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Youth Accountability and Deaf Inclusion in South Africa (YADIS): Supporting vulnerable children to advocate for change

The Youth Accountability and Deaf Inclusion in South Africa (YADIS) project is developing an inclusive youth leadership programme for vulnerable children in Ekurhuleni, South Africa so that they may claim a greater voice within their communities.

The University of Leeds, University of Pretoria, Hope and Homes for Children, Bishop Simeon Trust, One Child One Family HHCSA South Africa, DeafKidz International and DeafSA are joining forces in a unique partnership to support youth accountability and disability inclusion in South Africa.

Children and young people are directly affected by systemic issues, yet they are too often absent in the processes of decision-making and planning for the societies they will ultimately inherit. Vulnerable children are frequently excluded from decisions about their lives. This includes decisions about their care, all too often being separated from their family without fully understanding why, or without being given a chance to express their opinions. This is particularly true for children with disabilities, including those that are deaf who lack access to communication in their mode of choice - sign language or sign supported spoken language.

At a more local level in South Africa, the Children’s Act No 38 of 2005 (amended No 41:2007), places responsibility on government and stakeholders to ensure that every child is able to assert their right to participation in decisions that affect them, and the National Disability Policy promote the social inclusion of persons living with disability. Yet this is rarely adhered to, in particular for vulnerable children who are orphaned, at risk of family separation or are in the care system, children with disabilities and children with disabilities who are in care.

The Youth Accountability and Deaf Inclusion in South Africa (YADIS) project is developing an inclusive youth leadership programme for vulnerable children in Ekurhuleni, South Africa so that they may claim a greater voice within their communities in order to guide and support service delivery through accountability. YADIS will combine community development, arts-based leadership and participatory filmmaking, inclusive communication, knowledge exchange and advocacy for youth accountability and inclusion, with a focus on ensuring the inclusion of deaf children in a partnership that positively fosters the integration of deaf and hearing.

The arts-based youth leadership programme at the heart of YADIS uses participatory filmmaking to support deaf children to develop leadership skills alongside those who are hearing. This aims to foster integration of deaf children, develop their self-advocacy skills and provide important psycho-social, educational and careers support in the process, helping them to become active participants in civil society and to advocate for better and more inclusive services. This is part of Changing the Story led by the University of Leeds. Bishop Simeon Trust and One Child One Family HHCSA will seek to partner with relevant government departments responsible for child participation and people with disabilities in Gauteng Province in this filmmaking and participatory action research during 2021.

A complementary scoping review of the literature on youth engagement, accountability, disability and care by the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication at the University of Pretoria will contextualise and enhance the leadership programme and provide a firm basis on which to build our participatory action research and learning. The Centre will also evaluate the arts-based youth leadership programme in Ekurhuleni in order to guide policy on the development of structures and supports for inclusion of vulnerable children in South Africa in the planning and implementation of processes which impact their lives.

Through participatory action research, YADIS will enhance the current work of NGOs and support them to develop more inclusive practices, enabling integration of children with disabilities, particularly deaf children, across their programmes. The evidence and learning generated in South Africa will also inform national and international policy debates across the Global South on child protection and disability rights, particularly for deaf children. Our emphasis here will be how our work can support deaf children to self-advocate and self-represent through engagement with policy structures such as the United Nation's World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and the UN's Day of General Discussion on its most recent Resolution on The Rights of the Child. This will contribute to child protection system strengthening and care reform, while also emphasising the particular challenges faced by deaf children across the Global South.

YADIS will necessarily be working within the context of the impact of COVID-19 and post-pandemic efforts to ‘build back better’. How have the impacts of the pandemic changed the vulnerability of children? What has been the impact on young people with disabilities, especially deaf children? How can the programme we seek to develop respond to this changing reality?

YADIS is being implemented with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. AHRC has provided a one-year grant 2021-2022. This is supported with additional funding from the University of Leeds and Hope and Homes for Children.

Lourenza Foghill, Director of One Child One Family HHCSA talks about the interplay between participation, inclusion and children’s care and the need to reform the child care and protection system in South Africa in her blog.