For many children, their neighbourhood is seen as a safe place where streets are filled with bicycles and the fields occupied by soccer balls and play parks. But for some children, the street is their struggle and only source of survival.

According to the 2011 census, more than 2000 children were identified as homeless. This number excluded the children who made money on the street but still lived in households.

A report compiled by the Minister to the Presidency in April 2009 noted that a study on street children in the greater Cape Town metropolitan area, in 2000, estimated almost 800 children living, working or begging on the streets.

“If – as is likely – there are comparable numbers of street children in other large metropolitan areas, the total number of street children substantially exceeds the number of homeless children recorded in the 2001 census,’ the report said.

Cape Town non-profit organisation, The Homestead Projects for Street Children, has developed a comprehensive response to the plight of children living, working and begging on the streets of the city.

The Homestead, which was established in 1982, provides residential care to 90 street children each night and helps over 160 children a year. They work weekly with 200 chronically neglected, abused and street-vulnerable children in various communities.

Paul Hooper, director of The Homestead said that they focus on more than just basic street-level services, or holding “difficult” children.

‘The Homestead works with a purpose to heal, develop and educate these children; to put the trauma of their past aside, and to ensure they have an empowered future and that they do not return to the street once they leave our care,’ he said.

Apart from the shelter and residential care services they offer, The Homestead runs a number of programs aimed at assisting children on the street.

These programs include street outreach where they identify, assist and work with children living, working and begging on the street. The children are then either returned home or moved into specialised residential care at one of The Homestead’s facilities.

They also have drop-in centres in various Cape Town communities where daily programs focused on family preservation, school attendance, crisis intervention and social work support for vulnerable children at risk of street life are run.

“To succeed, our programs must honestly value the beautiful child within and not be driven by the behaviour and anger that confronts us at the start of their healing process,’ said Paul.

One of the challenges facing organisations that work with street children is the negative and often incorrect perception the public has about children who are on the street.

Here are a few things that you need to know about street children:

They are traumatized and vulnerable

While many street children do exhibit behavioural problems, aggression and substance abuse issues, they are not naughty children, criminals, nor dangerous individuals.

They have experienced a lot of psychological pain and many are abandoned, orphaned, chronically neglected, physically, sexually and mentally abused and exploited.

They are legally in need of protection and care

The South African Children’s Act defines any child living, working or begging on the street as a child in need of care and protection.

The Act makes provisions for regulations, laws, services and structures that are specifically aimed at the care and protection of street children.

The South African Police Services, national and provincial social development departments, and social workers are mandated to address the plight of street children.

Your handouts keep them on the street

It may be in our nature to want to help by giving money, food or any other items but these handouts enable children to stay on the street.

Children are reluctant to accept help from organisations or programs, attend school or go back home when handouts make it easy for them to get money on the streets.

Begging promotes exploitation and abuse and items given to a child on the street often ends up being sold for these negative purposes.

They are still children

Underneath the hardened “street” exterior is a child who is not getting the opportunity to develop, learn or grow as a child should. They are children who cannot fend for or protect themselves.

How can you help?

  • Take an interest in one or two children on the street in your neighbourhood. Report them to the municipal or provincial social development services. If you’re unaware of how to get in contact with these departments, ask your local ward councillor or your local police station.
  • Become familiar with the organisations working with street children in your area. Find out who they are, where they’re situated, what services they offer and how to contact them. Get in contact with the local social worker designated to your area.
  • Once you’ve reported the child to these various authorities, follow up. Keep updated with the child’s progress. Ask where the child has been placed. Offer donations to the organisations working directly with the child.

Remember: It takes a community to raise a child.

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