Dire need for volunteer counsellors

Founder and director of Hope House counselling centre Judy Strickland, and her husband Allen, who take care of the centre's finances.

The founder of a non-profit counselling centre warns there is a “dire shortage” of volunteer child counsellors.

Saturday November 4 was National Children’s Day, but there is little cause for celebration in a country where every week brings more horror stories of murdered and abused children.

Crimes against children are rampant and compounding the problem, says Hope House counselling centre’s Judy Strickland, is that there aren’t enough trained volunteers to help traumatised children heal.

“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,” says Ms

Hope House opened its Table View branch earlier this year and already it has six children on its waiting list needing professional help.

The other branches are in Bergvliet and Kuils River, and there are 48 children on the waiting lists of all three branches.

“Kuils River is a big problem because there is a lot of poverty and abuse in the area,” says Ms Strickland.

Some of Hope House’s clients are as young as 3, but the centre is not exclusively for children. In fact the counsellors mostly see adults with marriage problems, depression and anxiety, among other things.

“ It’s the children we need help with,” says Ms Strickland.

A big part of the problem, she says, is that too few counsellors are qualified in play therapy.

It’s this form of therapy that Hope House uses when working with children.

“Children can’t verbalise what they are feeling. Some can, but they are few and far between. I always say play is the language children use, and the words they use are the toys they choose.”

Funding is another problem, says Ms Strickland, as they can’t afford to hire a full-time child therapist, and Hope House survives off donations.

With over 13 years counselling experience, she says childhood is a critical developmental period, so children who do not get help dealing with trauma will battle with its destructive ripples later on and into adulthood.

Trauma’s long-term effects can stunt a child’s educational growth, make it more likely they’ll drop out of school early and put them at greater risk of turning to violence and developing a mental illness such as anxiety and depression.

“Early childhood intervention will help break the cycle of abuse – a damaged child all too often becomes the adult perpetrator.

“It is every child’s right to have a carefree childhood. It is our job to reintroduce fun back into their lives.”

* Contact Hope House at 081 500 3054 or visit www.hopehouse.org.za for more information.