Protecting small children in crèches


We have been working for a while with Childline South Africa to develop a training programme for those [mainly] women who run local ECDs – Early Childhood Development centres. In the UK we would recognise these as crèches for children ranging in ages from 6 months to 5 years. The ECDs are set up in either rural or urban areas by women for one of several reasons – they have maybe noticed that there are high numbers of pre-school children out and about un-supervised during the day, or they see a business opportunity, or they decide as a community to start a crèche … usually the reasons are altruistic because very little money can be made. They are a key service in the identification of abuse: they have many small children attending each day who are malnourished, neglected and/or abused; they work and live in the local communities and the leaders are well known; they have the opportunity to guide, help and inform local people and most are unregistered [tricky if you live in an area with no running water] with little contact with the statutory services.Creche teacher training

Often ECDs have the bare essentials for a crèche – I have seen many that simply have space for a few children but no equipment, no pencil or papers, no toys, no floor covering, no toilet or even buckets [they go in the road, or the bushes, or the back of the building, or on paper which is then thrown onto a rubbish tip] no outdoor area and rudimentary cooking facilities. Yet there are others that take in 120 small children everyday and, albeit crammed into a tiny indoors space, manage to do singing and games and outdoor play within a safe enclosed garden. For many children the ECD maybe a place that is fairly safe, but it provides little else. Daycare centre where training is heldI was talking to a woman who set-up an ECD and she started because she noticed several small tots – 12 / 14 / 16 months old who were left alone all [all] day, and she knew that there were predators around as 3 small children had been raped in the previous 12 months. So she approached the adults in the house and offered to take them in to her house for a small fee every day; that was 14 months ago and she now has 40 children everyday. She makes no money as most families don’t/can’t pay and now she is unable to turn the children away to wander alone and at risk. She says with a resigned smile “…. and everything in my house is broken”. These are the women we are aiming to access with our ‘Caring for Crèches’ programme.

With Childline in the autumn of 2007 we devised a training package and undertook a pilot programme for 24 women from 12 ECDs in the rural townships south and west of Potchefstroom. The programme consisted of 8 training days for at least 2 people from each ECD [to reinforce the learning], The first training groupeach stage was evaluated, each trainee got an information and resource manual, and there is now a full facilitator’s guide. After reviewing and revising the programme we then ran a further 6 full workshops for 72 ECD leaders during 2008. I have regularly visited the recipients of the training and pride in their ECD has shot up, the change in the daily schedules, in the cooking, in the safety of children as well as the introduction of new ideas, games, play and interaction in the ECDs has been enormous - and the reporting of incidents to Childline of suspected abuse has shot up. This reporting has remained consistently high and every reported case is acted on … it is abundantly clear that the training has improved the quality of the service offered by the ECDs, the women who run them are much more aware of the safety of the children, are much more confident in what they are doing and are no longer shy about reporting suspected negligence and abuse.


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We are proud and honoured that our work has been recognised by the UK Prime Minister, and that he has given Lesley his Point of Light award, stating
With the Infant Trust Lesley has empowered thousands of women across South Africa to protect and safeguard children in their communities. The education and training she has provided has helped to improve the lives of over 800,000 children, tackling the violence and abuse that affects too many of them in their early years. As we mark International Women’s Day this week I am delighted to recognise all that Lesley has done.”
You can find the full story at
Why are so many small children abused by male perpetrators in South Africa? Our researcher interviewed 27 perpetrators in prison in South Africa; all are in jail after being found guilty of some of the most terrible crimes against some of the most vulnerable children – some as young as a few days old. Those interviewed are all men aged between 16 years and 84 years old, and all have brutalised and raped at least one child. But the findings aren’t maybe what we might expect – it makes interesting reading.  We have been funding research into this for 5 years and it is finally finished and published .

Our flagship Caring for Crèches programme has reached into some of the poorest communities in five of the nine provinces in South Africa and we have crèche leaders everywhere clamouring for the training. We have now trained over 2,200 people and they in turn have already positively impacted on the lives of over 160,000 children … and will continue to help many hundreds more children for years to come