By WOINESHET BISCHOFF
The national Covid-19 lockdown that President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday night was preceded by the closure of all schools the week before.
The announcements have both been important and necessary to help combat the rapid spread of coronavirus. But having children out of the structured and supported environment of schools for longer than usual presents many challenges, especially for those in charge of children’s welfare in Makhanda.
First and foremost is the environment for children.
In neighbourhoods of high social risk, this is of huge concern. Children are hard to ‘contain’ and naturally wish to play, explore and socialise. The reality for many is that this is on the streets.
Safety is a definite, immediate concern, as well as how children will be spending their time if access to their usual safe zones is limited. And unfortunately we have to ask, are children safe in their own homes? There are countless aspects to this question, including blatant child abuse issues, but also levels of basic hygiene within the home.
The benefits of schooling become obvious: for many children, school provides a safe setting. Many schools provide nutritious lunches required for physical well-being and healthy immunity. Schools also provide resources, such as books and learning equipment, to stimulate young minds. Schools also provide leaders who provide emotional health and support to children. For Child Welfare SA Grahamstown, which runs Nompumelelo pre-school for ages 3-5, it is arguably through peer relations and socialisation that children at this age learn the most.
South Africans in general are noted for being warm, affectionate people. The latest jargon of ‘social distancing’ becomes a precarious and risky issue, when it is a new phenomenon for us as adults as well. How do we stop children from engaging and playing with one another, when we ourselves are consciously trying to wrap our own minds around the idea of distancing ourselves from others?
The negative impact on child development, in general, cannot be underestimated and within the Eastern Cape, known for having such depth of poverty, it becomes further challenging – for example, lack of access to home-schooling ideas, lack of toys, games or puzzles etc.
There are even further issues on the home front of parental inconsistency (with regard to daily routines and parenting), frequent changes of primary caregivers, lack of supervision and poor role modelling. Very often, the parents of these children also lack support themselves. Most young children already live with elderly caregivers who are the most susceptible to this virus. How are they going to cope with the provision of care and support?
Added to this is lack of access to basics: food (if parents cannot currently work), clean water (of which we currently have problems) and lack of good health centres and clinics. The list continues.
The negative effects of the virus have not been fully explored as yet and the critical question for us as a caring society is, can these effects be prevented or reversed?
The only thing we as caregivers can do, within our current confines, is to remain both positive and proactive for our children by cushioning, as much as possible, all the possible negative impacts.
At Child Welfare SA Grahamstown we are brainstorming initiatives on how to be more involved as an essential service to our community through such difficult times. Our current focus is on how we plan to maintain operations and mitigate the effects of prolonged programme disruptions, as well as how to increase the resilience of our communities/beneficiaries in the face of the pandemic, by having a plan to provide assistance to those affected.
- Woineshet Bischoff is the Director of Child Welfare SA Grahamstown.