SOS Children’s Villages is boosting resources allocated to child safeguarding in high-risk environments to create a safer environment for children and young people.
While nearly all countries in the world have pledged to protect children from all forms of violence and abuse by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, many have failed to enforce key national laws designed to protect children.
Many of the countries and territories SOS Children’s Village operates in have high-risk environments for children. In some cases, this means high levels of child vulnerability, such as the prevalence of abuse, neglect and poverty. It may also mean that national legislation has failed to prohibit entrenched cultural practices that allow corporal punishment, child marriages, child labour or limited access to quality education.
Other factors that can lead to high-risk environments for children have more to do with the situation within SOS Children’s Villages programmes in the country. Such factors might include limited resources to consistently implement child safeguarding actions, low staff capacity, high staff turnover, not enough possibilities to safely report concerns, gaps in responding to incidents of abuse, and few preventive measures. These are among the shortcomings that place children in harm’s way.
Josiah Nartey, a Child Safeguarding Advisor for SOS Children’s Villages in East and Southern Africa (ESAF), says that children are at a higher risk of experiencing harm when child safeguarding principles have not been properly anchored, or mainstreamed in all operations, functions and practices.
“For instance, across the federation, we have a human resource department whose mandate is to implement prevention methods, such as conducting background checks during recruitment,” says Mr. Nartey. “Not in all cases do we have a thorough background check being conducted.”
To address these challenges, SOS Children’s Villages has initiated a project that is offering targeted child safeguarding support and funding to member associations working in high-risk environments. The project’s goal is to allocate resources where the risks are highest, and therefore better protect children and young people from abuse and neglect.
The project started in 10 member associations in East and Southern Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Middle East in 2021. Another 15 countries from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and West and Central Africa regions, will receive support in 2022.
Child safeguarding work starts with identifying risks and includes raising staff awareness about safeguarding topics, prevention of child abuse, and improving reporting and responding. Assessing and mitigating existing child safeguarding risks – and providing the required resources to do so – is one of the recommendations in the International Child Safeguarding Report that the project will help implement.
Safeguarding capacity building
In Eastern and Southern Africa, the project has started to train and raise awareness on safeguarding among board members, management, and care professionals.
“Capacity building in child safeguarding is very important – you find that many of us have come from various cultural and educational backgrounds and these have influenced us to a very high degree,” Mr. Nartey says.
“It is important that we build the capacity of the staff to erase those negative ideas about child safeguarding. For example, if you go to many societies, corporal punishment is part of the cultural belief system. People think that punishing children physically is the best way to go. During the trainings they ask me, ‘What should be the alternative?’”
To answer this question, member associations are conducting training on positive discipline for child and youth care practitioners and school administrators. Parents in our family strengthening programmes also receive training to address child protection and safeguarding within the community.
Zeru Fantaw, the Regional Child Safeguarding Advisor in ESAF says the region has established a child and youth care practitioner safeguarding team in the SOS Children’s Villages – an innovative way to address safeguarding concerns at the family level.
After building their capacity on positive disciplining, child development, peer pressure, emotional support, and life skills, a group of child and youth care practitioners are appointed to collect all safeguarding concerns. Once per fortnight, all the child and youth care practitioners meet to discuss any lingering child safeguarding issues brought before them and look for a solution.
“This initiative has improved relations between mothers and their children, and encouraged children to open up about their child safeguarding concerns,” says Mr. Fantaw.
Safeguard initiatives worldwide
Child safeguarding is high on the agenda of member associations across the world, marked by various safeguarding activities.
In West Central and North Africa, some countries have carried out safeguarding audits to gauge their compliance of the Child Protection Policy. Following the audit, they have developed action plans to strengthen application of the policy which they are now carrying out. One association developed a child-friendly policy in cartoon format.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, 95 percent of member associations have developed a national child safeguarding strategy with a focus on prevention. To register incidents, the region has designed a digital reporting and response system, which allows for better management and faster response and follow-up.
Mr. Nartey suggests that high-risk countries need to update their risk assessment document continually.
“We are working in a changing environment and we need to stay abreast of the changes that are taking place around us,” he says. “You will find that a risk that you found in 2021 may change in character in 2022; you may have even more risks particularly in the current trend of COVID-19.”
As the key stakeholders, children are also attending trainings to understand their rights to participate in the decisions that concern their lives, and to be a stronger voice in safeguarding.
In Asia, workshops on child rights and child safeguarding were organized across the region to educate children about their right to feel safe at all times. The children learnt about a toll- free child protection hotline they could use to report their concerns.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, children are leading the risk assessment; they have come up with questions for the exercise, and are making entries of their findings on a spreadsheet, which they present to management.
“I believe that when it comes to children’s rights, their voices must carry more weight than any other person’s voice as the owners of their own rights,” says Mr. Nartey. “It is important that they tell us what they think and how they feel.”