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This content is taken from the University of Strathclyde & CELCIS's online course, COVID-19: Adapting Child Protection Case Management. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second Hello my name is Sophie Etzold and I work with UNHCR in Uganda as a Child Protection Officer. Hello Sophie and thank you so much for joining us on the course and for being able to share your experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please can you tell us a little bit about the risks children are facing, the challenges in implementing child protection case management during the lockdown and how you’re working with partners to overcome those challenges? Yes. To answer this question I think it would be useful to give a little bit of background of the operation here in Uganda.

Skip to 0 minutes and 34 seconds So in Uganda we have roughly over 1.4 million refugees and asylum seekers registered with the Office of the Prime Minister, out of which around 60% which is 800 thousand are children. So even prior to the COVID situation we faced a high number of child protection issues so mainly, or the kind of largest number of those, were children that were either separated or unaccompanied, so being separated from their parents or relatives living in Uganda. So that’s that’s a huge number of over 41,000 that we are serving here and trying to protect and extend services for in Uganda.

Skip to 1 minute and 21 seconds But of course also other issues are related, so we have a large number of children that are exposed to violence, abuse, neglect or abandonment, for example, it’s also a challenge we are facing or we have faced also prior to the COVID crisis. Similarly we have a considerable number of children who have faced sexual and gender-based violence concerns so also child marriage or forced marriage has been a has been a major concern as well as child labor and children displaying high levels of emotional distress. So of course, often of course, those protection issues are coupled. Now with the COVID-19 outbreak and the measures that were taken by the government those protection issues I have mentioned that the challenges were really exacerbated.

Skip to 2 minutes and 18 seconds So here the challenges that were existing so, for example, on transportation reaching out to the community, really accelerated in that sense so the social workforce has decreased at the beginning of the lockdown when COVID-19 cases were identified in Uganda and then a lockdown happened, we saw that the social service workforce here, the national one, has been suspended for a significant amount of time. Thankfully and with advocacy of the humanitarian partners in settlements, humanitarian assistance was extended after a few days of the initial lockdown announced at the end of March.

Skip to 3 minutes and 10 seconds Then why was it important really for us as a child protection sub working group, so a group of partners who come together who provide child protection services which is co-chaired and coordinated by UNHCR and UNICEF, have seen that we needed to have a very immediate and urgent response to enable us all to provide services and maintain services for children at risk or unaccompanied or separated children in this context.

Skip to 3 minutes and 39 seconds So immediate actions were basically to reprioritise the case load that we had, so we looked very quickly into what are the current high risk cases that we see, also in line with COVID-19, so including children, for example, families that could be effected by COVID-19 and what services they would need with regards to the separation from parents. But also on the existing case load, children that were previously identified as being at risk of violence or abuse within the family context where did priorities now change.

Skip to 4 minutes and 23 seconds So every agency so at an interagency level amongst the partners, we have kind of, redrafted our prioritisation criteria and vulnerability criteria but also at the agency level that was done to review the overall existing case load, and a potential new coming caseload. Another area of concern, apart from the critical case management that needed to be maintained was alternative care. So here we have very rapidly tried to map out existing services foster care, and have tried to map through a kind of phone and face-to-face follow-up with foster families. I tried to map their willingness, or understand better their willingness, to maintain the caregiver role, or even to take on additional children from families who are affected by COVID-19.

Skip to 5 minutes and 20 seconds A kind of third area of response with community-based community-based activities, or volunteers that really supported us in the case management but also in awareness-raising sensitisation etc. Here we also did a mapping of existing community structures that support us, so that there are child protection community structures, but also beyond that what community structures are potential fields of support for our engagement. And then a fourth area is really critical psychological support or psychosocial support services for children at heightened risk.

Skip to 6 minutes and 1 second So those kind of four core areas in addition to the coordination monitoring of child protection risk have been really critical to ensure a response and to ensure that we still under the challenges that we are facing, that we’re still reaching children and that we provide life-saving services. How have you been adapting child protection case management procedures, and how are you managing to reach children for whom there are child protection concerns? So one other critical area of response was also the development of an emergency interagency referral pathway.

Skip to 6 minutes and 36 seconds So this included a very kind of rapid exercise amongst all actors in all locations in Uganda, where we listed those critical activities, so case management for cases at heightened risk - children at heightened risk - alternative care support, community-based support as well as psychosocial support for children at heightened risk. So those areas were kind of mapped in all the different locations and really the core focal points were placed in this interagency referral pathways and were widely shared amongst the humanitarian community and government partners. Well with us in this and coordinating er coordination structures on child protection, particularly in the settlements. So this has been also a very important tool.

Skip to 7 minutes and 36 seconds Similarly for the community, yeah outreach and information, we’ve developed a community based child protection referral pathway which is a bit different than the interagency one. As you imagine that you might not be able to share individual telephone numbers of caseworkers with all the refugee members and spread it widely in the settlements because also really the the capacity of caseworkers to respond to the phone calls that they might receive, or to be approached heavily might not be there. So what we did we developed also a community-based referral pathway outlining what are the referral pathways that the community members or children, adolescents, families, vulnerable families, community members, anyone who identifies from the community.

Skip to 8 minutes and 34 seconds For example a critical case could also approach so it had information on case management services. But here instead of individual case management numbers we would rather use, for example, hotlines to be shared with the community. But it included also national hotlines, for example, Uganda Child Helpline was listed there as well as community resources. So let’s say a child in Zone X in a certain settlement would face a challenge and is able to, of course, reach those referrals pathways and resources and is able to read, can approach a community member that is listed for his or her zone.

Skip to 9 minutes and 15 seconds Which we thought was really critical to ensure that children with our, you know, yeah, suspension of some of the activities is really necessary to ensure we maintain protection services. Now what is important to consider when dealing with the community I think one is really to yeah value their importance and their knowledge that they have in this kind of situation. And really we, we all I think, all the actors saw that, you know, measures taken really limited our outreach, limited our engagement with the community but themselves living in settlements they had the direct contact you know.

Skip to 10 minutes and 0 seconds So they really were able to maintain the support and really be a support for their own community, and that was a very powerful message I think we all received despite the fact that we would have expected that probably. But what is also important is to maintain the training. So their access to information and training and capacity-building all along the way I think is really is really critical. Then another area I think of support that was critical yeah so for case management but not to say that their roles and responsibilities are now those of case managers that of course not.

Skip to 10 minutes and 40 seconds I think it is very important to ensure that we know and that community members that are closely working with us or with the community also understand what are their tasks and responsibilities and also in light of critical case management. So it’s really important to list and maybe also to discuss really with the community members we engage with to see where does their work kind of come into place and where is their work really valuable and where also there are limitations to community engagement. Not fully but certain considerations in that sense.

Skip to 11 minutes and 19 seconds So for critical cases, let’s say sexual and gender-based violence, that are very sensitive within the community as well, case management actors really have to critically review whether the involvement of Child Protection community members is the right tool and is a safe tool and is safe for the child and family members that are maybe also at risk. So I think that’s very important to maintain so really to outline what are the tasks and responsibilities that they do overtake and what are additional now that came maybe within the COVID crisis, and what are those that really remain with actors. And we have to be very clear with the child the family caregivers and with the community members that we are supporting.

Skip to 12 minutes and 6 seconds So issues as ‘Do No Harm’ principle really still need to be maintained even in situations where yes we struggle with outreach and challenges, but we have to be very careful to not breach in that sense those principles. And always have the best interest of the child really as a priority and in planning the case plan and allocating community resources. Another area I think is also really to listen to the community members and to see what are their needs actually. So what do they require so we, for example, have done under this mapping that we did, we’ve mapped also what are their needs to fulfill their role and tasks and responsibilities.

Skip to 12 minutes and 53 seconds So here it can be material support, it can be telephone support like communication support air time that we would buy. It can be transportation support. It can be bicycles, any other kind of material support that would facilitate their work and that would not increase also a burden on themselves and their households which in this COVID situation is for a community member as grave as for other, you know, agency workers, community members etc. So I think those core areas are really critical to look into.

An introduction to adapting case management during the COVID-19 pandemic

In this video you will hear from Sophie Etzold who is working as a Child Protection Officer for UNHCR in Uganda. Sophie tells us how UNHCR has been working through an inter-agency process with the Uganda Child Protection Working Group to adapt child protection case management in response to challenges now being faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

You will hear Sophie explain some of the protection risks children face and particularly describe the work to reach out to children living in refugee settlements. Sophie describes how processes and guidance have been adapted for such procedures as prioritisation criteria and determining risk levels of child protection cases, mapping of available services, and inter-agency referral pathways. She also tells us about the importance of working with community focal points and groups and how roles and responsibilities of key actors in the community should be carefully defined and supported. Sophie also reminds us of the important principles of ‘do no harm’ and the best interests of the child.

You can find details of the Uganda Child Protection Sub Working Group Business Continuity Plan – COVID 19 risk in the Uganda refugee response here

Working together

It is important to recognise how a child protection caseworker from an ‘authorised’ agency has overall responsibility for the case of a child when there are protection concerns. This is someone who is qualified - and ideally appointed at the time a child first comes to the attention of a child protection agency - that will continue to be responsible for the child’s ongoing welfare.

It is also important, however, that child protection caseworkers are able to work in coordination and partnership with those of you from other sectors and services – most especially during such times as the COVID-19 pandemic. To do this, we need to work together to define our different roles and responsibilities and ways to work together across sectors. This includes taking actions to adapt and fulfil steps of case management. Community-based child protection groups also have a key role to play.

Adapting child protection case management

The information below has been gathered from the guidance issued by different child protection agencies - including the Technical Note: Protection of Children during the Coronavirus Pandemic (available in 20 languages) produced by the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. This includes ways of adapting working practices and coordination between child protection agencies, other service providers, community child protection groups, and community focal points such as religious leaders and community leaders. A summary of the recommendations on ways to achieve and adapt case management include:

  • Identification of teams of key workers from different service providers and members of community child protection groups and community focal points, still able to reach children during the pandemic, who can play a role in the prevention of harm and identification, referral and support of children for whom there are protection concerns
  • A clear understanding of everyone’s roles and responsibilities – for example, who, and to which extent, will service providers and community based group members raise awareness of child protection risks, provide follow up and support to cases, conduct visits etc. during the COVID-19 pandemic – particularly bearing in mind any necessary adaptations to current roles if some case workers are no longer able to reach certain communities
  • Adapting existing – or developing new - protocols and shared Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for child protection that are reviewed and updated as situations evolve including the different roles and responsibilities
  • Updating guidance and information of child protection concerns, definitions and core principles
  • Training on child protection and safeguarding for staff from different sectors and community group members and the role they can play in case management
  • Mapping of services still available, in increased demand, now closed etc. during the pandemic
  • Guidance on ways to share data and information - including issues of consent and confidentiality
  • Coordination across different sectors including heath, education, food, water and sanitation providers to develop and disseminate/display messages for children and the community about protection, safety and well-being of children as well as specific COVID-19 health messages.

We will be discussing different parts of this guidance in more detail in different course steps. Here is an example of how the Child Protection Working Groups in Somalia and Iraq have provided guidance on adapting case management during the pandemic. The guidance in Iraq also takes into consideration working in refugee camps.

During the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may also be possible for child protection caseworkers to become an integral member of other service provider teams that are still able to reach children and provide services. For example, if this can be done safely, a caseworker might become a focal point, or run protection desks, based in health centres or hospitals. Perhaps they could be based in refugee reception and registration centres, at food distribution points, border crossings, within shelter and housing services and other places children and their caregivers are still able to receive and access services. It might also be possible to work within mobile teams such as outreach medical workers, those delivering food, law enforcement etc.

Before we look at some of the recommendations listed above in more detail, in the next course step we will consider the importance of working within the framework of a national child protection system.

You can find more guidance on coordination of case management and developing protocols and standing operating procedures on the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action website.

The ‘See Also’ section below also has links to other reading material that may be of interest to you.

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This video is from the free online course:

COVID-19: Adapting Child Protection Case Management

University of Strathclyde