Gaining the trust and cooperation of young people, especially those between the ages of 15 and 17, is often difficult. However, teams from the University of Cape Town and the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP), collecting data for a South African study on children and violence, have been surprised at how willing young people are to share their stories. Some schools are even asking the teams' help in stopping the violence.
The national incidence and prevalence study on child and adolescent safety in South Africa is currently being conducted countrywide by UCT's Department of Psychology and its Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit, together with the CJCP. The study was launched in October 2013 to compile reliable national data that allows for a complete understanding of violence against children and young people, and the contexts in which this occurs.
Fieldwork should be completed within the next month or two, with the data analysed by January 2015 and the findings released by March 2015. The data is expected to strengthen existing child protection and care systems, and to identify where resources are best targeted to both prevent and intervene in child abuse and maltreatment cases.
So far the UCT and CJCP teams have interviewed 2 839 of 6 000 adolescents in randomly-selected households throughout South Africa, as well as 2 636 of 4 000 adolescents of the same age at randomly-selected schools across eight provinces. Data is only collected from schools serving the sampled household areas, to ensure a geographical consistency between the schools and households. As the study explores gaps in reporting of children's exposure to violence as well as services offered to child victims, data is also collected (through interviews and focus groups) at child protection agencies servicing these selected areas.
Professor Cathy Ward from UCT's Safety and Violence Initiative, Professor Lillian Artz from UCT's Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit, and Mr Patrick Burton from the CJCP firmly believe there is a particular space for research on this subject and of this nature right now.
Mr Burton says: "Our refusal rates for interviews '“ both by the respondents and their parents, who need to give them permission '“ have been very low. After visiting the schools, several of the schools approached our teams for further assistance in dealing with safety and in stopping violence. This reflects the priority they are placing on the issue of child and adolescent safety, and the degree to which they recognise that they need help."
The UCT and CJCP teams are, however, also experiencing some challenges, such as finding sampled households that contain eligible young people (between the ages of 15 and 17), and obtaining access to households beyond large security fences in some suburbs. The teams often have to brave unsafe areas, placing their own lives in danger.
Mr Burton says: "Even while our response rates so far have been very positive, many people may understandably be hesitant to let strangers in to speak to their children. The study's success is, however, very much dependent on us gaining access to all sampled areas. Our request is for people to please facilitate access when they see clearly-identified data collectors in their area."
The study will ultimately contribute to the improvement of services for all children and adolescents in South Africa, and improve safety measures for children throughout the country. It aims to provide data on three key research areas:
Mr Burton says it is very important that the research is fed as far as possible into government policy processes, systems, regulations and legislation. "Once completed, we plan an additional six months of targeted dissemination of the findings and will ensure that the findings are presented in a variety of forms to ensure their maximum take-up," he adds.
The UCT and CJCP study is funded by the UBS Optimus Foundation, which has funded similar studies in Switzerland and China. The study is designed to generate comparative data to the Chinese and Swiss studies, allowing the situation in South Africa to also be analysed within an international context.
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