This year’s State of the Province Address by Western Cape Premier Alan Winde heralded an important step forward for support to parents and families, and to prevent violence in the province.
Winde announced on 16 February that 3 000 families would have access to parenting programmes annually. In her budget speech on 29 March, provincial minister for Social Development Sharna Fernandez indicated that this would entail the allocation of R45 million over the next three years to pilot the implementation of evidence-informed parenting programmes.
The funding will be assigned to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Department of Social Development social workers who agree to uphold guidelines for quality and responsive parenting programmes. These guidelines were co-designed by NGOs, government officials and researchers.
Evidence-led parenting programmes support parents to build warm, supportive relationships with their children, establish house rules and use positive discipline techniques instead of corporal punishment. These programmes have been shown to reduce child maltreatment and abuse and improve the mental health of children and parents. In this way, they help break cycles of violence.
The recipe for this extraordinary outcome, given the extremely tight fiscal environment, may seem deceptively simple. Take a strong foundation of trusting relationships between researchers, NGOs and government officials responsible for delivering services to families. Combine that with an appreciation by policymakers and politicians of the value of using the best knowledge and evidence to inform the implementation of policy priorities.
Add good-quality local and international evidence, a tool for determining how much it would cost to implement, and willingness of officials and NGOs to work together across departments and sectors. Finally, create a network of those same officials, NGOs and researchers who are open to changing how they design, deliver and measure the impact of their services.
None of this was easy or quick to achieve. It required a unique process through which a receptive governmental environment combined with civil society innovation has enabled something ground-breaking for the province and hopefully also the country.
It is not easy for government officials and NGOs to trust one another. Relationships across these two sectors are often strained, not least by the power imbalance that results from the state being the holder of funds, while NGOs are often desperate for resources to provide services in communities.
The foundation for trusting relationships was built through the Violence Prevention Forum. The forum has brought together policymakers, researchers, NGOs, international organisations and development partners since 2015, with the long-term goal of ensuring the scale-up of evidence-informed interventions to prevent violence. Relationships and networks built through this process enabled committed provincial policymakers to access and understand the knowledge generated through research.
The Violence Prevention Forum also provided the basis for establishing the South African Parenting Programme Implementers Network (SAPPIN) – an alliance of NGOs implementing evidence-informed parenting programmes across the country and in the Western Cape.
Before SAPPIN was set up, NGOs were inclined to see each other as competitors for scarce resources. The formation of the network was a significant breakthrough. It provides the basis for large-scale implementation of evidence-led programmes and will empower NGOs in their discussions and negotiations with researchers and policymakers. SAPPIN will be a key partner in the Western Cape’s project, running a community practice with NGOs following the guidelines.
Evidence for the impact of parenting initiatives was generated nationally and internationally. The INSPIRE and RESPECT frameworks for preventing violence against children and women emphasise the importance of supporting parents to reduce child and adolescent abuse – and show how. Studies assessing parenting programmes in the Western Cape provided additional proof that child and parenting outcomes can be improved through well-designed and -implemented programmes.
Good relationships across and within sectors and good data are vital ingredients, but alone they aren’t enough. Policymakers and politicians need to believe in the value of evidence and be courageous enough to reach outside the government for support. The Western Cape Safety Plan 2020-2025 and the subsequent Recovery Plan set a vision for safety in the province, and emphasise the importance of evidence and relationships to prevent violence and improve safety.
A costing tool enabled policymakers to accurately determine how much it would cost to scale up parenting programmes. The willingness of economists and officials to collaborate on refining and improving the tool, and aligning it with provincial plans, was testimony to the commitment that comes from caring, respectful relationships between sectors.
All these elements were brought together in 2022 by a carefully curated and facilitated workshop process convened by the Department of the Premier, the Institute for Security Studies and Southern Hemisphere. The workshop was supported by research that mapped family strengthening programmes in the province by the Department of the Premier and the University of the Western Cape.
This resulted in clear values for family strengthening programmes, the identification of barriers and opportunities for implementation, and a framework to monitor, evaluate and enable ongoing learning. These then led to the guidelines that will be used to assign the funding by the Western Cape Department of Social Development.
In South Africa’s current bleak landscape, the announcement that funds have been allocated to support evidence-informed family strengthening is a beacon of hope. It shows that even under enormous pressure, it is possible for government to make the long-term investment required to turn the tide against violence, and for South Africans to work together across divides.
In the long run, we believe it will show that an investment in healthy relationships can yield profound returns in safety and wellbeing.
Chandré Gould, ISS Pretoria and Lorenzo Andrews, Gwen Dereymaeker and Diketso Mufamadi-Mathebula, Western Cape Government: Department of the Premier