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Dr Ilze Van der Merwe
B.A. (Psych) (RAU) B.A Honn (Psych)(RAU) M.A. Research Pysch (Cum Laude)(RAU) M.A. Couns. Psych (Cum Laude)(RAU) D.Litt et Phil.(RAU)
Divorce Attorney Cape Town
Admitted Attorney of the High Court of South Africa.
B.Bus.Sci (UCT), LLB (UCT), PDLP (UCT)
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The Sandcastles Program™

Helping the children of divorce rebuild

More than 20,000 children are affected by divorce in South Africa each year. The overwhelming majority of these children feel sad, confused, angry, guilty, and conflicted. In the words of a boy who’s parents divorced: “It’s like when you hurt both feet and you don’t know which one to stand on.”

The child of divorce is often hurting and does not know upon whom to rely for support. They experience a sense of instability and confusion. They don’t want to burden their parents, who are going through a very difficult time themselves, and often we see these children carrying and hiding the heavy emotions inside of themselves. When these feelings are not expressed and dealt with in a healthy, productive way, they endure and taint children’s views of themselves and of others. This is why, many years later, most adult children of divorce view it as the most devastating event of their childhoods, if not their lives.

The Sandcastles Program™ was specifically designed to assist children between the ages of 6 – 17 in dealing with their parents’ divorce. The name “Sandcastles” was chosen to capture the image of a child carefully moulding her new “home” of sand to replace the old one swept away by turbulent water and it illustrates the difficult quest every child of divorce must complete in order to grow up emotionally healthy and equal to life’s challenges.

This program is mandatory in more than a dozen counties in the United Sates of America where no final divorce order will be given before the children involved participate in the Sandcastles Program™. This highlights the value seen and given to the Sandcastles Program™. The program presently also operates in Canada, Mexico, Panama, England and now also in South Africa.

What is the Sandcastles Program™ South Africa all about?

  • It’s a 3½ hour, one time group session for children of divorce.
  • The last half hour includes the children’s parents and focuses on improving communication
  • between the children and their parents.
  • It’s co-facilitated by two registered mental health professionals (a clinical psychologist and a play therapist/psychometrist), trained and licensed by the renowned author of the program: M. Gary Neuman from the USA (www.mgaryneuman.com).
  • The groups consist of a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 10 children grouped according to their age: ages 6 – 7 together, 8 – 10, 11 – 13, and 14 – 17.
  • The groups are facilitated in both English and Afrikaans.
  • The main goal of the program is to help children give expression to their feelings and thoughts, by using various projective techniques such as drawing pictures, writing letters to their parents, sharing and listening to other children of divorce, and many more.
  • The techniques used were designed to help children develop self-expression and problem-
  • solving skills, learn appropriate means of expressing anger and other intense emotions, reach a better understanding of the reality of divorce, and recognize their own unique qualities and strengths.

Why enrol your children for the Sandcastles Program™?

  • South African research showed an improvement in self-concept and decrease in levels of anxiety and depression amongst children who participated in the Sandcastles Program™.
  • Numerous research studies agree that a group process is the best way to assist children of divorce.
  • The group experience helps children see that they are not alone and that their thoughts and feelings are similar to many other children of divorce.
  • The group offers a supportive and safe atmosphere where children can discuss various coping skills.
  • When children start sharing their stories with other children of divorce, it gives confidence and “permission” for the others in the group to also express and share their stories.
  • As a result of meeting with peers who are going through a similar experience, kids usually emerge with a new-found sense of confidence, hope and community.
  • The one time session makes it easier to attend the full program.
  • Group therapy is less expensive than individual therapy.
  • Facilitators of the program are contracted in with medical aids and group fees are charged in accordance with approved fees, which are underwritten by most Medical Aid funds.

The Sandcastles Program™ serves as an excellent start in resolving children’s issues with divorce and helps to bring parents and children together in the future to continue that resolution. It is our hope and our continuous drive to allow every single child of divorce the opportunity to experience the Sandcastles Program™.

1. Neuman, M.G. (1998). Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way.
2. Neuman, M.G. (1994). The Sandcastles Program™ – Helping the Children of Divorce Rebuild.

Martinette Pienaar
Clinical Psychologist Independent Practice
BA (Psych) (US), BA Hons (Psych) (US), MA Clin Psych (NWU: Potch)