Celebrating 80 Years of Serving Children

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On 01 August 2016, Cotlands will turn 80 years old. Those of us who work at this grand old organisation don’t know a lot about its long history – just information gained from newspaper articles, hearsay and old records. In fact, we are not even sure if 01 August is the actual day it all started, but the actual day is not really that important. What is important is what Cotlands has achieved since it opened in 1936. Following is a summary of the highlights of the last 80 years.

Legend has it that, one night towards the end of winter in the lead up to WW2, Dorothy Reece, a nurse from the USA who had come to SA to do missionary work, found an abandoned baby on her doorstep. There is some reference to the baby being a boy, but no other details are known.

24 NOVEMBER 1963


Sunday Times Reporter

When the Minister of Justice, Mr. Vorster, opens the lavish new building for the Cotlands Baby Sanctuary tomorrow, the Matron, Dorothy Pearl “Granny” Reece, will see the fulfillment of a 27-year-old dream.

The dream began one night in 1935 when a baby in a wicker basket was left outside the door of Matron Reece’s own home in Mayfair, Johannesburg.

She cared for the infant, and went on doing this work in a small way until the death of her husband made it impossible for her to continue to rely on her own resources.

The plight of unmarried mothers and unwanted and abandoned babies had become a passion with this remarkable woman; but in 1941 it seemed that her work in running her first Cotlands, as her home for babies was called, could continue no longer. Not only was there no more money, but she had incurred debts in the maintaining of the home.

The SUNDAY TIMES published her story. Within weeks thousands of rands had been collected and Cotlands was moved to a large house in Kenilworth.

Fifty Babies

Today, the Sanctuary, a large, new building, which covers eight stands, has accommodation for 50 babies and 12 expectant mothers. There is a staff of four sisters, 12 nurses and 13 assistants.

There are seven baby wards, all painted in different colours, special kitchens and other rooms, and secluded gardens, one for the mothers and one for the nurses.

In all, 2349 babies have been cared for at Cotlands, 724 expectant mothers have found refuge there until the birth of their babies, and 734 babies have been adopted. Matron Reece has been the inspiration from the beginning.

Although she is now a sick woman, and has to wear a steel corset for six years, she still works for her babies.

As I walked around the happy, sunlit wards with her, where the older infants, between 18 months and two years old, cried out with joy the moment they saw her coming, she said: “There’s a lot of work to be done here, a lot of thought to be given, and a lot of praying.”

Matron Reece said that there were 800 prospective foster parents on the waiting list.

Cotlands is run entirely on funds contributed by the public.

“We are trying to clear the building costs”, she told me.

Even the running costs of Cotlands are high. Apart from ten gallons of ordinary milk a day, the home uses many tins of powdered milk and tens pints of mother’s milk, which it gets from the milk bank every second day.

Although one would expect the noisiest inmates at the Sanctuary to be the babies, they are not Matron Reece’s constant companion, when she takes an odd minute off to rest in her flat which adjoins the main building is an African grey parrot, Peter.

He has been her companion since 1946, and has just celebrated his 21st birthday. Famous for his wisecracks, he sat quietly muttering and whistling to himself as Matron Reece and I talked, but as we left at the end of the interview, I heard him screech, “Granny, Granny …..”.


Since 1936, Cotlands has been instrumental in providing residential child care for vulnerable children. In 1999 it expanded its vision from being a residential-based care provider to more inclusive community focused services. As society changed, so did Cotlands.

Today, Cotlands offers a variety of residential and community-based programmes to vulnerable children and their families. These programmes include paediatric hospices, places of safety, home-based care projects, nutrition and early childhood development centres. Because all these projects offer holistic care to our children, each project has several components, which include health care, psychosocial intervention, and education.

As each of these components were added to our spectrum of programmes, we began to realise that for these interventions to be sustainable, training and support also had to be offered to the primary caregivers. Cotlands’ ultimate goal is to equip families to care for their children at home and to achieve this we have to ensure that these families have the right skills and sufficient resources. We have therefore continued to add more components to the services on offer – elements like support groups, income-generating projects, food gardens, counselling, material aid, accessing of social grants and orphan care.

10 JANUARY 2012


Over the last few years, Cotlands, one of South Africa’s leading child care and development NGOs, has made the transition from being a residential-based care provider to a more community focused service, supported by residential care facilities. Our objective is to intervene directly within communities to try and assist even before children need institutional care. We strongly believe that this is a more proactive, beneficial and financially viable approach to the social crises which confronts us.

Cotlands is a holistic community development organisation which actively finds solutions to real community problems. The Integrated Model of Care provides services to children and their families which ensure children’s protection (psychosocial), survival and nutrition (health) and development (education) through interventions such as providing ECD centres, active learning toy libraries, counselling, and food security amongst others.

This process has not been easy, but complete transformation of our current programmes was required if we are to redefine child care and expand our services to reach a greater number of children. Bearing in mind Cotlands’ honourable and highly successful history of child care since 1936, we are conscious of ensuring our organisation remains relevant and is able to sustain its critically needed services to children for many years to come. The South African Medical Research Council has recently estimated that the number of orphans in South Africa could rise to 5,7 million children by 2015. Traditional child care models like residential care will not cope with this massive increase in the number of children needing care.

Two other factors were considered when the Cotlands board decided on their strategic shift. The cost of caring for a child in a residential care facility is approximately 10 times more than that of supporting the same child in their own community. The second factor that was a major influence in the organisation’s realignment is the negative impact of institutionalisation on children.

Studies show that children removed from their homes and their communities are more likely to experience serious developmental barriers. Compared to children raised in a family or community environment, they may struggle with everyday life skills and social interactions. Even though institutional care is commonly used throughout South Africa and across the globe, recent research has shown that it is relatively ineffective in meeting children’s social, intellectual and emotional needs. The re-evaluation of Cotlands services has provided us with the opportunity to deliver exceptional models of care to children by empowering their families and communities with skills, knowledge, values and attitudes that will improve their quality of life.

Support for community based care has also been high on the agenda of national government. In 2002, government pledged to scale up family and community support mechanisms and scale down institutional care. In so doing they are aligning with global trends and international bodies, including the World Health Organisation, in urging organisations that provide residential care to start moving towards more effective and holistic community based care.

In redefining its scope of services, Cotlands has taken these factors into account. This has helped shape the new Cotlands community care model. From July 2011 we no longer admitted any new children to the Gauteng and Western Cape hospices and sanctuaries and have made good progress towards finding alternative placements for our children currently in the residential programme. This has freed up time and resources to allow us to focus our energies into the more effective community based care models that we have implemented and are currently rolling out.