ISIBINDI – Creating circles of care

Responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis as it has affected children, South Africa’s National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) has developed a community-based care and protection intervention option for children, named ‘Isibindi’ – ‘courage’ in IsiZulu.  Articulating national policy in a ‘turnkey’ model, Isibindi projects are implemented by local organisations and communities, with the support of the social development authorities and donors, in the social service equivalent of a franchise. Linking community-based organisations with a national support network and information feed, Isibindi enables poorly resourced communities to adopt an evidence-based approach to the provision of integrated welfare services, and rapidly develop effective and informed local care and protection services for children.  

Almost 300 Isibindi projects have been replicated across South African provinces, serving over 100 000 children who would otherwise have fallen outside of the care and protection matrix. Including quality assurance mechanisms, and a community development approach, the Isibindi model has received public acclaim, and is currently being scaled up through a South African government initiative. Additional components of the model include a Young Women’s Empowerment Program, a Young Men’s Empowerment Program, a non-centre based ECD model and a Disability model – all of which enable progressive realisation of a wide range of children’s rights and protection needs, through effective deployment of community-based child and youth care workers.   

Child and youth care work is an emerging social service profession encompassing a body of research, theory and skill, pertaining to meeting the normal developmental needs of children and youth, as well as their deeper therapeutic needs.  A defining aspect of child and youth care work is that it is practiced in the life-space of children, so that the physical context of the work is where children are at any moment – in their homes, in the community, in school, or in the street. The Isibindi model trains unemployed people selected by their communities in an accredited child and youth care training, employing them to support vulnerable children and families in their own communities – while creating jobs and setting workers on a career in a recognised discipline.  

The core of the Isibindi model is the provision of child and youth care services to children and youth in their homes by the trained and supervised child and youth care workers (CYCWs). CYCWs connect with children and build relationships with them through the use of daily life events – they help the family with basic household chores and educate about general hygiene, gardening, health, nutrition, and household care. They cook together with children, teach basic life skills and build resilience – using ordinary human interaction as a context and a means for transcending basic care to meet the emotional needs of children – especially in child headed and parentless families. This higher level engagement is described by one child burdened with the care of three younger siblings in the words “... Auntie helped me dream my dreams again...”

The Isibindi Safe Park model provides a range of services in a community – a place for children to be – to play under the supervision of CYCWs, receive educational support, hear traditional stories and celebrate national calendar days. Currently being replicated in Zambia, the Isibindi model is adapted by grassroots implementers to suit local conditions and cultural contexts – within the framework of the overarching commitment to the realisation of children’s rights, and the building of a children’s workforce to give effect to such rights – even in the most remote and poorly resourced communities.

Isibindi core projects

Community members are trained as professional CYCWs. They all live within easy distance of their clients. Their primary goal is to provide daily practical and therapeutic assistance to children and youth in their life-space.

Practical assistance includes:

  • Helping with the preparation of meals
  • Cleaning the house with the children and caregivers
  • Accompanying family members to the clinic and overseeing the taking of medication
  • Assisting the family with application for birth certificates
  • Helping the family to budget

The therapeutic elements includes:

  • Teaching life skills – relationship building, problem solving, conflict resolution, dealing with stress
  • Assessing and referral of children and families – health, trauma, education, need for material assistance relating to severe food insecurity and crises
  • Transferral of knowledge and skills - HIV/AIDS awareness, testing and management, safety, nutrition and educational assistance
  • Life-space counselling – in the moment assistance with difficult situations of conflict, crisis, stress and grief

Services are planned around each child and her/his family/caregivers within the context of a multi-disciplinary team. Professionals such as child and youth care workers, social workers, probation officers, doctors/clinic staff, NACCW mentors as well as family members and the young person her/himself can make up this team.