Children with special needs do not develop to their full potential since the crèches catering to them are too few and under-funded.
The shortage of schools for children with special needs in townships and poor communities in the country is a neglected aspect of South Africa’s unequal education system. For those townships lucky enough to have crèches that cater for ‘otherwise abled’ children, people working in these centres are often not sufficiently skilled to take care of them.
According to the Western Cape Department of Social Development, there are 25 such early childhood development centres in townships in Cape Town. Lonwabo Special Care Centre in Mfuleni is one of them and it is overcrowded and unable to fully develop the children in its care. This means it cannot take in more children even though there is huge demand for specialist crèches.
Thandeka Mafila, who runs Lonwabo Special Day Care Centre, said it is registered to cater for 25 children and is licensed by the Department of Health as a care facility. The centre, which was opened on the 6th of October 2008, currently accommodates 33 children.
The biggest challenge faced by the centre is a lack of space. Mafila says this winter has been the hardest for them as they do not have money to fix the leaking roof and urgently need a bigger place, especially for the physiotherapy area and the school readiness room.
Mafila says she started the centre from a backyard flat that she was building for her son. She says she wanted to give relief to the parents of children with developmental needs. “Some parents end up quitting their jobs because they do not have anyone to leave the kids with and most of these parents are bread winners in their homes,” she added.
According to Stats SA, 11% of five-year-olds and older had seeing difficulties, 4.2% had cognitive difficulties (remembering/concentrating), 3.6% had hearing difficulties, and about 2% had communication, self-care and walking difficulties.
Phakama Phike, a 32-year-old whose daughter goes to Lonwabo, says that the centre helpful to her as she leaves for work knowing that her child is in safe hands and is well taken care of. “I heard about the place from the doctors in Red Cross Hospital,” Phike said. Her 10-year-old daughter has been going to Lonwabo Centre since she was two.
Mafila says she is at risk of losing her license from the Department of Health because of the size of the building she is running the centre in. The license is renewed every year and the department comes to check the facilities every time she has to renew it. The lack of space causes her sleepless nights because children need room to develop, and this is one of other challenges she faces everyday as she runs this centre.
Esther Lewis, Head of Communications at the Department of Social Development, says that together with the Department of Health, they fund these centres to cover the payment of salaries, transportation for clients, therapeutic support, training for staff, and access to medical care. Lewis says they also provide nutritional support to Lonwabo Centre and are aware of the challenges it faces.