Our Work

children valued, protected and empowered


Sustainable Communities

Sustaianable Development GoalsStarfish works towards the realisation of a sustainably improving future for all in keeping with the objectives of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.  Our central purpose is to strengthen the capacity of high-risk communities to deliver research-informed, evidence-based, systemic risk-interrupters and well-being promoting interventions for children during early-childhood and adolescence.



Starfish works with communities to help them establish effective, well run community-based organisations (CBO).  Using the Starfish Organisational Capacity Assessment Tool, CBO’s are assisted to articulate their values-driven purpose, activate relevant registrations (NPO, PBO, ECD, DIC, etc), develop board members, segregate responsibilities, conform to legislative requirements, appoint management, and develop healthy relationships with key stakeholders.


Two core positions are mentored and supported:  The Managing Director and the Finance Manager.  Programmatic staff are developed under the Trained Careworkers theme.

It is critical that the Director shares and executes the vision of the board, which in turn should shape said vision based on the expressed needs of the community.

Starfish assists  CBOs to develop and implement robust financial management systems.


CBO sustainability is a product of measured programme efficacies, good management and robust, accountable governance – and the above being well marketed.

Starfish assists CBO’s in their implementation of effective monitoring of the relationships between input and outputs as well as the continued evaluation of the relationship between outputs and outcomes.  Organisations are also assisted to directly access other funding opportunities.


Trained Careworkers

What makes Community-based Organisations (CBOs) rock?  Which CBOs deliver the best services and why?  Any organism either flourishes or flounders by the level of health of it’s cells and its systemic environment.  Organisations, similarly, either flourish or flounder by the level of wellbeing of the team, the working-environment and the quality of the contributing systems.

Starting with the leader: passion and fidelity towards the organisation’s vision, integrity, leadership skills, management skills and ability to empower the team.  Respectively, all the team members need to have a clear understanding of the WHY of the organisation’s key activities (and how each of those contribute towards realising the vision).

These are foundational requirements for a flourishing CBO.  Further training provided by Starfish and their partners is listed below:


Adolescent Development

Recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience show adolescence provide a unique opportunity for catalytic interventions in resilience development and the acquisition of other essential skills.

Different development theorists have historically proposed varied opinions of development phases.  It is only recently that the hard sciences have been able to definitively contribute to these discussions with empirical data.  The first two years of a child’s life have been shown to be the essential brain-development years (with 97% of all energy intake used for brain-development).  The next window of high developmental plasticity (ability to establish rapid synaptic connectivity and pathways) is said to be in adolescence.

It is, however, a real skill to work effectively with adolescent girls and boys and to be able to channel the fire that is expected during this phase of maturation.  Starfish assists CBOs to implement the following programmes:


With escalating numbers of adolescent pregnancies, gender-based violence, and adolescent-peer violence, every adolescent should be well versed in ensuring and enforcing their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

Starfish uses the Stepping Stones curriculum to empower adolescents (and community groups) with this critical skill.  Activities tie in with broader health interventions.


Resilience is the ability to bounce-back from, and work through adverse circumstances.  The Starfish Resilience Framework consists of 6 interrelated areas of personal and systemic development:  Vision, Composure, Reasoning, Health, Resilience, and Collaboration.  The topics are approached as individual development sessions and only later brought together as a unit.


Executive Function, also known as Cognitive Control, is the ability to take charge of your own situations, work out a plan, and stick to the plan amidst other distractions.  It also involves incorporating new information into already established plans.  EF is significantly hampered in environments of toxic stress (such as indigency, ill health, domestic conflict, etc.) where its application is most critical.


Social & Emotional Learning aims to assist adolescents manage their behavior with others as well as to identify and regulate their own emotions.  The skills are developed through a process of producing a drama, scripted by the participants through a guide-lined process, directed by a Starfish-trained facilitator, and produced for public consumption both in video format and live.

Career Incubation Centres

CBO-based facilities offering adolescents an opportunity to explore different careers though the internet, printed media and special events.  Additionally, the centres provide, through partner-stakeholders, opportunities for adolescents to strengthen their proficiency in STEM subjects.


Responsive Caregiving

Responsive CaregivingThe value of the direct interaction between mother/father/caregiver and child cannot be over emphasised.  It fosters healthy brain development. It increases the likelihood that infants will achieve cognitive-language, physical-motor, and social-emotional milestones.  In contrast, an absence of responsive caregiving is linked to learning, behavior, and health problems that can last a lifetime (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child; NSCDC 2012). But sometimes caregivers are unsure about what responsive caregiving looks like and why it’s so important.

What it looks like?
  • Caregiver and child interaction is face-to-face.
  • Caregiver uses back-and-forth, or turn-taking, interactions with the child.
  • Interactions are contingent on the behavior or action of the child. In other words, the behaviors and actions of the adult should be influenced by the child’s.
  • Caregiver use “sharing attention”, or the use of social cues such as pointing and eye gaze, to communicate with young children even before they can speak. This is also effective for supporting dual language learners’ language development.
  • Be adjusted to meet individual temperament, ability, and needs of the child. For example, allow more time to explore new surroundings for a child that is “slow to warm up” before moving on with a task or transition.
Serve & Return

Serve and return interactions shape brain architecture. When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills. Much like a lively game of tennis, volleyball, or Ping-Pong, this back-and-forth is both fun and capacity-building. When caregivers are sensitive and responsive to a young child’s signals and needs, they provide an environment rich in serve and return experiences.

Active Play

Recent advances in the science of brain development offer us an unprecedented opportunity to solve some of society’s most challenging problems, from widening disparities in school achievement and economic productivity to costly health problems across the lifespan. Understanding how the experiences children have starting at birth, even prenatally, affect lifelong outcomes—combined with new knowledge about the core capabilities adults need to thrive as parents and in the workplace—provides a strong foundation upon which policymakers and civic leaders can design a shared and more effective agenda.


Evidence suggests that children need “language nutrition”, or language-rich interactions with caregivers, for optimal language and cognitive development.

Language delivered in the context of an adult–child interaction characterised by responsiveness and positive regard helps to scaffold a child’s learning and encourages verbal behaviors.  Studies consistently demonstrate that quantity and quality of talking, interacting, and reading with a child in the first three years of life are strongly associated with language and cognitive development as well as school readiness and academic performance.


Family Strengthening

Stronger families are essential for social mobility because children from a range of social backgrounds who experience family breakdown are more likely to experience behavioural problems and to underachieve at school. They are then disadvantaged when they try to get a job. They also have poorer physical and mental health and as teenagers they will have higher levels of smoking, drinking and other drug use. They are more likely to become pregnant or a parent at an early age.
Family breakdown is not just about separation and divorce. Children will also fare badly in families where there are no safe, stable and nurturing relationships, whether their parents are still together or not and however much money is coming into the household. Conflict that is constantly spilling over into explosive anger or spreading a dark cloud of coldness and indifference produces a toxic environment to live in. Growing up without a father can be very painful for some children and over a million have no meaningful relationship with their fathers.

Starfish adopts a strength-based approach supported by an awareness that stronger families are central to keeping children safe and helping them develop to their fullest potential.  Home-visitations allow our Community Careworkers to build close relationships with families, monitoring them for risks, supporting them and linking them to other services and resources.   Strengthening Families focusses on developing the protective factors listed below:

  • Parental Resilience
  • Social Connections
  • Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development
  • Concrete Support in Times of Need
  • Social Emotional Competence in Children


Income Strengthening

Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy childhood development. Unfortunately, in 2015 this was a reality for over 13 million children living in South Africa according to the latest Living Conditions Survey data.


Working with families in collaborations with a variety of service providers (Heifer, Sinamandla, Food and Trees for Africa, and Bulungula Incubator), Starfish assists households ascend out of a state of dire poverty to perpetually improving future.


Heifer concentrates on empowering people and helping them in achieving food security and self–sustainability by teaching them good agricultural practices and business skills, and providing them with a gift of livestock. Our concept of Passing on the Gift® whereby recipients of our projects undertake to share their skills and in time Pass on the Gift to another family in need ensures that our assistance has a long-term ripple effect.


Sinamandla promotes the Self-help Group (SHG) approach throughout South Africa and currently works with implementing partners in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Free State. By June 2015, more than 17 000 women were members in 1 268 functioning SHGs formed by active Sinamandla partners (total savings across all groups was R4,2 million and more than 113 000 loans worth R23 million were given out); and 45 Cluster Level Associations (CLAs) were functioning. Over 100 000 household members were recorded as having benefited from having a mother, granny, sister or aunt in an SHG (with over 40 000 being children under 18 years).

Food and Trees for Africa

Food & Trees for Africa is a leading Section 21 Social Enterprise that addresses the issues of food security and environmental sustainability. We emphasise education and skills training, which we integrate with sensitive mentorship and phased support. After 27 years of experience in South African social development, we understand what it takes to achieve real, long-term sustainability and want to make a positive difference to the lives of all South Africans.

Bulungula Incubator

Creating sustainable livelihoods is a fundamental component of our mission to create a vibrant rural community. We want to support and promote the generation of a local economy that uses the valuable assets in the region and creates local jobs and opportunities. We also want to equip and empower our community members to improve their living standards. We do this through tourism, entrepreneurship, agribusiness, optimising the government led Community Work Programme (CWP) and through the training and assistance we provide at our Rural Skills Centre.


Security & Safety

Starfish aligns its child safety and security intervention with the South African Children’s Act (38 of 2005 Amended) requirements (Prevention & Early Intervention – Chapter 8 (Section 143 – 149), Chapter 10 (section 52) of the Regulations and Part IV of Annex B of the Norms & Standards.

Child Security


Adverse Childhood Experiences


Ecosystemic Interventions


Health & Nutrition

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