Sinovuyo Caring Families Project for Children Ages 2 to 9

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“My children were scared of me but now I have learned how to be with them. Now we talk and I play with them. The children can see the joy in my face, not the animal I was before. I love them.”

– 62 year-old caregiver in South Africa

Child abuse is a major problem in South Africa. Children who are affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty are especially at risk – with rates from 40% to 60% amongst low-income children (Jewkes, 2010). Victims of abuse are more likely to drop out of school, engage in risky sexual behaviour and criminal activity, and continue the cycle of abuse with their own children. 

Families with HIV-infected parents, foster parents, and/or parents who are victims of intimate partner violence are particularly high-risk groups for child abuse. For these parents and caregivers, the stresses of their health problems, of caring for multiple orphaned children and of their own childhood experiences can make parenting more difficult (Cluver, Orkin et al. 2011). Parenting interventions have been shown to reduce risks of child maltreatment (Barlow, 2006).

There are currently no evidence-based child abuse prevention programmes in the developing world for children ages 2 to 9.

Funded by Ilifa LabantwanaRMB Fund, and ApexHi Charitable Trust, Clowns Without Borders has teamed up with local Cape Town NGOs, Ikamva Labantu, the University of Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention, the University of Cape TownParenting for Lifelong Health, and the South African government to develop a new prevention programme to reduce the risk of child abuse in South Africa.

Sinovuyo means “We Have Happiness” in isiXhosa, the predominant language in the Western Cape.

The Sinovuyo Caring Families Programme for Young Children is focused on the highest-risk families with children ages 2 to 9: low-income families affected by HIV/AIDS or intimate partner violence. It is an innovative programme combining the latest scientific research on effective family interventions with culturally relevant approaches specific to South Africa.

Effective programmes in developing countries must be low-cost and sustainable with strong community buy-in.

Since 2013, the programme has been delivered by community workers to families living in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa. Over a 12-week period, the Sinovuyo programme aims to help parents and caregivers develop nurturing relationships with their children while coping with stress from HIV/AIDS, poverty, and violence.

Most importantly, the Sinovuyo programme is affordable. It costs only R1000 or £60 per family.

In addition to using the latest evidence in programme development, the Sinovuyo programme is currently being tested using the gold standard of intervention research – a randomised controlled trial with 290 families. 

This provides a scientific evaluation for the effectiveness of the Sinovuyo programme in reduction of abuse and harsh parenting, improvements in family relationships and in caregiver and child levels of depression and traumatic stress. It will also be tested for cultural acceptability, and families will give extensive feedback on the programme.

This trial will be the 1st rigorous study of a parenting programme to prevent child abuse against children ages 2 to 9 in the developing world.

Project Objective

The overall goal of the Sinovuyo Caring Families Programme for Young Children is to reduce the risk for child maltreatment and improve child behaviour in high-risk South African and Southern African families. In order to attain this goal, it also has the following specific objectives:

  • Increase parenting knowledge, skill and sense of competence
  • Improve positive parenting behaviour
  • Improve parental supervision and monitoring of children
  • Decrease inconsistent and harsh discipline
  • Improve caregiver mental health and social support

Evidence-Based Approach

The Sinovuyo Caring Families Programme is targeted at caregivers of children ages 2 to 9. This includes direct biological parents, other biological relatives (e.g., grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings), and other primary caregivers who are responsible for the wellbeing of the child.

The Sinovuyo Caring Families Programme uses culturally relevant approaches based in universal core principles found in evidence-based parenting programmes from around the world. These principles include:

Collaborative approach to problem-solving

  • Developmentally appropriate activities for parents to engage with their children
  • Culturally sensitive forms of communication and interaction including African storytelling, dance, and music
  • Importance of child-led play and praise to develop nurturing relationships
  • Establishing clear limits, house rules, and appropriate forms of supervision
  • Alternative means of discipline including ignoring, distracting, and redirecting
  • Parental self-management, care, and stress relief 

Although the programme includes didactic input to improve knowledge of effective parenting, a great deal of emphasis is on experiential activities to translate this into a skills repertoire, and ensuring that parents can translate their new knowledge into practice.  Sufficient opportunities are provided for supportive practice in order to develop a sense of competence in new parenting skills and increase likelihood of sustainability.

Key Activities

The Sinovuyo Caring Families Programme has 2 components: 

  • 12 group sessions psychosocial support intervention
  • Individualised in-home sessions for family requesting or needing additional support

The groups (15 participants per group) meet weekly with 2 community facilitators to explore key themes of parent-child interaction, stress management, and relationship building. Each week, caregivers are given home practice activities that further their skills development with either stress relief exercises or connecting exercises with their children.

During the programme, the facilitators visit the homes of the participants to reinforce the activities learned during group sessions. This is an opportunity for the facilitators to work one-on-one with caregivers and their children and provide additional support or counselling if necessary.

Towards the end of the programme, the participants are given the opportunity to organise their own celebration to culminate the learning process. This celebration typically involves sharing experiences of the programme, singing traditional songs, traditional dancing, as well as storytelling.

The participants are given the opportunity to continue meeting in ongoing caregiver support groups to sustain the skills and benefits learned during the initial intervention. These groups are also opportunities to address other issues facing the community including health care, school support and involvement, and government support.

Weekly Curriculum

  • Session 1: Building A Rondavel Of Support In Your Family – Special Time For You And Your Child
  • Session 2: Special Time With Your Child – Say What You See and Descriptive Commenting
  • Session 3: Special Time With Your Child – Naming Feelings
  • Session 4: Praising Our Children
  • Session 5: Rewards (A Little Something Extra)
  • Session 6: Building A Roof On Our House: Giving Clear And Positive Instructions
  • Session 7: Keeping Our Children Safe’ - Household Rules And Routines
  • Session 8: Ignoring Difficult Behaviours
  • Session 9: 5-Minute Cool Down Part One – A Structured Ignore for Aggressive Behaviour
  • Session 10: 5-Minute Cool Down Part Two – A Structured Ignore for Noncompliance
  • Session 11. Consequences and Problem Solving – Helping Our Children Develop Personal Responsibility
  • Session 12: Reflection and Moving On

The Sinovuyo Caring Families Programme for Young Children is part of Parenting for Lifelong Health, A UNICEF and World Health Organisation-led initiatve that seeks to disseminate evidence-based parenting programmes to low- and middle-income countries. 

For more information:

Dr Lucie Cluver, Principal Investigator, University of Oxford,, +44 79 808 566 51.

Dr Catherine Ward, Principal Investigator, University of Cape Town,, +27 21 650 3422.

Jamie McLaren Lachman, Executive Director, Clowns Without Borders South Africa,, +27 82 424 5691.