Close to two thirds of children – a total of over 13 million, most of them African and Coloured – live in poor households that struggle to meet basic needs for nutrition, clothing, and shelter. This has consequences far beyond childhood, both for individuals and society more broadly. It may manifest in poor mental and physical health outcomes as well as poor school performance and high drop-out rates, among other outcomes.

But the situation is not hopeless. Promoting child well-being outcomes by, for instance, investing in children’s nutrition and health, is widely held to be an important social investment in developing human capital that could yield long-term benefits for individual children and society more broadly by contributing to economic development, social cohesion and political stability. For this to happen, though, different sectors must collaborate and cohere around shared goals. This is what prompted the SARChI in Welfare and Social Development and the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg to create the Community of Practice for Social Systems Strengthening to Improve Child Well-being Outcomes study.

South Africa has a number of mechanisms that are intended to improve child well-being outcomes, including free basic education and primary health care, the Child Support Grant, and the National School Nutrition Programme. A range of other welfare services are also available through both state and civil society organisations. However, children may still fall through the cracks of service provision. The Community of Practice (CoP) project is a response to the fragmentation of service provision and the lack of functional cooperation between the health, welfare and education sectors that serve children. This sort of fragmentation has been seen in many countries elsewhere in the world. We believe that collaboration between sectors could help in the search for innovative solutions that are suited to our local context in South Africa.