Local non-profit organisation Hope House Counselling Centre in Bergvliet has emphasised the importance of safeguarding children’s rights through strengthening family units.The latest Child Gauge, published by UCT’s Children’s Institute, found that 33% of South African children are victims of sexual and physical abuse.Judy Strickland, child counsellor and founder of Hope House, says when abuse is taking place in the home, family members are not aware of how to be supportive. “Children do not get the help they need. This can have long-lasting effects on the child’s psychological, educational and social development,” she says.Young children can only access support services and the courts with assistance from a trusted adult – often the first port of call is a family member, yet not all families are equipped to handle a report of abuse from a child.“Children are among the most vulnerable members of society and are dependent on their families, schools and the government for protection. If we are to address the high rates of child abuse, this is where we need to intervene,” says Strickland.Interventions in family life have been shown to reduce the occurrence of abuse and neglect. “Research in the United States shows lower rates of substance abuse in communities with family programmes. Studies have also shown that fathers who are involved in their children’s lives from birth are less likely to abuse them later on in life, with the simple intervention of involving fathers early on having a long-lasting positive effect on the child’s upbringing,” says Strickland.Adapting this knowledge to a local context, Hope House has been running Strengthening Families workshops. Strickland and her team work with families to address broken communication, trust and stability. Participants in the programme report that they have gained greater empathy with other family members.“Family members gain a greater understanding of what is expected of them within the unit. This means that when a child is in trouble, they have a safe place to turn to and seek advice and help,” she says. Hope House Counselling Centre has been providing donation-based counselling services to the Cape Town community for 14 years. V For more information, visit www.hopehouse.org.za or email Judy Strickland at email@example.com.