It all started 11 years ago with one house and six children. Today it is a network of community-based foster homes that give orphaned and neglected kids a chance at a real childhood, outside institutions, in a loving home. This is the innovative model of South Africa’s Home from Home fostering network.
“Home from Home isn’t an institution. We’re not a children’s home,” says co-founder and managing trustee Pippa Shaper. “We are a group – a cluster – of small community-based family homes. Our homes look like any other home on the street. They integrate into the local community.”
Recognising that children respond better in small community foster homes than in institutional care, Home from Home was founded in 2005, and has grown rapidly from one house in Khayelitsha to many homes around the country.
Over the past 11 years, about 300 children have been raised by the Home from Home network. Today, it cares for 198 children in 33 homes, in 15 different communities, all over the Western Cape.
“When we decide to work in a new community, we come from a couple of angles,” says Shaper. “Either we will discover, through working with the Department of Social Development, that there is a tremendous need to have a new home in the area. Other times, a church or community organisation will come to us and say, ‘We’ve got a need in our area.’ But they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the model, they don’t have the idea to do it.
“That’s when Home from Home comes along. We’ve got the model of care set up. We have the experience. We’ve got the professional skills. So we can come in and partner with a local community group or church to help them – and empower them, really – to look after their own orphans.”
Central to the Home from Home model of care is the special bond between foster parent and child.
“To work with children – this is the thing I like most in my life,” says Hellen Ntshikila, a foster mother living in Khayelitsha. “I used to look after my sisters at home. It’s in my veins, to look after children.”
Selecting the right person for the role of foster mother is paramount. A small, loving family unit, where siblings are kept together, is the recipe for the children’s ongoing development.
This creates a place where they can be brought up as part of a community, speaking their first language, and gaining a sense of their own identity.
“Selecting the home mother, the foster mother, is the most difficult part of all our work. They are the most important people in the whole organisation,” says Jayne Payne, social worker and co-founder of Home from Home. “We need to get someone who is really going to love and cherish the children, and look after them as if they are their own children. It has to be someone who really wants to care for children.
“And we’ve been very, very lucky. We’ve got wonderful foster mothers – so dedicated. Because it’s a hard job to care for children who aren’t your own.
“We see the foster mothers every few days. We are very involved with them.”
Many of the children under the care of Home from Home are HIV-positive. But with proper care and medication, they can go on to live full and meaningful lives.
A safe, stable, loving family is what every child needs and deserves. Children in foster care have often come from a place of great sadness – of abuse, neglect, poverty, ill health and loss. Home from Home aims to redress this by providing children with security from harm or any form of abuse, in secure families where they can settle and not be fearful of being uprooted. It also provides children with the food, health care, education and psychological support they need.
By loving the children and accepting them as they are, Home from Home aims to raise its foster kids to become well-adjusted adults who will contribute to society.
The network creates opportunities for them to become valuable members of society through every means possible – individual treatment plans, therapeutic assistance, extra help with educational needs, excellent health care, the chance to expand their world vision through experiences they would otherwise not get.
HOW TO VOLUNTEER
One of the most rewarding ways to get involved with Home from Home is by becoming a volunteer. They accept both local and international volunteers, and there are many tasks they need help with. Everything, from taking children on outings to helping get children and foster parents to clinics, the NGO needs assistance from taking children on outings to providing a lift to a foster mother and child to the local clinic for an appointment.
“We would also love to have volunteers with special skills – for example, counselling, physiotherapy and occupational therapy amongst others – which we could incorporate into our programme,” says Shaper.
To find out more, visit the Home from Home website.