THE ESTABLISHMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
OF THE FOREST TOWN SCHOOL
FOR CEREBRAL PALSIED CHILDREN
Mathias 31 August 1968
Forest Town School was the first school and treatment centre exclusively established for Cerebral Palsied children in South Africa. As a result of the work done at this centre, similar schools were established in all the major cities of South Africa, but today Forest Town School still has the biggest number of children attending, and has an international reputation for the high standard of the educational and medical services it provides.
This organisation, which so greatly benefits so many, was started by a few only who were brought together by one alone. This one person, Mrs Adams, had a son Matthew who was cerebral palsied.
In 1945, there was practically no general knowledge of cerebral palsy, except amongst those who had children, or were themselves, so afflicted; and no understanding of the many problems this condition causes.
Thus, when Matthew Adams was not accepted at the Bramley School, Mrs Adams decided to call together other parents of cerebral palsied children who did not know where to turn for help, and so to find a common solution. She therefore advertised to that effect, with some result.
On August 6, 1945, a meeting was held at a house in Fellside. This meeting was addressed by Miss Lebinn from the Malazi Commission in Natal. Here there were some spastics and Miss Lebinn had contacted Dr Phelps in America about their treatment. Forty one people attended the meeting and a committee of parents and interested persons was formed.
Amongst those present were Mr Tanner, Mr Reg Moreland, Dr Medalie, Mrs Kessler and of course Mrs Adams. Mr Merkin was chosen as chairman and Mr Tanner donated $50 to start funds.
On August 12, another meeting was held. Mr Merkin, who was also chairman of the National Council for the Care of Cripples said that the latter organisation was formed, viz, the Transvaal Association for the Care of Cerebral Palsied [T.A.C.C.P.].
This meeting was attended by Mrs Ginsberg who later on started the Pretoria Cerebral Palsy School.
On 24 September 1948, a public meeting was held at the Public Library; this being the first meeting to be held concerning the welfare of cerebral palsied, and was under the patronage of Mrs Gordon, then mayoress of Johannesburg. Mrs Ginsberg was also present amongst the fifty seven people present. An executive committee was elected, with Mr Moreland as Chairman, Mr H.A. Jack, then MPC for Orange Grove and Chairman of the Transvaal School Board was present and suggested getting the use of a school with four rooms in Parktown.
At this time Mr Moreland got the Reverend Massey to let to them the Methodist Church hall in Norwood. This hall was rented on 08 November 1948, and Mrs Clemens, a Speech Therapist who had been engaged in October, started the service with nine pupils. These did not attend daily, and she was helped by voluntary workers. In November, Mrs Hilda Craig was appointed as Physiotherapist on a part time basis.
Meanwhile, Mr Jack negotiated for the use of Forest Town School which was being used as an orphanage school.
On 26 January 1949 the Transvaal Education Department loaned the school to the T.A.C.C.P. free of charge. A grant of $500 was given on condition that a departmental inspection be allowed. Thus the ‘Forest Town School for Spastics’ came into being.
A report in ‘The Star’ Johannesburg of February 4th 1949 reads that: ‘Handicapped Children now have their own school. Since last week children handicapped by Cerebral Palsy have had a school of their own in Johannesburg.’ ‘Here for the first time, a small group of children who suffer from the varied disabilities that come from Cerebral Palsy will be able to obtain all the forms of treatment they need, from physiotherapy to formal education, in one centre’. It also stated that ‘It is probable that at least forty children in Johannesburg are handicapped in this way.’
It was recorded on 18 January 1949 that eleven children would start school under the care of one Speech Therapist, one Physiotherapist and one non-European aide.
In April 1949 a School Inspector reported that not all the children attending were spastic, and that some should go to Special Classes at normal schools. The T.A.C.C.P. was also short of money and applied to the Johannesburg Municipality for a grant. The Municipality was sympathetic and in May it is recorded that a ‘grant of $500 is imminent.
This interest and sympathy on the part of the Johannesburg Municipality has remained until the present time and has been expressed in the granting of financial aid, approval of building extensions and the provision of land, by successive mayors and mayoresses.
In August 1949, T.A.C.C.P. sent a deputation to Pretoria to ask for a grant from the Transvaal Education Department. By 1950 there were eighteen children and an increased number of staff.
The Transvaal Education Department granted a further $1500, dependent on the following conditions:
- That only educable children be admitted.
- The highest age limit to be 19 years.
- Children to be admitted for a 6 month trial period, and to be discharged if no progress was made during this time.
- Major handicaps had to be Cerebral Palsy.
Recommendations had to be made by both Medical and Psychology Inspectors of Schools following a 1952 report by the Administrator of Transvaal.
In March 1951 an upheaval had followed after an inspection of the school. When four children had to be discharged because they did not meet the above requirements, eleven children were left.
However, the support of the T.E.D. lent status to the school, and influenced public attitude towards Cerebral Palsy throughout South Africa. The T.A.C.C.P., was now registered with the National Welfare Organisation Board and the first Fundraising Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Mrs Jack Fergusson. Initially their job was not easy as hardly anybody had heard of ‘Spastics’ or ‘Cerebral Palsy’, but their enthusiasm and hard work paid off and the Fund Raising Committee became one of the most successful money collectors in the City; and still is.
During this period, children attended school when they could, which was irregularly, due to transport difficulties. Appeals for help in this connection resulted in some publicity which was followed by many applications for admission. With the increasing number of children, transport was arranged by buying an old Army Ambulance, and a borrowed taxi service, run by Mr Freddie Shields, who also helped by doing photography for the school, in the way of taking progress pictures, free of charge.
The school was parallel medium from the start. The first teacher was Mrs J. Davis, a teacher of the deaf. She also did language training until Prof. Pienaar sent along Speech Therapy students. Mrs E. Harrison took the first Afrikaans group. In the Nursery, Mrs M. Hoffman took the parallel medium group.
This state of affairs, with the T.A.C.C.P. financing the school with the aid of a Provincial grant continued until 1954, when it was realised that a voluntary organisation could not deal with the problem. The accommodation of four rooms was inadequate – so was the equipment. There was no secretary. The children were not all fully diagnosed or treated, and there was no money. Although expenses mounted, the T.E.D would not increase their grant which was by now $3000 per annum. To meet costs the T.A.C.C.P. had to raise over $5000 annually.
In May 1954 a deputation from the Association saw the Minister of Education. By now, the Pretoria and Cape Town schools had opened and the Department of Education sent a commission to inspect the three schools.
In October 1955 it was announced in Parliament that these schools would now fall under the Special Education Act [Act no.9 of 1948] and would therefore be state aided, retrospective from April 01 1954; under the Union Department of Education, Art and Science.
This was a momentous event, and a great tribute and encouragement to the pioneers who had started this work.
As a result of this legislation, the whole system of school management and running had to be changed. The Forest Town School Management Committee now consists of 6 members elected from the T.A.C.C.P. Executive Committee, which is elected by members of the T.A.C.C.P. at the Annual General Meeting; plus 5 Government nominees.
The formula for assistance has changed since that time. At first the U.E.D. paid all teachers’ salaries, but only 2/3 of therapists’. Now all are paid by the Department. Now, as then, the T.A.C.C.P. helps financially where the subsidy is insufficient.
In March 1955 it was decided to change the name of ‘Forest Town School’ to ‘Johannesburg School and Treatment Centre for Cerebral Palsied Children’. This was done in order to correct any misconceptions that children were only able to get education there and not the Medical and Psychological services which they did in fact receive. However, it appeared that the name ‘Forest Town’ was so firmly established that it reverted to become the ‘Forest Town School for Cerebral Palsied Children’.
By March 31, 1956, there were 88 children on the roll. All staff were fully trained with appointments approved by the Department of Education. The staff consisted of:
- The Principal
- 3 Nursery School Teachers
- 1 Kindergarten Teacher
- 1 English and 1 Afrikaans Grades Teachers
- 2 Standards Teachers
- 5 Physiotherapists
- 3 Speech Therapists
- 2 Occupational Therapists
- 1 Psychologist
- 1 Secretary
- 5 Non-European aides
Medical services were given by a Paediatrician and General Practitioner. An Outpatients Clinic, sponsored by T.A.C.C.P. was held as an auxiliary service to the school. Here children were diagnosed, and treatment for children too young to attend the school, or living too far away to do so, or those in need of treatment but attending normal schools.
The school provided ‘Diagnostic, Therapeutic and Psychological Services; Special Education for children from infancy onwards’. ‘The approach to the problem is a holistic one. An essential factor towards success is the correlation of the various aspects of treatment and schooling. The staff provided an outstanding example of enthusiastic teamwork, and the high standard of achievement reached is a tribute to their skills and devotion.’ H.H. Jack.
To increase the accommodation, prefabricated rooms were put up; the expansion following the plan of overseas schools.
Mrs Tragott Vorwerg took over from Mrs Clemens in 1952, and became known throughout the world for her work in this field. Voluntary helpers still did much of the work, maintaining a very high standard. When Mrs Vorwerg left the school in 1958, appreciative parents and co-workers collected a sum of money which became known as the ‘Vorwerg Bursary Fund’ and which assists members of staff from the school in furthering their study of Cerebral Palsy.
Dr Lynch succeeded Mrs Vorwerg as Principal, and will be remembered for, amongst all her other arduous duties, transforming the garden into a pleasant restful surround for the school. He was succeeded by Dr W.S. Swanepoel, present Principal of Forest Town in 1963.
In 1958 an Orthopaedic Surgeon was appointed as consultant. As a result of his interest and never-ending efforts, the school established strong and beneficial links with the Transvaal Memorial Hospital [Children’s Hospital] and the Johannesburg General Hospital, as well as the Witwatersrand Medical School.
In this way, in 1965, a Cerebral Palsy Division of the Orthopaedic Department of the University Medical School was formed, with clinics at the Children’s Hospital and four beds in the Orthopaedic Ward. This service almost exclusively served the children form the school.
The Head of the Department of Orthopaedic Workshops, Johannesburg General Hospital, visits the school weekly, with two of his apprentices, who attend to pertinent problems as part of their training.
Other services related to the Children’s Hospital are facilitated by the link provided with the Department of Paediatrics provided by the consultant Paediatrician at the school. In addition, medical services are provided by a consultant neurologist, a second Orthopaedic Surgeon, an Ophthalmologist, an Ear-Nose and Throat Specialist and clinic Dental Services. Special investigations, e.g. EEG’s are done at the National Institute of Personal Relations free of charge.
These Doctors, although paid only a part of standard fees, give much more of their time and interest and greatly contribute to the spirit of enthusiasm for learning and the application of such knowledge in a beneficial clinical manner, amongst therapists, which always strikes visitors to the school.
Forest Town School is now a Training Centre for Medical and Paramedical students from the Witwatersrand University, undergraduate as well as postgraduate; students from the Nursing Colleges; students of the Social Work Departments, and also assists in the training of staff for other C.P. Centres.
The enrolment in 1968 comprises 195 in-patients or day scholars of the ages two to eighteen years; and 80 outpatients who attend at varying times. The staff is constituted as follows:
- The Principal
- 2 Vice Principals
- 2 Psychologists
- 3 Nursery School Teachers
- 3 Nursery School assistants
- 2 Kindergarten Teachers
- 3 Grades Teachers
- 5 Special Class Teachers
- 4 Standards Teachers
- 1 Autistic Class Teacher
- 1 Domestic Science Teacher
- 1 Handcraft Teacher
- 10 Physiotherapists
- 5 Speech Therapists
- 5 Occupational Therapists
- 2 Housemothers
- 3 Secretaries
- 1 Telephonist
- 1 Maintenance Officer
- 1 Bus Driver/Factotum
- 24 Non-European aides
- 6 Non-European Ground Staff
There is an urgent need for a post of Social Worker. Services are supplied temporally by Cripple Care.
Outpatient Clinics are held every Monday afternoon. Here children are diagnosed and recommended either for admission in the school or referred elsewhere, after being screened by a complete panel of staff. Others receive periodic checks.
Although the school has no hostel, some pupils are accommodated at the United Cerebral Palsy Association hostel at Rosettenville, and others at the Hope Convalescent and Training Homes.
Children younger than Nursery School age can be enrolled as pupils of the school [Educational Services Act, Act no.47 of 1967], and with the resulting increase in Paramedical Staff, can be and are treated as outpatients.
This step forwards in the habilitation of the Cerebral Palsied was largely due to the influence of Mr V.A. Vaughan, at that time, Inspector of Special Schools, who acknowledged that the early stages in a child’s life, before the nervous system is mature, are vital as far as treatment is concerned.
This recognition by the education departmental authorities has encouraged the medical and paramedical staff in their efforts to do more for their patients.
A large part of the treatment of infants consists of instructing the parents, usually the mother, in the correct handling of their child. Mothers groups come together and have the opportunity to discuss problems with staff and each other, and are so helped to adjust to these problems and be able to better care for their child.
A feature of Forest Town School is the ever open door of the school for any parent with or without a problem.
Many activities form part of the Educational system. Audio-visual aids have been used extensively for many years. Educational trips are regularly undertaken. These are singing, dancing and swimming classes.
This school was the first to help the non-motor handicapped brain injured or minimal cerebral dysfunctioning child, who is admitted according to the present ‘Criteria for admission’.
Teachers take part in extra mural activities, e.g. a new holiday scheme was started in 1967, with the first group of children being taken to Durban, by members of staff, helped by the P.T.A.
The Parents Teachers Association is remarkably active and has provided much of the essential needs of the school. In addition it serves to further the understanding of Cerebral Palsy amongst parents and helps in many need cases. This association of parents bound by a common problem, presents a unique and inspiring example of cooperation of people of very different beliefs in other spheres.
A great service is given to Forest Town School by Uncle Teds Fund, which provided transport within the Johannesburg Municipal area.
Additional transport is provided by the two school buses and the Germiston Cripple Care Bus.
In 1969 the new Forest Town School will be completed; extending over the whole of the block of which it now occupies a part. All surrounding residences were bought up and a government loan obtained to build the school.
Although there will not be accommodation for more children than there are now at school, the improved conditions will facilitate the work being done.
In spite of a restriction on spatial development, the expansion and elaboration of the services provided continue as more research is done into the causes, prevention and treatment of the syndrome of Cerebral Palsy. Members of staff of Forest Town also being contributors to both educational, medical and paramedical International Journals, and being engaged in research projects. By attending all relevant postgraduate course, staff members increase their proficiency and raise the standard of their profession. As a result, therapists posts at Forest Town are sought after, and a challenge and employment there a good reference.
In spite of the establishment of schools to the East and West, the North and the South, Forest Town School remains a high central point to which parents from all over Africa bring their children for help.
- Jack H.A. – A. Journal for Cerebral Palsy ‘Forest Town School for C.P. Children’ September 1956. Volume 1 No. 2.
- Freeland. Rev. S.P. – S.A. Journal for C.P. Volume 5 No. 3. September 1961
- Mrs Traggot Vorwerg – Personal Communication
- Dr W.S. Swanepoel – Personal Communication
- Mrs M. Hoffman – Personal Communication
- Mrs E. Doehring – Personal Communication
- Mrs G. Mathias – Personal Experience