The City of Cape Town is set to acquire 32 baby simulators as part of its soft skills programme for school pupils.

Cape Town - Following a successful pilot project earlier this year, the City of Cape Town is expanding the use of baby simulators as part of its substance abuse prevention programme.

The city's social development and early childhood development directorate was set to acquire 32 baby simulators as part of its soft skills programme for pupils, mayoral committee member for social development and early childhood development Suzette Little said in a statement.

“A pilot project earlier this year proved hugely successful in teaching learners about the effects of substance and alcohol abuse on babies, with a specific focus on foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS),” she said.

The city enlisted the services of Reality Learning SA to run the pilot project on its behalf and pre- and post-tests were conducted to gauge how much the children learned from the programme.

It also elicited questions and discussions about other issues, such as sexual abuse, including when “no means no” and who to speak to when there was a problem, as some pupils said they felt they could not confide in their parents, teachers, or police.

Both principals and pupils requested additional programmes on topics, such as sex education, bullying, and peer pressure.

“In this financial year, each of the directorate's eight districts will receive four simulators, including a healthy baby simulator, substance abuse addiction simulator, foetal alcohol syndrome simulator, and a shaken baby syndrome simulator,” Little said.

The supply chain management processes were underway and the city hoped to finalise the acquisition by the end of this year. The simulators were crucial learning tools that helped drive home some very hard truths to pupils and it would be a worthwhile investment.

The soft skills programme was one of several interventions rolled out as part of the directorate's substance abuse programme. The programme had been allocated a budget of R4.5 million for the 2015/16 financial year, while the simulators would be funded by an extra allotment in the adjustments budget passed during the recent council meeting.

In the past financial year, the substance abuse programme reached a total of 3097 participants via its three flagship projects.

A total of 210 parents and their children participated in the strengthening families programme in Bonteheuwel, Lavender Hill, Elsies River, Bishop Lavis, Scottsville, Manenberg, Athlone, and Wesbank.

The programme was designed to improve the parent-child relationship through communication and other tools, thereby reducing the risk of disintegration of the family unit and exposure to associated social ills. The city also facilitated implementation of a soft-skills enhancement programme in 80 schools, reaching 2 400 pupils.

“It is heart-breaking to hear some of the stories and to realise the emotional and psychological deficit that some of our children are dealing with.

“These sessions found that there are children who have no concept of what happiness is and that feelings of worthlessness are perpetuated by the adults in their lives, instead of building them up.

“It is little wonder that so many young people are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” Little said.

Programmes like these underscored the reality that a roof over a child's head and a plate of food meant very little if their emotional and psychological needs were not being met.

There were nearly 500 participants in the FAS awareness programme, including the 120 pupils who participated in a pilot project using an FAS baby simulator. “We are looking to build on these programmes in the next 10 months by exposing even more people to them,” Little said. ANA