empower children to participate and make decisions, being aware of professionalism, being strengths based, recognizing and working in the moment, being conscious of doing “with” children not “to” or “for” them, not giving up. They highlighted a range of skills utilized with an emphasis on communication skills “engaging, listening, empathy, encouraging, motivating, decision-making. They raised the effective use of creativity and the events in the life space, demonstrating transparency, confidence and proactive management.

The team reflected on knowledge and indicated that they knew about grief-work, strengths based work, communication, trial and error learning, restorative work, life space work, and the code of ethics for professional practice. Anglin (1992. p. 16) described child care relationships as combining the “richness and intimacy of the personal, with the rigour and goal directedness of the professional.” This is an important consideration for the competencies to be developed for workers in the community. Tomlinson (1995. p. 13) in discussing Kelly’s (1990) criterion of professionalism says “We need to be creative in the way we see the interaction between education, experience, in-service training, and personality characteristics of the child care worker. In staking our claim for the status of a profession on the grounds of formal qualification we should start by putting together a “person specification” which combines all these factors -creating a holistic profile more attuned to the needs of the youth in our care ...Theory is good, but it doesn’t prevent reality from existing”.

Competencies for community based child and youth care workers

A community/ social development focus
The debates on social and community development towards nation building in South Africa are helpful in understanding the critical role of child and youth care workers in nation building and promotion of child and youth care work. The debates in the social work profession are aimed to encourage and motivate social workers to engage in work in communities, not just casework. The child care workers in communities have no such confusion – they come from communities, work in communities, and apply their knowledge skills and self awareness in their communities as child and youth care workers. Their contribution to social development is linked to the accessing of resources in a small but purposeful contribution towards poverty alleviation. Community based child and youth care workers are relentless in accessing state grants. They creatively develop effective methods to access grants and fight through all the red tape and bureaucracy. They advocate to the state officials (police, home affairs officials, magistrates, and social workers) throughout this process. They identify gaps in the delivery of service to children and develop these services or advocate for them. When they develop services then they advocate for the resources to support them. The development of the Safe Park Model is an example.

The UNCRC states that children have a “right to play”. In the communities where child care services are offered there are typically no safe play areas for children. The idea of developing safe parks emerged to create a broader circle of care around vulnerable children in communities. Child and youth care workers play with children in the safe parks. They offer child and youth care services in parks through the creative methodology of the educateur approach and an understanding of life-space work. Negotiations with traditional leaders and municipalities have been successful in accessing land for the parks and developing programmes at the park for children. Donations for the parks were also accessed. This Safe Park Model is now entrenched in the development of child and youth care service delivery at community level. Presently there are 80 children playing with other children every afternoon in one park in a rural area. The workers have been trained to play with children as part of knowing, being and doing in child and youth care. A lot of serious child and youth care work is offered in hanging out and hanging in with children in the park.

Advocacy and children's rights
Community development includes the protection and promotion of a child rights culture. Community child and youth care workers often work in the face of a myriad of child rights violations. They have to be fierce and eloquent advocates at every level of their service delivery. At schools, for example, the children's” right to education is violated, as many children cannot afford to pay school fees. Child care workers have quoted the Education Act to many principals and have admitted most of the their children on their workloads to school. A magistrate refused to allocate a grant to a child who was 19 yrs old but still at school. Again the child care worker advocated for discretion in this matter and the foster care grant was allocated.

The development of Safe Parks, issues of child labour, exploitation of grants, drawing up of wills and legal documents to protect property, securing of children's houses when parents die, preventing illegal removals children: these are some of the child rights advocacy work undertaken directly by the community child care workers. The competencies of the workers in the advocacy will need to be more emphasized in community settings because of the immediacy of the issues – this is where children rights are violated the most and workers need the confidence to advocate and refer to legal resources when necessary.

Referrals and resource networking
The training of child care workers must include attention to support systems, helping workers to understand and use or build a variety of support systems, and teaching young people and their families how to use them in their own lives. Use of support systems must become an integral part of the child and youth care workers specific expertise (Liberatore, 1981. p. 4). Workers in the community need to demonstrate their professional presence in referrals and resource networking.

While a multi-disciplinary team undertakes a developmental assessment, for example, there is a clear role for the child and youth care worker to play in the assessment process. Here the workers must be confident and understand the contribution of the child and youth care profession in multi–disciplinary team functioning and make meaning of daily events for the other professionals. They also need to be aware of how to assess risk linked to safety and protection issues and ensure relevant further team assessments or referrals. Often in communities, sexual abuse, physical abuse, exploitation, and the threat of violence require immediate attention. Workers need to be trained in the special protocols of any preliminary risk assessment.

Cultural sensitivity and competence
According to Fulcher “cultural safety involves the state of being in which a child or young person experiences that his/her personal well-being, as well as their social and cultural frames of reference are acknowledged – even when not fully understood by workers assigned the tasks of helping them. Cultural safety requires that each child or young person will be provided with the reasons for feeling hopeful that his/her needs will be attended to, in terms that he/she will understand. Cultural safety also means that family members and kin are accorded dignity and respect and are actively encouraged to participate in decision-making with service providers about the futures of their children” (Fulcher,2004. p. 1). In the work in communities especially in the context of HIV/AIDS there is a vital need to develop competence in cultural work.

Mattingly, in developing the core competencies for professional child and youth care personnel, identifies cultural and human diversity as one of the key competencies. Cultural knowledge should be “integrated in developing respectful effective relationships, and communication and developmental practice methods” (Mattingly, 2001. p. 10).

The workers in the community indicate how the traditional approach of connecting with ancestors is integrated into the grief work and counseling with children. Stories are shared in this process and even Christian traditions should include visual images that are in harmony with who the children are and how they see themselves (black angels!). The area of cultural and human diversity represents a critical competency to be developed in worker in the community.

Family work
The context of child care work in communities is in the families – nuclear families, extended families, traditional families, vulnerable families and child headed families. As pointed out by Garfat it is important to realize that young people are members of a “social interacting system”. “The development of the young person's thoughts, actions, values, beliefs, and experiences of self, occur within the system” (Garfat, 2004.p. 9). Any change in the young person is connected to the whole family. The perspective held by Garfat that the role of the child and youth care worker is changing from “care-taker to care-giver to systems interventionist” (2004. p.5) will require unpacking and exploring in the context of family work in communities.

Family work is a critical area of competency in the development of community-based child and youth care workers. Working through the grannies with the children, understanding sibling dynamics in child-headed households, holding diminishing roles of parents in the process of dying, exchanging of roles of cared for and care givers in the relationship of dying parent and children, and addressing stigmatizing in extended families are examples of the need for family work to be emphasized for communities child and youth care works in developing competencies

In the process of developing competencies for the child and youth care field in South Africa we are engaged in considering three types of competencies in the application of child and youth care – practical, foundational, and reflective. They are described as follows:

“Applied competence is the overarching term for the three interrelated kinds of competencies. Practical competence is the demonstrated ability, in an authentic context to: consider a range of possibilities for action; make considered decisions about which possibility to follow; and perform the chosen action. It is grounded in foundational competence where the learner demonstrates an understanding of the knowledge and thinking that underpins the action taken and integrating the thinking that underpins the action taken, and integrated through reflexive competence in which the learner demonstrates the ability to integrate or connect performances and decision-making with understanding and with an ability to adapt to change and unforeseen circumstances and to explain the reasons behind these adaptations.”

The three interconnected types of competencies will need to be applied to the specific focus areas described above. This process will be significant to the development of community based child and youth care workers and will assist in the development of these specific competencies in conjunction with competencies developed generically for child care workers in South Africa in all settings. The special setting of community in the context of the realities of South Africa, poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and this moment in history require specific focus on certain competencies. The eclectic theories and approaches that will guide the development of these competences need to grounded in the humanistic approach.

Through the hands of such as these that God speaks,
and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth

Kahlil Gibran, 1993


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This feature: Thumbadoo, Zeni. (2005). Exploring the role of community child and youth care workers in South Africa: Where to in developing competencies? In Garfat, T. and Gannon, B. (Eds.). Aspects of Child and Youth Care Practice in the South African Context. Cape Town. Pretext.

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