by Lucia Walker

From hospice to child care unit

Tide turns on HIV/Aids related deaths

Cotlands provides children with a new lease on life.
Their futures are in our hands

Cotlands (a non-profit South African children's organisation currently active in six provinces) recently announced it has transformed its hospice into a child care unit due to the drastic reduction in HIV/Aids related deaths.

This lauded achievement meant that ARV’s were working and that infected children are now able to live longer.

For many of these children, the hopes of becoming a nurse, a teacher or fireman are now within reach.

However, the prevalence of developmental delays in children infected with HIV is very high and this, coupled with the multiple risk factors associated with poverty, have left our country’s children vulnerable and unable to cope at school. 

In 1993 when Cotlands established its first nursery school, children in the programme had little hope of surviving the year.

But once ARVs were introduced, fewer children were dying and our programme leaders and practitioners were able to provide early learning opportunities which addressed developmental delays.

Research confirms that children who are infected or affected by HIV present with developmental delays.

According to a recent study published by Professor Sarah Gravette, children from low income homes are further placed at a disadvantage because of the lack of access to quality early childhood development programmes.

It is this socio-economic challenge that Cotlands is addressing through its extensive experience in the field.

“Our greatest challenge was keeping children alive, once we achieved that we had to equip our children to be ready for formal schooling despite their developmental delays. 

"The education programmes were reviewed and an age appropriate curriculum was developed for the use of our residential early childhood development (ECD) centres. 

"We established three community ECD centres which used the programme. 

"The quality of the programme resulted in our children being able to cope with formal schooling and even excel!” said Monica Stach, Cotlands Chief Operations Officer.

It is widely documented that the first thousand days of a child’s life is crucial to their later learning and their ability to cope at formal school.

These studies lead Cotlands to implement a baby gym programme to focus on this age group.

The programme ensures holistic development and stimulation so that optimum brain development takes place in the first 2 years of life.

“It is imperative to ensure early identification of delays. Early identification enables us to minimize the developmental delay giving the child a better chance to succeed in Grade 1. 

"While children engage in our programme we are able to identify delays and adapt the programme or refer the child for specialised intervention.

"Most children in our programme flourish once they are exposed to a stimulating environment which allows for them to play, explore and discover,” added Stach.

The programmes are delivered through active learning toy libraries.  Trained community caregivers conduct play sessions in the toy library, as well as take toys to children during home visits. 

The toys are used to encourage children to learn and the community caregivers enhance children’s development through guiding the play. 

The toys are specifically selected to develop a particular skills area or concept. The community caregiver engages with the child using language to enhance learning.  This form of service delivery has proven to be a winning recipe. 

Through this programme Cotlands is able to reach children who have no access to ECD centres as well as support and enhance existing ECD centres by providing resources and training.  

“It is our vision in 2013 to become the organisation that turns the tide on education in South Africa, starting with the very young – building solid foundations through stimulation and play – so that every child that enters formal schooling will be successful,” said Stach. 

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