Food provision challenges facing Early Childhood Development Centres in two Cape Town townships
Early childhood has been identified as a critical period for providing nutritional intervention, with nutritional adequacy during the first 1000 days having long term implications for human development. South Africa’s policy environment accordingly aims to support the development of all children through providing services supporting care and nutrition of children so that ‘no one is left behind’. However, the reality is that for the economically marginalised who live in poverty, these services are inaccessible and the whereabouts of many children, especially those under 5, remain unknown to the state. This study looks at township childcare facility as a key intervention point for nutrition provision, documents the obstacles and challenges they face in securing food for the children in their care and describes the strategies they use to combat these challenges. Using a mixed method approach, data were gathered on all ECDs operating in two Cape Town townships – Vrygrond, a semi-formal township, and Sweet Home Farm, a deeply informal settlement – and a typology was developed which represented the differentiation between these informal businesses in terms of a continuum of connectedness and disconnectedness with the regulatory environment. The careful spatial census conducted for this study showed that 81% of ECDs in the target area were unregistered, suggesting that rates of regulatory exclusion may be much higher than the 40-50% estimated in previous studies. The study shows that these ‘structurally informal’ ECDs are situationally appropriate childcare facilities, providing a safe and affordable service that enables township residents, many of whom are single mothers, to earn a living. But, because they are structurally unable to comply with qualifying criteria, these ECDs are unable to access the Department of Social Development’s per-child subsidy, a key resource to provide children food. Crucially, the study shows that the regulations as they stand cannot differentiate in a meaningful way between ECDs that provide situationally appropriate quality of care and those that don’t, suggesting that the regulations are thus not fit for purpose. In this context, the study highlights the crucial role played by NGOs and food organisations. Even these sources of support, however, are uneven and inadequate as the nutritional security of economically marginalised children in township ECDs remains under threat. Ensuring the nutritional security of township children in their first 1000 days will therefore require thoroughgoing revision of the regulatory environment in order to ensure the appropriate regulatory incorporation and support of township ECDs.