Empowering Disadvantaged Communities: The Positive Psychosocial Impact of Social Workers.

Empowering Disadvantaged Communities: The Positive Psychosocial Impact of Social Workers.

Child Protection Week is observed annually in South Africa, and runs from Monday, 29 May until Monday, 5  June. This commemorative week serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting our children’s rights and fostering a safe environment in which they can grow and thrive.

Our constitution states that the power is in our hands to put a stop to the cycle of abuse that sees our most vulnerable members of society suffering.  Unfortunately, we often see terrible cases of abuse in disadvantaged communities, such as the recent deaths of the five and six year-old boys abducted and killed in Soweto in April 2023.

Not only are these communities already facing dire socio-economic realities, but the immense violence some of the children are faced with is hard to imagine. In vulnerable communities, social workers play a vital role in assisting families to promote the overall psychosocial well-being of their children, supporting their rights, and promoting a sense of safety.

A great example of a social worker fuelled purely by passion is  The Love Trust’s Elsie Lekana who is the social worker supporting the learners at their Nokuphila School in Thembisa.

Turning negative events into positive outcomes

Elsie is admirable as a leader in her community. Having been raised by a team of strong women, including her influential grandmother, Elsie is a single mother to two boys and has also managed to complete her degree via correspondence.

Elsie states that what influenced her to become a social worker was growing up witnessing her mother’s abusive marriage. She believes that parents are at times oblivious to the long-lasting effects of their negligence on their loved ones. Additionally, she felt the need to teach others how to avoid repeating the cycle of abuse.

Nokuphila takes a holistic view on their learners’ well-being

The Nokuphila school grades generally have no more than twenty learners per class, allowing for individual attention from the teacher. If a teacher has a concern over the well-being of a learner, they are able to refer them to the social worker for further assistance.

The process from that point on is to make contact with the family and then do an assessment of the child. The nature of the assessment differs according to the age and needs of the learner, with Grade 000 – Grade R sessions being run as play therapy. From Grade 1 onward, these are run as counselling sessions. 

While some learners may simply require once-off intervention when dealing with difficult circumstances, others may require ongoing care.

When warranted, Nokuphila even offers home visits from the social worker, showing that they are deeply committed to not only their learners, but also the family and community that they live within.

After-hours support for the whole family

Apart from their efforts in the community with social work, Nokuphila also works alongside other organisations that further support the promotion of a child’s right to safety and freedom. One of these organisations is called ‘Save the World’, and they travel to give talks at schools about bullying, human trafficking, and sexual abuse, talking to learners from the age of Grade 000 up to Grade 7.

Further to this, they run workshops through their partnership with the ‘Valued Citizens’ initiative, where they teach parents how to instill the right values in their children. In addition to the values-based lesson, they teach the parents how to best engage with their children on a level that is effective, further strengthening the parenting bond.

Elsie emphasises the importance of establishing open communication with our children from a young age, stating that the correct time to start these conversations is as soon as they are able to verbalise themselves. This needs to be done at an age-appropriate level, and can start as simply as teaching your children the names of their body parts.

Speaking to them in a relatable way is how we will best communicate to them that their bodies are their own, and are not to be taken advantage of. It can also help them identify their emotions and name them, which plays a big part in helping them circumvent difficult social situations like bullying.

Lasting positive effects of psychosocial support

As we observe Child Protection Week, it is essential to acknowledge the transformative work of our unsung heroes—the social workers in vulnerable communities.

Elsie believes that the overarching long-term benefit to a child receiving the right psychosocial support is learning to be empathetic. If a child receives the correct psychosocial support, they will know what it means to care for other people.

Children’s rights are fundamental to ensuring their overall well-being and safety. By educating them about their rights, we empower them to assert themselves and seek appropriate help