Child protection is not a political priority on the provincial agenda, said Janice King, director of the Western Cape Street Children’s Forum.
The forum spoke to role-players about school law around suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary hearings last Tuesday, November 14, at Beaconvale Frail Care Centre.
The processes of disciplinary hearings and psychosocial support are connected, said Ms King.
“Too often, children fall through the cracks of our education system due to illegal suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary hearings. Parents, caregivers, children and their social workers are not aware of the law around this, and lack defining the injustice which they often accept,” said Ms King.
Mitchell’s Plain is one of the hotspots of child abuse. There’s a high school dropout rate partly because of the trauma pupils experience at home and the community due to poverty, abuse, neglect, violence and undiagnosed learning disabilities, to name a few, said Ms King.
“In our country, money has not been directed properly. You can’t teach a traumatised child when they’re in fight or flight mode,” said Ms King.
Aldine Deelman, supervisor for the Western Cape Street Children’s Forum, said the problem with suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary hearings is that parents and caregivers don’t really know the school law, which means they can’t advocate for their children.
Most times they would accept what the school is saying and sometimes, “they just don’t care. There is a lack of cooperation in terms of educational support with the pupils. You will see the increase in drop outs because there is almost no interest shown especially when addiction is involved. We must equip parents and caregivers,” said Ms Deelman.
If they come across this approach of illegal disciplinary hearings, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) needs to be informed, said Ms Deelman.
“If the correct processes aren’t followed, the sense of rejection can increase and pupils don’t want to go to school anymore,” she said.
Schools are supposed to follow the Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS) policy, which exists to assist any child with a “Barrier to learning” – this is the only way a child can have a proper behavioural or academic assessment. This should be happening but schools often find it easier to take a disciplinary approach. And then they do that process illegally, she said.
If a child stays away from school for 14 days they can be removed from the school register. But this cannot be applied in the process of a disciplinary suspension. These are two separate processes.
The classrooms are full and, “one less troubled child is one less for teachers. The system is flawed, failing the teachers and child,” she said.
RLabs champion, Craig Jephta, said at the meeting that the disciplinary hearings sounds like an actual court case.
“I know sometimes some cases are out of our control but there are things as a school that are in your control where you could change. What type of support is offered to teachers and how is psychosocial support integrated into the school system? This space is powerful and if all of them work together to come up with the best solutions, it could work. Instead of looking at problems we must come up with intentional solutions,” he said.
On the matter of children on the street, dropping out of school, foster carer, Farieda Moses, from Angels SA non-profit organisation from Colorado Park, said they are willing to help but they are not recognised.
“I will take a child from the street in a legal way, sit with the Department of Social Development and share with them our challenges,” she said.
The workshop was information she was aware of, however, they could discuss the issues in detail with other role-players. “I think organisations involved in this sector should attend this workshop to know their rights,” she said.
Life coach working with schools in Mitchell’s Plain, Julian Louw, said the community, parents and pupils who don’t know their rights need to attend this workshop.
“Only when a child is suspended, do parents want to act. I’m struggling to activate those services, such as social workers. My concern remains with the street children,” she said.
To report illegal disciplinary hearings, parents, caregivers and social services professionals need to meet with the principal with the knowledge of the law and hold the school accountable. They can reach out to the WCED District Office to report these actions.
To arrange a workshop contact Western Cape Street Children’s Forum, assistant coordinator, Jenny Claasen on 067 104 9042 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The WCED did not respond by the time we went to print.