Strengthening safeguarding through participation….

 September 2014

By Tricia Young, Director of Child to Child

In early September, Gerison and I attended the first ever conference hosted by Keeping Children Safe on ‘Child Safeguarding in an African Conference’. It gave us a great opportunity to talk about why effective safeguarding relies upon meaningful child participation. Gerison enlightened participants through a really informative keynote on the final day and I had the opportunity to run a workshop on the challenges of safeguarding in participatory initiatives.

Gerison Lansdown, Chair of Child to Child and international child rights expert, delivering her keynote at KCS conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

The three day event took place in Cape Town and was attended by about 300 people, the majority of whom were from Africa. There was also a significant presence from Europe, predominantly comprised of people working for INGOs delivering programmes in Africa and a handful of North Americans and Canadians.

Keeping Children Safe is an INGO, which works with organisations across all sectors to ensure that they have internal organisational systems and processes in place to effectively safeguard children. Safeguarding can be contrasted to child protection programming, which focuses on developing and improving systems and structures in the external environment. This distinction is however very subtle and by the end of the conference some delegates were still questioning whether it is useful, which I suspect may have been a little frustrating for the organisers!!!

However, I personally found the distinction very useful. Indeed, I found the entire conference really enlightening. I certainly came back feeling much better informed and knowledgeable about what we should be doing as an organisation to ensure that we do no harm and how we should be supporting our partners.

The design of the conference took participants on a structured learning journey over the three days which helped them to think about and better understand: the African context; how organisations are currently responding; progress (including the positive role increasingly played by donors) and challenges; and – critically – the importance of engaging children in effective safeguarding processes.

How child participation can help ensure child safeguarding

I ran a workshop on the first day as part of a series of concurrent workshops exploring how different organisations (predominantly local and international NGOs) are responding to safeguarding challenges presented by the African context.

I presented a case study of our programme in Kailahun District, Sierra Leone and shared some of the ethical challenges we are experiencing. As a consequence of listening to and taking children seriously, we have uncovered very high levels of sexual abuse and violence. However, there are insufficient in/formal child safeguarding / protection systems in place and inadequate reporting processes or pathways. The processes that do exist may actually increase the risks faced by the young people.

Participants found the case study very interesting as it illuminated a number of key issues, which were picked up on the final day by Gerison in her fantastic keynote on the importance of engaging children in child safeguarding efforts. It was clear that, for many of the participants, this was an incredibly enlightening speech. Although it was evident through the conference that participants were really interested in children’s participation, it was clear that a significant proportion of those present really struggled to understand its relationship to child safeguarding and what they might do to facilitate children’s meaningful engagement. Gerison’s speech definitely answered some of these questions.

Gerison used as a case study the recent, devastating child abuse scandal in the Northern UK town of Rotherham, where children had been repeatedly failed by the system because nobody took their concerns seriously. She set out why it is crucial to listen to and take children seriously as an integral part of effective safeguarding. She highlighted that only by listening to children and taking them seriously can you:

  • Work with them to identify the risks they may be exposed to
  • Improve the safety of programmes and services
  • End impunity for abusers
  • Build children’s capacity to protect themselves
  • Develop children’s confidence and self-esteem

Gerison’s keynote was very well received and many participants were very interested to learn more about Child to Child and how we might support their participation efforts.

Cape Town was a wonderful setting for the conference. I was lucky enough to get down to Boulder Beach with Gerison to paddle with the penguins. They are such comical birds with an altogether strange design! I also got to spend the day with Corinne Davey, Director of Keeping Children Safe. Together we visited the District 6 Museum, a museum commemorating the black and coloured communities who were forcibly removed from District 6 during apartheid. It was a sobering reminder of South Africa’s recent history and a fitting end to a very interesting trip.