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Who are we?

From ophanages to youth care centres

Orphanages were started in the Free State more than a century ago. These orphanages were all started by one person who became aware of the need of a large number of orphans after the Anglo-Boer war:

Charlotte Theron Children's Home

The motto of the Charlotte Theron Orphanage in Bethlehem was “The Lord will provide”. This is the name that Abraham gave to the place where he was to offer his son Isaac. (Genesis)

Mrs. Charlotte Theron felt that she had been tested after two of her children had died. She was convinced that the Lord wanted to use her to provide in the needs of children. Her husband, Charles Theron, was the first minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Bethlehem. These two started, during 1903, to care for 47 orphans in a tin cottage consisting of four rooms. During 1950 there were 434 children in the orphanage.

Today, the Charlotte Theron Child and Youth Care Centre cares for approximately 150 children in eleven different residences.

Memorial Children's Home

Rev. Marquard got on his horse and went to do home visits in the Ladybrand area. He discovered hundreds of orphans on the farms. This led to the establishment of four orphanages in the Ladybrand, Bethulie, Brandfort and Ficksburg areas. The last three were later closed. The church council of the Dutch Reformed Church in Ladybrand decided during 1904 to erect an orphanage under the guidance of Rev. P.S. van Heerden. The site was donated by the municipality and the first buildings were erected by the congregation. It was inaugurated on 3 June 1905 with 48 children. Management decided in 1961 to chance the name to Memorial Children’s Home in commemoration of the fact that it was originally erected as a monument to the men and women who died in the second Anglo-Boer War. The home then cared for 155 children.

Currently there is one de-centralized centre at Ladybrand, Memorial Child and Youth Care Centre. Here 16 children are taken care of.

Winburg Children's Home

Rev. Marquard opened Winburg Orphanage on 29 November 1902 for seven orphans. The site was donated by the municipality and the orphanage could later care for 164 children. The facility’s motto is also that “The Lord will provide”.

Currently the Winburg Child and Youth Care Centre takes care of 30 children in 2 residences, House Emerald and House Diamond.

Our Children's Home

At a church council meeting of the Dutch Reformed congregation of Bloemfontein on 18 April 1914, under Rev. Kestell, it was resolved that a “tehuis voor verwaarloosde kinderen gesticht worde” (home for neglected children be founded).

A house was rented in Victoria Avenue, and opened with 6 children. Our Children’s Home was officially opened on 11 September 1914. At times as many as 425 children were taken care of at this “home”.

The aim of these orphanages was primarily to provide care for the children. They were placed in large groups, e.g. 60 girls with a matron and 60 boys with a matron. All the children wore similar clothes. They did not attend school, but were taught to read and write. They had to learn skills and use these to survive.

The children cultivated vegetables, kept farm animals and looked after them, did their own washing as well as washing from residents in the town. This was done to supplement their income. At this stage no help was received from the government.

The second stage in the development of facilities for children, was the introduction of children’s homes. In due course the children were no longer solely orphans, but children needing care because their parents could not provide for them. Originally the Department of Education financed the children’s homes. Later on the Department of Welfare took over this task and continued to provide a subsidy. The Child Act was promulgated during the early sixties, and therein was stipulated that children should be referred to the children’s homes by die Children’s Court. The children’s homes also had to be registered and had to comply with certain legal requirements.

The children in the children’s homes were cared for in groups of 150 to 300 in one home, but in different residences on the same campus. Children of 15 to 20 in number were placed in a residence, under supervision of a house mother. Children were classed according to sex and age. The children’s homes had a central kitchen and if meals were to be prepared by themselves, supplies were obtained from storage. Clothes were issued to the children by a clothing officer.

The third phase of development was residential child care and was inaugurated at the end of 2001 through the process of de-centralization. This includes the establishing of a therapeutic centre in Bloemfontein for the care of children with special needs, e.g. special medical services, special schooling, therapy, etc. The children are cared for on the site of the children’s home (Ons Kinderhuis) in Bloemfontein. A full therapeutic team which includes child care workers and therapists provides care, education, development and treatment.

All the other children are cared for in smaller decentralised child and youth care centres in various towns throughout the province. These child and youth care centres are normal residential houses. In such a centre 12 – 16 children of both sexes are taken care of by a trained child and youth care worker. Brothers and sisters are placed together in the same centre and as near as possible to the parents.

A child and youth care centre offers the child care, education, development and treatment. There is a social worker at the centre. The social worker is the case manager. The worker does assessment together with the child care worker, parents of the child, family reunification worker (the social worker working with the parents), teachers and all other therapists concerned with the child. In this way it is determined what type of therapy should be given to the child, and the case manager ensures that the child receives this therapy.

Free State Youth Care Centres registers the various centres with the Department of Social Development in terms of section 30 of the Child Care Act.

There are various factors which motivated N.G. Social Services to proceed to this phase:

  • The model of a normal family is emulated at the de-centralised centres. Children of various ages and both sexes live together in one house. This results in the children learning the necessary life skills, since they are now involved in all the activities of a normal family. Children learn to cook, garden, have hobbies, receive friends, shop for themselves, look after a pet, etc.

  • Stigmatism and labelling are eliminated. No name-plate is attached to the house. The children therefore feel that they live in a “normal house” and have a “normal address”. The children associate in a normal manner with children in the vicinity through school and church, since they are a small group.

  • Less trauma is experienced by the children when they have been removed. Children who have been found to be in need of care by the Children’s Court and have been legally referred to a children’s home, have often been removed from the vicinity which they know and sent to another town. The sight of a large children’s home is terrifying to a small child. The child is thus not only removed from the care of his parents, but also from a well-known neighbourhood and well-known people e.g. teachers, friends, neighbours, etc. In large children’s homes, brothers and sisters are placed in different residences. If the town has a child and youth care centre, the child remains in his well-known neighbourhood and is cared for together with his brothers and sisters. The child also remains in the same school if possible.

  • If children are placed hundreds of kilometres from their parental home, it is impossible for the parents to visit on a regular basis. This results, eventually, in estrangement, enhances the children’s feelings of rejection and convinces them that it is all their fault. Small children, especially, do not have the necessary insight and feel very inferior. Children who are in a child and youth care centre in the same town as their parents, can be visited by their parents on a regular basis. At the same time, the child care worker at the centre can involve the parents in a programme for enhancing parental skills.

  • Community involvement is greater in a child and youth care centre than in a large children’s home. A community can easily accept responsibility for and ownership of a centre caring for 12 – 16 children. The children are in their midst and distance is not a problem. The demands on the community of caring for 12 – 16 children are far less than those demands for the care of say 150 children. Many more in kind and cash donations are received. The children are invited out more often, and are involved in the activities of the community.

  • Social integration is better and more normal. Children in the child and youth care centre can integrate more easily into church, school and social activities. For practical reasons it is easier to involve the children from the centre, since they form a manageable group.

  • Distribution of resources is possible. Although the child and youth care centre forms the home of 12 – 16 children, it can also execute two further important functions:

    • It can render services to children of the community. The nature of the services can vary considerably. There are centres which feed, clothe, assist with school work, offer life skills programmes as well as specialised services such as assessment and treatment to children in the community.

    • It can offer protection to children in a crisis situation, e.g. if a child suddenly has to be removed during the night. Every centre has an organised crisis room.

  • Better differentiation is possible. With the large children’s homes we had no option but to place all the children together. This meant that all the children in the home spoke the same language and attend the same church, irrespective of their cultural connections. In practice this resulted in estrangement from cultural background. Currently there are centres where the home languages of the children are English, Afrikaans or Sotho. The children also attend various churches, and schools where they can obtain instruction in their mother tongue. This was not possible with large children’s homes.

The service in the province is planned, coordinated and facilitated by Provincial Management. Every child and youth care centre is a sub-programme, but is registered as an independent child and youth care centre with its own management committee. In practice this means that each child and youth care centre has its own constitution and management plan. Each management is composed in its own unique manner. There are managements composed of members of a church or representatives from various churches, whilst other managements are composed of members from the community or adjacent communities.

The centres admit children of all ages and gender. All cultural groups are accommodated. When an application for admittance is received, it is always endeavoured to place the child as near as possible to the community of origin. The special needs of the child are also taken into consideration. A child who must receive special educational or medical care, is placed in a centre in a community where these services are available. In a crisis situation the safety of the child is always our first priority. A transfer can always be arranged at a later stage, if this would be in the best interests of the child.

Volunteers offer their time and means to the children without receiving any material recompense.


All the children are from the Free State. For every 12 – 16 children there is a full-time trained child care worker, relief child care worker and a general assistant child care worker. A total of 730 children are currently being cared for. As stated previously, children of all cultural and language groups are admitted.

All children are assessed by a multi-professional team, under leadership of the social worker. This team includes the parents and other persons of significance to the child. Children older than 10 years attend the team discussions and take part in the compilation of their own development and treatment programmes. Focus is placed on their strengths and a developmental approach is followed.

We can rightly be concerned about the road that the children followed before being placed in our care.

There is an increase in the number of pre-school children who are admitted. Currently it comes to 10,6%

Although we endeavour to place young children with foster care parents as soon as possible, and normally manage to do this, it can only be done if it is in the best interests of the child and not if the child has already been placed in various care positions, or if the parent’s actions endangers such a placement. Many of our children are exposed to exploitation and sexual practices. Although it is difficult to ascertain the exact percentage of the children who have been molested, we do know that more than 70% of our girls have suffered this trauma.

Many children have had to suffer or witness the utmost forms of violence. There is a large number who show post-traumatic stress disorder, fear and depression. Various professionals spend much time in trying to help in various ways.

Scholastic problems are numerous. Many children only attended school erratically prior to their placing at the centre. It is a reality that children in relatively high grades at school can really not read or write. Many children are uncertain of their own abilities. We work hard in an endeavour to eradicate the back-log in development and to motivate the children to improve. The help and cooperation of our schools are excellent, in spite of their large classes.

There is a definite need for spiritual guidance. It is not sufficient to make devotions a part of the daily nature and to let them attend church services. There is at least once a week an activity at every centre where intensive attention is given to this matter.


During the past financial year, 10 945 persons helped to render the service. Without this aid it would not be possible to continue this service. We are dependent on this help, support and intercession.


The work at a child and youth care centre is not suitable for everybody. The salary package is not very competitive, the hours are often long, and the work is definitely challenging. Personnel are carefully screened before being appointed, since if the person does not feel a calling for the task, he / she will certainly be unhappy and leave the service within a short space of time. This is very unsettling for the children and is not in their best interests.

Personnel must therefore have a calling for the work and a passion for children. Why do some personnel then work at a child and youth care centre for many years?

  • It enriches your own life, because you look at people from a different view and assimilate new knowledge and experiences.

  • People who work at a child and youth care centres or are involved on a voluntary basis, are special, with special talents. It is the most wonderful privilege to work in such a team and it helps you to grow as an individual.

  • It gives meaning to your life, since it makes a difference to the children. The “thank you” from children or adults who have grown up with us, is worth more than any amount of money.

The following personnel are essential:


  • Therapists

    Social workers, psychologists, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and medical practitioners.

  • Care workers

    Child care workers, relief child care workers and general assistants.

  • Support personnel

    Administrative personnel, accountants and personnel who are responsible for keeping the buildings and vehicles in good working order.

The child care workers are currently obtaining professional status. In future all child care workers will be trained at a tertiary institution and will be registered.

At present we are busy with a bridging process and individual training on an annual basis, in order that the child care workers may comply with the requirements of SAQA for professional registration.

Many of the social workers have post-graduate training in play-therapy. All social workers also complete the basic training of the child care workers. The personnel therefore all follow the developmental approach and have the same approach regarding behaviour control.

The goal is to offer the children care, education, development and treatment. The Provincial Management plans, co-ordinates and facilitates the establishment and running of the youth care centres for children who are in need of care or who are allegedly in need of care in the Free State. This is done with the co-operation of the State, congregations and communities, in such a way that the programme is cost-effective, non-discriminatory and integrated. We endeavour to render an acceptable service to as many children as possible.

Free State Child and Youth Care Centres has its own song, written by Elsa Telle, principle social worker of the Motheo- and Xhariep districts. Here is the words of the song: