Children are vulnerable due to their age and developmental level. They rely on parents and other adults for survival and care. However, some children become more vulnerable than others as parents and families are poor and cannot afford to provide for their basic needs. Poverty can make children vulnerable by depriving them of their right to have their basic needs met, such as food, health care, clothing and shelter. While this situation is affected by high rates of unemployment it is also compounded by chronic illness such as HIV and AIDS. The effects of poverty, unemployment, and HIV and AIDS can have a negative impact on children’s physical, psychological, social and intellectual development. In its quest to protect and promote the rights of vulnerable children, the South African government makes provision for the establishment of drop-in centres (Children’s Act 38 of 2005). Drop-in centres are facilities aimed at addressing the physical, emotional, psychological and social developmental needs of vulnerable children within their communities and closer to their homes. Drop-in centres provide basic services such as food, clothing, school support and hygiene, as well as optional services such as counselling, guidance, life skills development and educational and recreational programmes.
The goal of this study was to explore the experiences of vulnerable children regarding services they receive from drop-in centres. A qualitative research approach was followed and in-depth interviews were conducted to obtain information from a group of 12 adolescent participants on their experiences of the services they received from drop-in centres. The participants were selected based on stratified random sampling. The findings of the study indicate that participants received basic services such as food, clothing and school attendance support, as well as psychosocial support services from the drop-in centres. The participants were of the opinion that the services they received at the drop-in centres resulted in an improvement in their general appearance, self-esteem, school performance, health, friendships and life skills.
It can be concluded that participants’ experiences of the services provided by drop-in centres proved positive on a number of aspects. The services enhanced their quality of life, their dignity and their general sense of well-being. The findings suggest that drop-in centres can attain their purpose as an intervention strategy for providing accessible, community-based services to meet the physical, emotional and social developmental needs of vulnerable children. The participants as a group of vulnerable children, benefited from the services which they received, which is in support of developmental social welfare. It is important that services are provided within an environment in which children’s rights to confidentiality and respect are upheld.
Recommendations include that increased funding is essential for maintaining the basic services of drop-in centres, as well as expanding the optional services such as sport and recreation programmes. As the findings of the study cannot be generalised because of the small sample size, further research on the topic is recommended.