Cotlands remains steadfast and committed to its focus on early childhood development and is now poised to proceed with phasing out its traditional residential services facilities in Turffontein, Johannesburg, and in Somerset West in the Cape, at the end of February 2015. This follows termination of its residential services for older children in 2011 and of its hospice programme in 2013.
Cotlands chief executive officer, Jackie Schoeman, says that: “Cotlands has always been a strategically-driven organisation that has responded to the ever-changing needs of the South African society. At the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we were part of the successful lobby that saw government roll out free antiretroviral therapy (ART) and in 1996, we established the country’s very first hospice to care for infants and children who were terminally ill from AIDS-related illnesses. As ART allowed the HIV-positive children in our care to live longer, an increasing number of them outgrew our sanctuary facilities, prompting us to open a residential care project for children aged between eight and 12 years old in 2007.
“However, to remain true to our bedrock mission, we have identified that quality early learning is key to lifelong success,” she says. “Over the past two years we have refined our Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme to the point where we now have an innovative, non-centre based ECD model that provides vulnerable children with access to high quality early learning opportunities through early learning playgroups supported by toy libraries, a daily meal and the services of a nurse and social worker. Since this programme closes many of the gaps identified by government, it is attracting increasing interest from our corporate partners, government authorities and local communities. It is clear to us that the way forward for Cotlands undoubtedly lies in the early learning space.”
Schoeman adds that although it was an extremely painful decision to phase out all remaining residential services, the decision makes good business sense in tough economic times. She stresses that to be successful in the current business climate, nonprofit organisations (NPOs) must be socially relevant, excel in service delivery, offer high impact programmes and be cost effective.
“We acknowledge that there is still a need for residential care for young children awaiting adoption, but our strategic plans have now oriented the organisation in a different direction,” she says. “There are still many excellent NPOs who will continue to offer residential services. We are in discussions to partner with one of these organisations to accommodate those of our babies who we have not managed to place with adoptive families. We will also donate the equipment from our residential facility and leftover stock to this organisation.”
Leader in the field of early learning
Cotlands is a leader in the field of early learning among vulnerable South African children. Through its ongoing work in under-resourced communities, the ECD team has encountered children as old as nine or 10 years of age who are unable to identify shapes or colours. This deficit is directly related to a lack of foundation phase learning and, in all too many cases, results in school drop-outs. A report released by the Centre for Development and Enterprise in 2013 revealed that for every 100 pupils in Grade 1, only 52 make it to Grade 12.
“The fragmented nature of service provision and the lack of funding for ECD programmes in South Africa have failed many of our children,” Schoeman says. “Although early childhood phase is the most crucial for the successful development of every human being, as many as 70 percent of South Africa’s children still do not have access to early childhood education programmes. During the first two years of a child’s life the brain is most receptive to new information. Without the proper nutrition and a safe and stimulating environment, the brain’s development becomes stunted.
“Early learning programmes that stimulate children between the ages of three and six enable them to keep neuro-connections active. In this age range children have the desire and capacity to learn to read, write and count. Through play-based activities, they begin to differentiate between shapes and colours, to expand their vocabulary and to learn space and time ratios. Children also develop a connection between letters and sounds through imaginative play, rhyming and word games.
“Children who are given early learning opportunities display a marked improvement in their reading and writing abilities. These foundation phase skills put children who have access to early learning opportunities in a much better position to perform well academically and, ultimately, to secure a good income in the adult world, effectively breaking the cycle of poverty.”
Looking forward as an organisation, Cotlands recognises that by working with members of its local communities, as well as the private and government sectors, it can effectively address key early learning and development gaps and give children the opportunity to not only survive, but thrive into adulthood.
For more information, contact Jackie Schoeman, chief executive officer, Cotlands, Tel: 011 683 7200.