Safeguarding South Africa's future: the need for integrated prevention programmes in child protection

OUTPUT TYPE: Policy briefs
Intranet: HSRC Library: shelf number 8291

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Growing evidence from different disciplines shows that child abuse and neglect worldwide have immediate and long-term negative outcomes for human development and population health. In South Africa child protection policy is inclusive and provides for promoting the well-being of families with children, especially poor and vulnerable children in need of care and protection. The White Paper for Social Welfare (1997) and chapter 8 of the Children's Act (No. 38 of 2005 as amended) provide for the implementation and resourcing of primary prevention and early interventions. However, resource allocation, programme landscape and practice in child protection have not shifted from predominantly reactive approaches to preventive approaches. The law specifies collaboration between government departments in the implementation of early intervention and prevention programmes, yet child protection systems remain unintegrated, thus missing the opportunity to implement strategies across the lifespan of children. Meanwhile, there is a concern that child maltreatment is growing in severity, if not extent, although this perception is primarily based on high-profile media reports. Nevertheless, the evidence base does not identify the predominant measures currently used to curb child maltreatment as effective in reducing either the risk factors of child abuse and neglect or its occurrence. This is because, although they are relevant, they do not emphasise primary prevention despite the fact that the Children's Act clearly recognises the need to move from reactive to proactive approaches. The following recommendations are made: a permanent inter-sectoral government structure led by the departments of social development and health that will mainstream and monitor child maltreatment prevention in all sectors and across the lifespan; retraining of professionals and programme managers in child maltreatment prevention; adoption of the 'safeguarding children' concept in all sectors; and ensuring visibility of child protection issues in healthcare services.