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Safe Identification and Referral during COVID-19 and other IDOs

Hear from field practitioners describe the actions they have taken to adapt safe identification and referral during COVID-19.
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<v 0>Hi,</v> my name is Nicholas Millet and I’m the Child Protection Manager for the Danish Refugee Council in Myanmar. <v 2>I’m here today to share my experiences of running a child protection</v> program during COVID-19. Infectious diseases, like COVID-19, have proven to disrupt the essential services that always should be available to communities, especially in communities where people are affected by armed conflict and humanitarian crisis. Child protection case management is part of the essential services that must not be stopped suddenly, but which require adaptation to the prevailing situation. This has challenged agencies with protection mandates and hereby also child protection practitioners, to quickly adapt to the changing environment.
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An environment that remains unpredictable, both in terms of how long the pandemic will last, but also in terms of what type of new protection concerns will emerge from the pandemic itself. In terms of adapting the process of identifying and referring children during COVID-19. <v 0>There are three things that I would discuss.</v> <v 2>First, we</v>
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have been consistently training our staff over the last year, ensuring that our teams feel comfortable with the changing protection environment. What do I mean by this? Well, with many schools and child-friendly spaces closed, increased caregiver stress, families housebound in often crowded living spaces, loss of income, children are at heightened risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation. In addition, children may experience the death of their caregiver, or may be separated from their families for multiple reasons, including public health containment measures associated with COVID-19. It is essential in DRC, that our staff feel confident in operating in this new environment, and are able to identify new risks that may not have existed previously.
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From the beginning of the pandemic, we have conducted - and continue to do so - regular trainings discussing the changing context, the consequences on the safety of children and how we can respond effectively. <v 0>Secondly, from the very beginning,</v> we have worked with other sectors to maintain an updated multi-sector service mapping. <v 2>This helps us to clearly understand and communicate</v> the services that are available during this period, especially healthcare services.
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COVID-19 has forced us to ensure clear communication with all sectors, ensuring that referrals can be made in a timely manner.
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Our engagement also enables healthcare actors, who are in direct contact with families and children, to make referrals to child protection actors, if they identify a risk or concern. Thirdly,
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with the restrictions put in place in many contexts due to COVID-19, access to the field has been and remains limited for DRC case management teams. In response, at the beginning of the pandemic last year, we piloted helplines across two camps
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where people could reach us every day between 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM and speak to case management staff.
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It has been essential to DRC that the community do not feel abandoned and that we continue to be present, even if it is not physically. When staff cannot be as present, we rely on the community volunteers to identify and refer child protection concerns. Many of DRC’s referrals, prior to the pandemic, came through awareness-raising amongst caregivers and child protection groups. DRC has quickly understood that, even if we cannot physically bring community members together, remaining in contact with them and continuing to consult with them, has been essential in our role of supporting the community and identifying and responding to child protection cases.
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The child protection team at DRC has been conducting regular trainings over the last year and a half, including key informant interviews over the phone with members of the child protection groups. The success of these interlinked interventions by DRC is clear, as it enables us to continue engagement and support throughout this challenging period. Thinking about the future of child protection programming, especially when faced with another pandemic, such as COVID-19. <v 0>I have three recommendations based on my experience with DRC in</v> Myanmar. <v 2>Firstly,</v> NGOs need to ensure that case management teams understand the shifting context. It is essential that staff are quickly trained on how the changing situation can impact the protection environment of children and their families.
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This includes preparing case management staff for cases that they may have never encountered before, such as children who are separated from their caregivers or family members. In particularly stable context, this might be something that case management teams have had little experience responding to.
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My second recommendation is to ensure that there are alternative ways of making referrals, and potentially leveraging technology to support this. During pandemics, it is difficult to predict what type of restrictions will be put in place, but it is of paramount importance that communities do not feel abandoned. Other means of making referrals that do not require in-person contact, such as helplines, can be explored, that offer a way for communities to feel both supported,
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but also to reach out for help in emergencies. My third recommendation is to ensure skills and expertise remain within the communities. Often NGO case management teams are staff from outside the community and camp settings. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that, when staff are restricted from accessing the communities they serve, especially over a long period of time, it is community volunteers who are relied on as intermediaries. If
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we want to think about sustainable programming in the NGO sector, we have to shift our resources to building the capacity of community volunteers within the case management process.

Watch the video to hear Nicholas Millet from Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in Myanmar talk about how safe identification and referral has changed as a result of COVID-19 in their context.

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Protecting Children during COVID-19 and other Infectious Disease Outbreaks

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