Child Safeguarding – February 18 2021

Child Safeguarding: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward

By Coenraad de Beer, Child Care and Safeguarding Team Leader, SOS Children’s Villages International.

Safeguarding children and young people is at the heart of the work of SOS Children’s Villages. Through our child safeguarding framework, we are committed to creating and maintaining a caring and protective environment for every child in our programmes.

Keeping that commitment means continually learning and improving the process in order to meet new challenges as they arise.

The lockdowns and economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased the risk of abuse and violence against children worldwide. This was true for children and young people cared for directly in our programmes, for which we responded with a new risk assessment tool. It helped our SOS Children’s Villages member associations identify major child safeguarding risks and to create action plans to mitigate these risks.

Some measures put in place to support children and caregivers in the time of the pandemic include:

  • Virtual group sessions for emotional support
  • Virtual or phone counselling
  • Alternative remote channels to report concerns (telephone, SMS, online communication platforms)
  • Additional confidential reporting/suggestion boxes that are easily accessible.

SOS Children’s Villages’ global child safeguarding compliance level stood at 83.57% in 2019 – a slight increase from the previous year. The data stems from the annual child safeguarding survey which was completed by 135 member associations. Eleven member associations (five more than in 2018) reported full compliance.

The annual child safeguarding survey is a self-assessment to monitor the compliance of member associations to the SOS Children’s Villages Child Protection Policy, related procedures and the International Child Safeguarding Standards.

It is important that we also conduct regular independent child safeguarding audits. A good example is the Keeping Children Safe Level 1 Certification which confirms that we have an effective child safeguarding framework in place. The certification is due to be renewed in 2021.

In 2019, a total of 617 abusive behaviour child safeguarding incidents were reported and later confirmed in SOS Children’s Villages programmes. Of those, 432 were adult-to-child incidents, and 185 were child-to-child incidents. When looking at the numbers, we must remember that, as an alternative care service provider, SOS Children’s Villages has a high-risk profile for child safeguarding. Our child and youth care practitioners work with children who have had extreme emotional and behavioural responses to trauma.

A family-like alternative care setting also means child and youth care practitioners share a living space with children. While this increases the safeguarding risk profile, it also enables us to more quickly identify, report, respond to and monitor child safeguarding concerns.

As the Child Safeguarding Annual Report shows, a significant portion of the child safeguarding incidents in our programmes is child-on-child. This indicates a clear need for further preventative measures.

To this end, we were recently selected to receive a grant from the European Union Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme to research child-on-child abuse. The research will lead to the development of a training programme for child and youth care professionals as well as for children and young people to equip them with better skills to prevent, identify, and respond to such cases.

Our commitment to continuous improvement is reflected in the latest Child Safeguarding Annual Report. Some of the key lessons learned in recent years are:

  • Children and young people who are victims/survivors of abuse must be at the centre of our response
  • Child protection and safeguarding risks must inform our work
  • High-quality programmes reduce child safeguarding risks
  • Child safeguarding responsibilities must be sufficiently understood and implemented at all levels
  • Workplace culture impacts our ability to keep children safe.

We seek to be transparent and share learnings with other child-focused organisations. A valuable partnership is with Joining Forces, a collective of the world’s largest child-focused agencies dedicated to accelerating change to secure children’s rights and end violence against them.

INGOs have come under increased scrutiny from external regulatory bodies who are becoming more interested and involved in organisations’ safeguarding practices. This not only calls for further transparency in our work but also the strengthening of safeguarding operations, responses, and communications.

Based on past experiences and learnings, the Annual Report includes the following set of recommendations:

  • To refine our approaches for dealing with problematic and inappropriate behaviours
  • To improve the consistency and implementation of programme quality standards
  • To strengthen the child safeguarding management chain in high-risk member associations
  • To strengthen our ability to apply the victim/survivor centred approach
  • To put a strong emphasis on workplace culture and value-based conduct
  • To align our overall approach in prevention and response to a range of incidents – meaning to take a common approach in response to safeguarding, corruption, fraud and governance, and sexual misconduct incidents.

These recommendations reflect our big ambitions for our organisation and for protecting children everywhere.

We are fostering an environment in which more people are willing and able to raise child safeguarding concerns and report incidents. As such, an increase in the number of reported and confirmed incidents can be an indication of improved reporting and responding procedures and heightened awareness of child safeguarding.