Cape Town - She is only three years old and suffers from separation anxiety after her home was broken into and her mother wasn’t allowed near her during the robbery.
Baby X is one of many children receiving trauma counselling as a result of severe crime across the country.
Hope House Counselling Centre said they were experiencing a surge in children in need of counselling services and there was a dire shortage of child counsellors. On their waiting list alone there are 68 children, while only 25 children, aged three to 18, receive free weekly services.
Director Judy Strickland said they were inundated with referrals from other child organisations on the Cape Flats.
She said there was a shortage of child counsellors, especially in the Mitchells Plain area, where there was a lot of gang violence.
“Trauma and violence are an all too common occurrence in South Africa, whether it’s armed robberies, domestic abuse or divorce. Sadly, children are often caught in the crossfire.
“Counselling for children is vital as children are not likely to say when they are struggling. Most of their suffering is overlooked and if a child has been through trauma there are behavioural changes that can affect their academics and development,” she said.
Strickland said social workers were overworked and some were not trained in play therapy.
“They do forensic work, which we don’t. They investigate and deal with the law, but there are some instances where social workers are not needed. It is just the mental health of the child that needs healing,” she said.
Strickland said that in the case of Baby X, when asked what would make her feel safe she said a magic wand that would scare the burglars away. This technique has helped ease the toddlers' anxiety.
Director of the Children’s Institute Professor Shanaaz Mathews said there was a great need for child counsellors who focus on trauma.
She said at the moment social work and psychology undergraduates were not fully skilled to understand trauma.
“We need to skill professionals earlier in their training to recognise trauma. We have a shortage of social workers and the current model of therapy service for trauma is not adequate.
“There needs to be access to long-term therapy services targeting children and parents. We need to start with community-based services,” she said.
Mathews said that despite Hope House Counselling Centre offering free counselling for children, parents still needed to foot the bill for transportation and get time away from work.
Meanwhile, the Department of Social Services said it had well over 900 social workers specialising in the Children’s Act based at their six Regional Offices, which oversee 36 local offices across the province.
Sihle Ngobese, spokesperson for Social Development MEC Albert Fritz, said: “Our social workers are continuously being trained to specialise in the Children’s Act, and to render specialised counselling for various needs, such as trauma and bereavement; and to innovative therapeutic interventions, such as play therapy and other methods. These services are available, and we encourage parents in need to access them by visiting any local office."