Johannesburg Child Welfare – m

Johannesburg Child Welfare – more than a century of securing a decent childhood for Johannesburg

Brian King has been at the helm of Johannesburg Child Welfare for many years. He shares some of his experiences in this remarkable organisation.

Johannesburg Child Welfare – m
Brian King

Brian King has been at the helm of Johannesburg Child Welfare for many years. He shares some of his experiences in this remarkable organisation. 

What has been your role as chairman of Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW)?

My main function as Chairman was to make sure that the organisation survived. One of the main frustrations in our field is that, in reality, orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) are primarily looked after by NGOs, not the state. We in JCW work closely with the Gauteng Department of Social Development, which provides about 37% of our annual budget.

There’s an important Supreme Court case currently being heard at the Bloemfontein High Court, in which the court has passed a provisional judgement that the Department of Social Development in the Free State should be paying NGOs the same amount per person that the Department spends on people in its care [so that there will, in order words, be parity of payment for every OVC].

In terms of the JCW approach with the Gauteng Provincial government, we negotiate with the Department our various programmes and targets annually. Our performance is reviewed and then money is granted, although what we receive from the state is much lower than its own people are paid for the same work. In the wake of the Free State ruling, we hope this will change.

Children at JCW’s Othandweni (“Place of Love”) orphanage in Soweto

How is JCW funded?

We have to seek our own funding for about 65% of our budget. We have many loyal, long-term supporters who are pretty focussed on ensuring a return for their donation, which is a good thing. In fact, JCW got a special award from the Lotto a few years ago for outstanding Governance and Compliance with Deliverables .. We have an outstanding director who has been there for more than 20 years. She gets in to the office at about 7am and rarely leaves before 6pm; most of our staff are long-serving and committed.

With the changing dynamics of SA, a very important factor for JCW is our link with the local communities — some  65 of them in Gauteng . Our reach goes out to 65 000 children every year. One of the things we’ve innovated in recent years is working directly with families in the broader communities. If you’re going to achieve a situation where the community is healthy, we have to penetrate into family and community life and build a sounder and more equitable society.

To this end, there are major corporate donors who keep us going: Nedbank, FNB, Absa, as well as quite a few trusts which have been supporting us for a long time. We have a very loyal band of private individuals who support us on a regular basis.We are also grateful to receive a certain number of donations from America, however, a major source of potential support is the UK, which has led us to set up a dedicated operation in London headed by Stewart Wilson.


How have you dealt with new social phenomena, like child-headed households?

Since we deal with OVCs at a certain scale, we can often spot trends early before they become highly visible in the broader society. Our director  anticipated the emergence of child-headed households back in the 1990s. We became aware of this and linked up with Elton John, who donated generously over a number of years towards this particular cause. In Eldorado Park , for example, we have a special facility that deals with child-headed households.


Every OVC was once part of a family – how do you deal with families?

So many young children in South Africa have no proper family life. In the early formative years, particularly when critical emotional development takes place, there are so many absent mothers and fathers in South African society. The result is that children comes to us with a sort of trauma that  can take years to break through.

We’ve set up a program called the Gogo Programme, with American help. We now have a lot of gogos – grandmothers – who are working on a more selective, limited basis with just one or two children rather than six or seven. This is the level of care that children actually need, and the results we are seeing have been outstanding.

We’ve studied the research on this topic in England and Europe. If you’re wanting to get a decent society, those first three years of a child’s life are crucial – it is measurable how neglected children experience brain development that is dramatically different from well-stimulated children. The stunting happens early and must be corrected early, or the children never catch up.


Does this level of childhood deprivation also help explain the particularly violent nature of South African crime?

Yes, as Mamphela Ramphele says – we have for 300 years dehumanised a large part of our society. We have to reformulate our society. If we don’t get our fundamentals and our foundations right, everything else is detail. Any businessperson who looks several decades into the future has to be able to trust that our society will be fundamentally sound over the long term. We have to build and recreate a decent society or our economy has no future.


Which are your biggest programmes?

Childcare, primarily – we focus on abandoned and destitute children. Many cases are referred to us by police; taxi drivers also drop kids off – we have strong links with them, they see everything. Another strong area is foster care. We’ve had some foster parents who have looked after as many as 20 children over their lives.


Do you still maintain an orphanage as such?

Yes, quite a big one in Soweto. We’re quite proud of it. Some of the orphans we’ve had there from age 8 or 9 have now graduated at Wits University. The manager, Phineas Phiti, has been there about 6 or 7 years. Before then, we had huge problems with management but Phiti,a former teacher, came in and transformed the orphanage into a vibrant institution that is really embedded in its community.


What distinguishes JCW?

Due to our size, we are able to tackle issues on a national level through a dedicated advocacy manager, Jackie Loffell, who is virtually the prime advocacy manager in South Africa, in the  field. She works very closely with the Children’s Institute at UCT. She has been very much involved in negotiations with government and has appeared in parliament before select committees in order to inform policy.

A second area that sets us apart is in the training of social workers, of which there is a dire shortage in this country. We have fewer than 10,000 while we need something more like 80,000. The country  is  also only producing about 600 social workers a year; JCW therefore considers it essential to train our own auxiliary social workers. The training is very hands-on, rather than academic, but our school has nonetheless been approved by the state.


How could readers in the UK support you?

UK residents can make a real difference by supporting our work, simply by donating online now (refer link below), by downloading a Gift Aid Form (refer link below) or a direct transfer into the UK based account (refer details below). Feel free to contact our UK team on

SPECIAL FOCUS :  Aganang Learning Centre

You can help our work continue by making a regular gift to sponsor a community worker to be specially trained in legal and social work skills, on our 12 month course.  Each trained worker reaches over 100 children every month, and is available every day for those who need help. To meet the needs of our communities we aim to train 40 community workers every year.  A gift of £100 every month will ensure one community worker has the skills to change lives long after the training is complete.

Bank account details

Johannesburg Child Welfare Society UK
NatWest Bank
Account number: 39741249
Sort Code: 60-00-01
City of London Office
P O Box 12258
1 Princes Street

Registered in England number 3442639 | Jo’burg Child Welfare is authorised in terms of the Non Profit Organisations Act 1997 — Reg. No. 000-566NPO | 75% of Jo’burg Child Welfare’s beneficiaries are black people as defined in the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Codes of Good Practice.

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