Resourceful Young Children

Resourceful Young Children
Learning Brief

Hope House Counselling Centre

The story of our Maternal Mental Health Counselling Programme

Category: Resourceful Young Children | Comprehensive ECD package | 1 November, 2012 - 16:32


Hope House Counselling Centre was started in January 2004 by Judy Strickland. She saw the need to make general counselling available to anybody irrespective of race, gender, religion, or age. She realised that there were psychologists and professional counsellors who offered help to those who could afford R400 or more per session. Some specialist organisations offered a counselling service for specific events such as trauma, rape, religion, or family problems. She saw the need for a general counselling centre offering counselling on a broad range of issues, broadly grouped as Mental Health.

Although supported by many, she was initially the only active person in this venture. Her first client was a woman who was suffering post-natal depression. Although the venture has grown tremendously in the interim, it is interesting to reflect how the first client indicated the need for mental health counselling for women during and after pregnancy. It seems most appropriate for Hope House to now be fully committed to the Perinatal Mental Health Project.

During the period 2004 to 2008, Hope House grew to an organisation that had five volunteer counsellors, seeing about 80 people for counselling each month. The monthly expenditure was about R7 000. People came from Lakeside, Muizenberg, Westlake, Capricorn, Fish Hoek, and Ocean View. In addition to Counselling Sessions, Life Skills courses were presented, covering Anger Management, Stress Management, Loss Recovery, and a course called “Making Peace with Your Past”. Support groups were started for those suffering from Depression, those in recovery from addiction, and for families of addicts.

All this took place in a house belonging to a church with two counselling rooms, a small office, and a bigger room for group meetings. More and more people were approaching Hope House for its counselling service, which was offered on a donation basis. The costs were minimal, as the rent was very low, and the counsellors were volunteers. The Management of Hope House believed that it was important to ensure that the counselling offered was of a high standard. Volunteer counsellors had to be well trained and pass a strict interview process before they were accepted to counsel at the Centre.

In order to find acceptable counsellors, we started a one year Lay Counsellor Training programme.

In 2008, two problems arose. Firstly, the premises were sometimes inadequate for the activities. We needed more space. Then the church who owned the property gave us notice that they intended using the house for their own purposes.

Hope House needed to look for alternative premises, and were blessed to be offered a house in Bergvliet. The new premises was set in a peaceful garden setting, and provided us with three counselling rooms, a large meeting room, a big office, and a waiting room.

During the period 2008 to 2011 Hope House activities snowballed. General Counselling remained the core activity. Up to four hundred counselling sessions were taking place each month. 36 volunteer counsellors were now assisting in helping all those seeking help. Play therapy for children was added to our services, resulting in requests for help from parents, children’s homes and Social Welfare.

False Bay Hospital approached us in 2008 and requested a Termination of Pregnancy counsellor “on site”. The counsellor we allocated to False Bay was so appreciated by the Hospital that she was requested to offer a counselling service to out-patients. We were given a small counselling room, and saw all patients referred by the Hospital for counselling.

The administration of all these services became difficult to manage. It became apparent that a full time receptionist was required. We were being pushed by the work load from being a volunteer organisation to being a bigger NPO with new legal and professional requirements. This required more funding than we were receiving. More funding meant meeting more stringent requirements for good governance from funders. We could not remain a small NPO focused only on our vision of offering counselling to the community, as we would be limited through capacity constraints. We had to make a big step forward, and become more business-like in our approach.

In 2010 Hope House Counselling Centre and The Perinatal Mental Health Project, part of the Child Psychiatry Department at the University of Cape Town, held a meeting, from which a new partnership emerged. PMHP was running a Perinatal project at Mowbray Maternity Hospital, offering screening and counselling services to the pregnant mothers. The screening was to try to ascertain which of the pregnant women were at risk of mental health problems during and after pregnancy. Risks varied from those prone to depression, those using alcohol or drugs, those without support at home, and those in extreme poverty. Those found to be at risk were offered ongoing and regular counselling to help them cope with the stress of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. The counselling was intended to encourage the mother, and to create a better beginning in life for the baby.

Hope House was involved in counselling, and had a relationship with False Bay Hospital. Combining the programme that the PMHP had developed at Mowbray with Hope House’s counselling expertise and their relationship with Mowbray Hospital, it was logical to work together and offer the Maternity unit at False Bay Hospital a Perinatal screening and counselling service.

The management at False Bay Hospital were enthusiastic about the concept and agreed to make space available for a counselling room. This room we built with funding from Nedbank. The counsellor who had been serving as a volunteer at False Bay was appointed as a full time counsellor, and paid from funding received from the DG Murray Trust.

After receiving training from the PMHP on the project, and the recording and monitoring systems involved, our counsellor started offering the service. The benefits were soon recognised by the hospital staff, and the anticipated numbers for screening and counselling exceeded expectations.

Hope House had also developed a relationship with Retreat MOU, when we started a project to give “Baby Bags” containing baby blankets, baby grows, nappies, creams, and a soft toy, to women who had given birth at the MOU. In conjunction with the PMHP, it was decided to offer the Perinatal project to Retreat and if accepted, find and place a counsellor in the MOU.

This offer was accepted, but the implementation was not as smooth as it had been at False Bay. There was a tiny room that was available for the counsellor, but it was used by somebody else on Tuesdays. The MOU had a nurse who was already involved in screening, and therefore the project had to be adjusted to work around these existing structures.

The number of women attending Retreat MOU, combined with some of the extreme conditions under which they live, made it very difficult for the counsellor to cope with the pressure of the workload. The first counsellor could not cope, and resigned. Two further counsellors have started, but left for personal reasons. A new counsellor has now been appointed and will commence in July 2012.

Ideally, we would like to employ two counsellors at each unit. However, to continue and sustain the status quo of the Maternity Mental Health project beyond 2011, new funding was required. This was again made available from the DG Murray Trust. During the application process, it was again made clear to us that the level of funding we required necessitated us making changes in our management structures.

The Management Committee of Hope House resolved to amend the Constitution to change the Management Committee to an independent Board. A new Board was then elected by the members of Hope House. The new Chairman is experienced in leadership, and is currently also the Chairman of a local Community Police Forum. A Treasurer, who was a senior accountant at an oil company, was appointed to ensure that financial controls were in place, and that the Financial Reports were correct and informative, in line with current accounting practices. Judy Strickland, the founder of Hope House, and Director, is a member of the Board. Other Board members are a Headmaster, a Minister of Religion, a teacher, and a pastor’s wife. The racial imbalance has been corrected, and the Board members are more representative of the communities we serve.

The Department of Social Development has a funding cycle from April to March. Many funders ask for budgets, and appear to assume that the budgets are for the April to March period. In view of this, Hope House resolved to change its financial year end from December to March. This has created some challenges in producing Financial Statements, but it has been beneficial having a professional as Treasurer who has overseen this transition.

Another management improvement has been to hand over the bookkeeping function to a qualified bookkeeper. This has reduced the risk of inadvertent errors, and will give funders (potential or current) greater confidence that the financial controls are adequate.

To further improve the quality and professionalism of Hope House Counselling Centre, Policies and Procedures are in the process of being implemented. These relate to Finance, Human Resources (including Volunteers), Health and Safety, and Service Agreements.

It has been a challenge making the changes. There is much planning required in drawing up a business plan for the organisation, and then assessing the structures and resources required to implement the plan. As in all ventures, finance is required to run the organisation. Not much of the finance can be derived from our activities, being a Non Profit Organisation, so raising funds becomes an important activity. The more an organisation can market itself, and the better it becomes known for its services, professionalism, and trustworthiness, the better the chance to raise the funding.

The challenge is to continue to offer the service for which we have the vision, but at the same time to create the structures of management that will enable us to obtain the resources to perform the tasks of helping those in need of counselling to receive this counselling, so that they may feel better about themselves, be set free from addictions, live more productive lives, and therefore uplift the families, communities, and societies to which they belong.


Hope House Counselling Centre

Childrens Way, Bergvliet, Cape Town  

 (021) 715 0424

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