Ons Plek Amanda’s Story
Amanda arrived as a very withdrawn, quiet, shy, and self-conscious 11 year-old when she was brought to Ons Plek by her social worker. Although Amanda was very polite and respectful towards staff, she did not trust enough to share her life story or even how she was feeling about being separated from her family.
Amanda was the youngest of four children. She lost her mother tragically when she was two years old. The children were then separated. The other siblings were raised by a grandmother. Amanda was placed in foster care with her mother’s friend. Although she was raised by a poor family, all her basic needs were provided for and Amanda felt loved. Her formative years were incident free but by the time she turned 10 her behavior changed.
Amanda started taking long walks (without permission) in the neighborhood, after school. Thereafter she started skipping school. These walks escalated to the point where she would not return home.
The foster mother could not cope with this behavior and believed that the child inherited “her mother’s nomadic lifestyle.” The foster mother asked a local social worker to intervene and remove the child from her care. What Ons Plek later learned was that around the time Amanda turned ten years old, she learned that her foster mother was not her biological mother. Feeling betrayed and rejected, Amanda’s way of coping was to run away with friends with whom she felt she belonged.
Amanda arrived as a very withdrawn, quiet, shy, and self-conscious 11 year-old when she was brought to Ons Plek by her social worker. Although Amanda was very polite and respectful towards staff, she did not trust enough to share her life story or even how she was feeling about being separated from her family. The childcare worker who admitted Amanda was very welcoming in order to gain her trust. Establishing an initial relationship of trust is important to the social work process which needs to follow.
Assessment of Amanda’s circumstances was the first step of implementing the Family Reunification / Preservation Program. As part of the Assessment and Intake Program they started the process of getting to know Amanda’s educational, emotional, and physical needs.
A few weeks after Amanda’s arrival at Ons Plek, a teacher reported to the team that the child had settled in well in the informal Morning School and that her basic educational concepts of numbers and literacy were appropriate for her age. Her behavior in the house was also constructive as reported by childcare and social work staff. An application for admission to a local school in Woodstock was then made.
The staff members knew Amanda liked her school lessons. They also knew she was still socially withdrawn and easily persuaded by peer pressure. These social-emotional issues were addressed in the Counseling and Life Skills Programs. She felt she belonged nowhere; she wondered why she was the only sibling who was not raised by the grandmother. During this process, as a result of contact with her family, she learned how her mother died. These topics which Amanda had to discuss with the counselor were not easy for her but she persevered. While working towards a home placement for Amanda, it was very important that the foster family and the biological family also be involved in the counseling process. The plan was to return her to the foster mother but to keep the relationship with the biological family open as well.
Amanda’s regular phone calls and home visits helped her maintain contact with her family and provided the family with the opportunity of testing their new communication skills with each other. Staff members also made many home visits to the family to assess the family’s progress and offer all the family members support.
Once the application for the school was successful Amanda was moved to the second stage facility — Siviwe. While at Siviwe, staff members worked more intensely with Amanda in the social skills program which includes house meetings, reinforcing communication, household duties, youth/church groups, and cultural activities. The social work counseling and education program was also intensified. Each afternoon Amanda participated in the Homework Support Program.
Nine months into Amanda’s stay at Ons Plek, it became clear that a home placement with the foster mother would not be successful. The foster mother was not prepared to risk being hurt again and decided not to accept her back. Amanda was very disappointed and again felt rejected and isolated. Again, the counseling process provided Amanda with a safe space in which she could explore all her feelings and options. There was a risk of the child’s feelings leading to her again running around.
A few weeks later, Amanda’s older sister showed an interest in caring for Amanda. Again a social work process had to be initiated, further home visits to the sister were organized and conducted by childcare worker this time in order to establish the possibility of a family reintegration placement.
Amanda and her sister had to work hard at establishing a sound relationship as they had never lived together! After some more home visits, family conferences, more life story sessions, homework support, high school applications, and lots of support and encouragement to all relevant parties … a home placement for Amanda was found to be possible.
Amanda spent the Christmas holidays with her sister, building their relationship. The adjustment to a new area, home, family, and friends was very challenging for both Amanda and her sister. The holiday placement went well and she was able to start the new term from her sister’s house. To date the sisters remain determined to make a success of their lives together as a family.
Ons Plek maintains a supportive contact for them, holding periodic discussions when conflict arises.
This is a very difficult process, fraught with many pitfalls. So far … so good …
To learn about Ons Plek and to support their work with girls like Amanda, click here: http://globalministries.org/africa/projects/ons-plek.html
To read more about Ons Plek’s work in 2010, click here: http://globalministries.org/news/africa/ons-plek-2010-report.html