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SA children’s suffering in poor areas worse during pandemic

Certain categories of South African children were profoundly affected during the pandemic, research has shown, with six out of 10 being exposed to depressed caregivers and continued violence in their homes and communities, and with their material, physical and nutritional well-being being significantly compromised.

The findings, released this week, highlight the urgent need for early interventions “if we want to protect the well-being of our children and enable them to thrive”, said the authors.

The study was initiated by the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) in 2020 at the height of the pandemic to assess how children fared, focusing on their well-being as well as on helping to improve their social and learning outcomes over four years.

TimesLIVE reports that the six key areas contributing to children’s well-being are good health, optimal nutrition, protection and care, access to material and economic resources, education and learning, and the psychosocial health of children, caregivers and their families.

The first three years (2020-22) of the research focused on pupils in Johannesburg schools, during which researchers tracked 123 children in their foundation years (grade R-3) from five schools in disadvantaged areas in the metro.

The remaining 123 children were based in Limpopo.

Most of the children in the Johannesburg portion lived with their mothers and other relatives during the period of study, but this changed over the three years. All were recipients of the child social grant.

The study made a range of findings, including that high levels of caregiver depression (23.5%) were a huge risk factor for children’s psychosocial development and that six out of 10 of the youngsters were still exposed to violent behaviour at home and within their communities, while the number of caregivers who had concerns over the children’s safety declined over the years.

After assessment, interventions were implemented to help those at risk of compromised well-being, via the community of practice (CoP) and involved engagement “with teachers, social workers, education psychologists, nurses and service providers and external governmental and NGOs”.

Only children at high and medium risk were selected for follow-up interventions.

The study noted that while teachers noted an improvement in child participation in class, they also noted a decrease in their performance over the three years.

It also found that “children’s access to food and nutrition improved”, that greater responsiveness to their needs were achieved and that the “material well-being of children and their families had been significantly compromised during the pandemic”.

The report made a policy recommendation for the child grant to be increased to match or be closer to the food poverty line.

“Constrained financial resources are a risk factor for child and caregiver well-being with knock-on effects on other dimensions like poor mental health of caregivers, and behavioural difficulties with children and child malnutrition.”

Prof Leila Patel, lead investigator to the CoP, said: “You can see in the report that for year one … if you look at the economic hardships of the families, it was a little less in 2020 – but it got worse as the pandemic progressed and afterwards, it was the highest because people lost jobs and it takes time to see the effects of the pandemic.

“We see in the depression data that the mental health of caregivers was more than 50% during the pandemic and improved to 23%. But on the rural side, it’s still very high.”

Conducting the study during the height of the pandemic involved numerous challenges, she added.

“Getting access to the schools, the children and their families – and also services, because government agencies had shut down. But we managed to do it and… our findings show that if we want to protect the well-being of our children and enable them to thrive, early interventions are needed.

“South Africa is facing a deepening economic and social crisis. As a new government is being formed, we offer the lessons learnt from the implementation of the CoP to the government and its partners. Reimagining school-based support services is a vital step in improving social and learning outcomes for children.”

 

CoP-Research-Report-Wave-3

 

TimesLIVE article – UJ study reveals how depression and domestic violence impacted school children during Covid-19 pandemic (Restricted access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

SA paediatric community position paper on ‘disappointing’ closure of public schools

 

What the lockdown means for sexual and reproductive health services in SA

 

SAHRC gives government deadline to address Eastern Cape malnutrition crisis

 

COVID-19 in children: The South African experience and way forward

 

 

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