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Identification and referral Part 1

Identification and referral
Young boy wearing a face mask
© iStock / Teerat

Early detection of risk is vital for the protection of children. This means having procedures for identification of children for whom there are protection concerns and how, and to whom, these children should be referred to within an authorised child protection agency. It might now be necessary to adapt these procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic situation – including an increasing role for other service providers, and members of the community, in identification and referral.

Concerns about the protection of a child are often raised by their family or other caregivers, as well as neighbours and community members. It might also be health workers, teachers, police, refugee registration officers, those working with street connected children and children in residential and other care settings, who first raise concerns about a child. And children themselves come forward to self-refer.

The diagram below taken from the Inter Agency Guidelines for Case Management and Child Protection illustrates some of the ways a vulnerable child might be usually identified.

graphic that explains the ways a vulnerable child might be usually identified

However, due to limitations imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing elements of children’s usual protective environment being gradually eroded. For example, children may no longer have access to those in their extended family, at school, in the community etc., from whom they would normally seek help. Children who are in lock-down in institutions, detention centres, shelters for displaced children, and other closed residential settings are cut off from the outside world. Children are also being returned to families where they might be at risk because there is no careful reunification process. In addition, many people who are normally in contact with children, and in a position to identify protection concerns, may no longer have this opportunity.

So during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to consider and adapt ways that children for whom there are protection concerns can still be carefully identified and referred to support. We also need to make sure children themselves can still safely contact and reach out to someone.

Information materials

During the COVID-19 pandemic families, other caregivers, and anyone else in contact or with a concern for a child, will need updated information on ways to identify and refer children for whom there might be protection risks. Including details on who to contact and where to seek advice or make a report – advice that should be adapted as situations change.

Ways to provide this information might be through use of radio, television, and posters. You might put leaflets in places still accessible to the public, or delivered by service providers still working in the community. It might be through announcements when community health teams are making visits or other similar opportunities.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) have provided some guidance on using social media in English, Spanish and French. The IFRC have also developed guidelines on setting up social media campaigns in the community which you might find helpful. You can access them here and here.

Helplines – including child helplines

Just like the example you heard about in the video, existing and newly developed telephone hotlines – including child helplines – are offering children a way to reach out for help. They also allow others who are worried about a child to seek advice or report a concern. For example, Child Helpline International is an global network of child helplines with members in 142 countries. You can find contact details for the different country child helplines here. You can find tools and information on developing child helplines and keeping children safe here.

It is important that information on referral mechanisms and procedures are available for those operating such helplines. This should contain information on when, and how, to report a child in need of protection to an authorised child protection agency as well as other appropriate services. This should be updated on a regular basis as situations due to the COVID-19 pandemic change.

Even if quickly recruiting new staff or volunteers because of an increased need during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still essential that everyone receives the necessary training on child protection and safeguarding, child friendly communication skills and other necessary topics. All the other guidance throughout this course on information sharing and confidentiality should also apply.


Do you have any examples of hotlines or other ways children can seek protection help that are being made available and/or adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you able to share this information with us? If so, please share a short description in the discussion board below. Please also be mindful of confidentiality and the right to privacy of other people.

Remember you can “like” comments if you agree with what’s been said or if you have found something particularly interesting, or you can “reply” to comments to initiate a conversation.

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

This article is from the free online

COVID-19: Adapting Child Protection Case Management

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