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Challenges in identifying and referring children at risk because of COVID-19

National and international organisations are adapting child protection case management practices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic
Hello my name is Sofia Baccichetto. I am currently working as a Senior Child Protection Assistant at UNHCR Equador. Hello Sofia and thank you so much for joining us on the course. Please could you tell us a little bit about the challenges you’re facing in delivering child protection case management in Ecuador during the COVID-19 pandemic and how you’re overcoming them? One of our main challenges during the COVID pandemic has been the identification of cases of unaccompanied and separated children. And they need to adapt our services to remote modalities in accordance to the lockdown measures provided by the Ecuadorian government.
Before the pandemic the identification of unaccompanied and separated children was made at the border lines of Ecuador in coordination with the migration authorities. Now the borders have been closed since March and the scenario has completely changed. We are no longer able to identify cases at the border lines so we have been working on strengthening the capacities of the local child protection system so that the different actors at a local and community level can be able to identify these child protection cases, provide the response needed or, when needed, refer them to us, or to our partners. For a while now we have been giving technical support to the local Protection Boards.
These are the local authorities in charge of analysing the cases, doing the investigation, and providing the protection measures. We provide technical experienced personnel to work in the Board and support the team in the decision-making. This staff that we have provided to the government is constantly trained, participating in workshops about child protection and Refugee Law. And we have a direct communication channel to give any technical support needed from the national level and any coordination effort needed. We are also constantly improving the capacities through trainings to the local staff of social workers from the Ministry of of Social Inclusion.
The Ministry of Social Inclusion is the authority here in Equador in charge of doing the assessment of the Child Protection cases identified, provide and supervise the care arrangement facilities. These actions have helped us build a close relationship and assure that the refugee children have access to the same rights as the national children, but also that their differences and specific needs are assessed in a correct manner and that the response given is adequate. These actions have allowed us to improve the coordination between these two actors at a local level which has been of great support during the pandemic. With the lockdown measures, the child protection actors have been working in a remote manner.
And the relationship build has helped us keep a close phone communication to improve coordination efforts, know which services are available and be able to transfer the cases to the organisations that can give the support needed. So basically, when an unaccompanied children is identified in a particular city, this is referred through email or through a phone call to the Ministry of Social Inclusion. The Ministry of Social Inclusion who will be in charge of doing the assessment of the case and suggest a protection measure or a care arrangement. This will also be done talking to the children over the phone.
Once all this is done they will transfer the assessment, through email, to the local board of protection to receive the administrative protection measures of care arrangement. In the current context most of the care arrangement facilities are not receiving new cases because of the lockdown measures. And this is when we ask our child protection partners to jump in and provide the services needed, which may also include the need to provide transportation and emergency care arrangements for the children. So we have established an emergency budget that can be used for these needs.
All this coordination is done over the phone and through email, trying also to respect the confidentiality of the cases for which we have designated focal points and we have tried to involve only the professionals needed in the case management. That way we also protect the children’s confidentiality and respect the ‘Do No Harm’ principle. When the lockdown measures started we did a Webinar with our child protection partners and our consultants in the child protection system, to put together efforts and give them the tools to start adapting our response to the new context.
We know that this context will be very challenging for the Government and that they will be overwhelmed with responsibilities so we put all our efforts in trying to give the Government the support needed, and make sure that a proper response is provided for the for the child protection case. We built a new protocol for case management of child protection cases. This protocol includes a step-by-step response in case local authorities are taking too long to respond to the case. Or in case they need the support of our child protection partners to do the assessment and provide the services for the for the child protection case.
As well as this protocol also includes a list of organizations available, services provided, and focal points with their contact number and email. The protocols, the protocol as I told, as I said before, tries to assure the ‘Do No Harm’ principle by defining roles and responsibilities of the organizations that have Child Protection professional staff, which are the only ones that are going to be in charge of doing the assessment, and the follow-up of the cases. So when the local authorities are not available the cases that can be identified by any social actor or any local organization need to be transferred to one of our of our protection partners for a complete assessment.
The child protection organizations are also responsible of providing an emergency care arrangement when needed, and identifying the organization that can provide the broad protection response needed for the case and the follow-up of the child protection case. So basically with this protocol and with these trainings that we have been doing we are trying to adapt all the actions that our partners and organizations are taking in the child protection case management. And we hope, we hope, that with these efforts we are able to keep providing the child protection cases the response and the protection measures needed.
Sofia Baccichetto, a Senior Child Protection Assistant for UNHCR in Ecuador, summarises some of the challenges in implementing steps of child protection case management due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In different parts of the world, national and international organisations are adapting child protection case management practices in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This includes updating and/or developing guidelines that provide details about roles, responsibilities and procedures, including criteria for prioritisation of cases that ultimately ensure an authorised child protection caseworker is informed and provided all the information they need to decide on any next steps and actions.

It includes defining the different roles and responsibilities and ways of working in partnership with different service providers, and community-based child protection groups and focal points.

Updating guidance

The task to update and adapt such information might be undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic by a government department in partnership with an inter-agency child protection working group — or a specifically authorised organisation — to review, or prepare new:

  • Guidance and information on child protection risks, definitions and core principles to be shared with all relevant service providers and community groups
  • Information on the relevant national and international legal framework
  • Clear identification of the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders in the response to child protection concerns and shared procedures. This should include:
  • Guidelines (perhaps in a flow chart) and standard operating procedures (SOP) on how to report a child for whom there is a protection concern, including:
    • Who reports cases of abuse, violence and exploitation from different services or nominated persons in a community child protection group
    • Who to report a child for whom there are protection concerns to (i.e. which government child protection office or nominated non-governmental agency/a case management team or named person) and their contact details during the COVID-19 pandemic
    • Development of shared procedures for documenting, referring and sharing information about a child’s case between service providers and child protection agencies. This includes:
      • A timeframe in which referrals should be made
      • Shared forms for making referrals
      • The information to be gathered and passed on to a child protection case worker about the child and their situation
      • Details on the safest way for a case worker to contact the child — and parents/care providers — during the COVID-19 pandemic (this might be on the phone or through an internet link for instance).

Referral reports

You can find an example of a simple referral report template on page 113 of a manual issued by ChildFund International.

Clear guidance on ways to safely communicate and share information about children’s cases between community-based groups/focal points with case management teams in authorised child protection organisations is essential. This should also include guidance on confidentiality and consent.

All of these steps should be regularly reviewed and updated as situations change due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All the information that is produced should use simple and clear language, translated into relevant languages.

In addition, everyone involved in child protection case management should also have the skills, attitudes and values that are important for the identification, referral and response to children of concern.

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COVID-19: Adapting Child Protection Case Management

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