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Pioneering community-based foster care in South Africa

Foster mother Emma and two of her children
Foster mother Emma and two of her children

In South Africa, SOS Children have set up new form of community-based foster care, in an area with a high number of orphaned and abandoned children. Emma is just one of the foster mothers who have taken vulnerable children into their homes and provided them with long-term care.

Qwa Qwa is a small region in the east of South Africa. Many families live in poverty and the area has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the country, often leaving children with no one to care for them. In the small rural village of Makeneng, despite genuine community support to help the children in need, there are limited resources to respond to the situation.

In 2004, SOS Children decided to initiate a pilot project, to recruit foster mothers to provide a home and care for children in homes in the heart of the community. At that time, foster care was relatively uncommon in South Africa. SOS Children involved local government in the development of the programme, to ensure that it had their support and would be sustainable. The goal was that the foster families would fit seamlessly into the community.

SOS Children Qwa Qwa built four community family homes in Makeneng in 2004 and recruited four volunteer foster mothers. Each family has five children, and all of the foster families are firmly integrated into the community, establishing strong relationships with their neighbours and using local services.

Life as a foster mother

Emma, 39, is one of these foster mothers and is currently caring for five children in her home in the community in Makeneng. She currently looks after five children, four boys, Tumelo (12), Realeboha (6), Phetoho (5), Nkoe (2) and one girl, Bontle (5). Phetoho and Nkoe are the newest additions to Emma's growing foster family and came into her care in June last year. "They are settling quite well into the family," Emma says. Emma says little Nkoe can talk quite nicely but is still nervous of new people and will only talk to his new family. "He only speaks if he knows you. If you are a stranger he won't talk in your presence," Emma says.

Phetoho and Nkoe attend the crèche only a few metres from the house, whilst the older children go to school. Emma says the children enjoy their lessons. "Tumelo likes science and maths. When he's older he wants to become a doctor," Emma says proudly. The children play together well with the neighbour's children. "Of course there is the occasional fight. Children do fight and argue, but it's all about growing up," says Emma.

Expanding the project

SOS Children are currently planning to extend similar services into the community of Moeding. The SOS programme is partnering with the Child Care Forum (CCF), part of the Government Department of Social Development, training CCF staff to set up similar projects of their own. One of the SOS Children trainers believes that the project will be a success. He says: "It was very encouraging to see such an enthusiastic group, taking ownership of the challenges in their own community and working hard to protect and care for orphaned and vulnerable children."

Find out more about our work in South Africa.