Living in a children's home and living in foster care : hearing the voices of children and their caregivers.
Legislation in South Africa pertaining to the care and protection of children is presently being revised and changed. Should alternative care be necessary for a vulnerable child, the Children's Act 38/2005 prioritises a foster care placement over a child and youth care centre of which a Children's Home is a part. Given the steady decline in traditional family living due to, amongst other things HIV/AIDS, poverty and unemployment in South Africa, the dominant view of family care being prioritised may not always be feasible in reality. The study researched this view by hearing the voices of children and their caregivers, in both foster care and in Children's Homes by conducting a qualitative study based on the exploratory and descriptive designs A purposive sampling strategy was used as there were clear criteria for the selection of participants. There were two sample groups. One consisted of child participants and the other consisted of caregivers viz. foster parents and child-care workers. Caregivers were included for the purposes of enhancing reliability, validity and trustworthiness of the study. Data was collected by means of semi-structured in depth interviews with the child participants. Two focus groups were held with the caregivers; one with the foster parents and the other with the child-care workers. Both the in depth interviews as well as the focus group discussions were guided by similar themes that were linked to the main objectives of the study. The findings revealed that children's voices were largely absent in decisions pertaining to their well being; that they preferred to live with families of origin as opposed to alternative care and should they be placed in alternative care, foster care was preferred to Children's Homes. The findings further emphasized the need for infrastructural support such as family preservation programmes, financial and social work support for all poverty stricken families and strengthened human resources for Children's Homes. Recommendations therefore centred around ways in which to capacitate families of origin; ways of including children in decision making and the necessary infrastructural support to ensure optimum care for vulnerable children.