What do we owe to our children?
The creator of the child safety module, Emily Fitzmaurice, wrote about her experiences and research in Peru.
A case study on the extension of child protection policy in international NGOs.
“So, we have this child protection policy, but the children don’t know anything about it. Can you fix that?”.
That was it. That was my one sentence project brief. Jim Elliott, Globalteer director, gave it to me in my first meeting when I arrived at their Cusco office in June 2019 for a 3-month internship. But what we later discovered over the course of my work designing new child protection policy, is that Jim had asked what I now believe is the most important question any NGO that works with children could possibly ask; “how far does our responsibility to protect children actually go?”
How far should we get involved?
Current estimates suggest that as many as 22 children go missing from Cusco every month. Where exactly they are disappearing to remains debated. But most evidence points to sex trafficking or organ harvesting. An absolutely horrifying thought. But as staff at NGO’s that work with children, we should ask ourselves these two questions. 1) is that our problem? And 2) what do we do about it?
The instinctive answer to the first questions is yes, these awful statistics are, without a doubt, our problem. We have chosen to leave our homes to work or volunteer in these countries, with these children. Because we are invested in their wellbeing and the improvement of their lives. Which leads us to the second question, what do we do about it?
Globalteer works with UK based non-profit called Keeping Children Safe, an organisation that assists a network of child-focused NGO’s with the “safeguarding of all children from exploitation, abuse and violations of their human rights.” They helped us design our original child protection policy, a document that is read, signed and agreed to by every person who steps foot on the properties of our children’s projects.
But the questions we, as an organisation, have come to ask is “is that enough?”. Is it enough that we have a set of rules for our staff to bind the way we interact with our children for the duration of the hours that project runs each week? Is it enough to make our volunteers sign a piece of paper? Dust off our hands and say “well, no child is in danger while they’re in the project”? Does our responsibility to protect our children begin and end when class starts and finishes?
I’d argue no. It shouldn’t. If we really want to protect our children, we have to put things in place to extend our reach. We have to teach them how to protect themselves.
It’s all very good and well that our volunteers and staff know to let kids lead the way with initiating physical contact. Or to never lead them off the project grounds. But what about everyone else? I believe our responsibility to protect our children extends to preparing our children for world that exists outside of the four walls of the classroom. That’s why I designed the child safety modules.
The new Child Safety Modules
Globalteer’s new Child Safety Module (CSM) is designed as part policy, part research and part classroom curriculum. It is comprised of 8 modules of key safety issues for children. Everything from which parts of your body can’t be touched by others, to how to cross the road safely. The idea is that by teaching our children how to keep themselves safe, we acknowledge that our existing reach only goes so far and actively seek to extend our commitment to protecting children.
I had the incredible pleasure of leading this project, and I am so proud of what we have created.
First part of the research
The research into this module was three-fold. First, I looked into the extensive body of existing research on child sex abuse, abuse prevention plans and child engagement. In a bizarre moment of “what a small world”, my research on how we should consult the children in our project led me to an article written by my older brother, who is currently completing his PhD in children’s participation in their own care. How many people can say they have an expert on children’s engagement on speed dial?!
Second part of the research
Then, as a jumping off point, I consulted a range of existing child safety modules from other countries. Most developed countries have a safety unit integrated into their standard school curriculum, but no such thing exists yet in Peru. Special mention needs to go to Ireland’s Stay Safe programme, which is comprehensive, publicly available for free download, and breaks down the content into 4 age groups. I also used the safety programmes of Canada, New Zealand and several states in America. This was a good starting point to look into how different countries consider the issues of child safety and how they individually structure their curriculum.
Third part of the research
Of course, Western child safety programmes are at a high risk of missing the mark completely if we apply them directly to Peru. Cultural sensitivity was a big focus for us as we wanted to ensure the programme designed for Peruvian children was also designed with them and by them. Which brought us to research method number 3, and probably the single most important part of the process. We surveyed a selection of children and their parents at our projects to determine what they believe are the biggest issues regarding their own safety.
Many of the results of our survey demonstrated several universal issues that transcend culture. But many were culturally specific and needed to be seriously considered when we designed our programme. For example, we found that adults expect Peruvian children to be very independent from a young age. It is not unusual to see children as young as 5 or 6 walking alone and running errands for their parents, even after dark. Because of this, teaching the children in our project that they should always be with a parent or friend and never walk alone is naïve and irresponsible. Instead, the focus needed to be on risk mitigation in potentially dangerous circumstances that cannot be avoided.
We will be passing the Globalteer safety lessons onto our other children’s projects around the world, including Cambodia and in the future, Colombia. Keeping Children Safe have also expressed an interest in making this work available to their network of other NGOs because much of this work is widely transferable. I believe that what we have created is valuable, important and necessary in the future protection of vulnerable children.
The common denominator between our project and the missing children statistics isn’t us, it’s the children. Children aren’t going missing in our project, they’re going missing out in the world, and that ought to be considered our problem. If we can prepare them for the world that exists outside of the 4 walls of the classroom, we can extend our reach, we can keep more children safe. We can do better.
-Emily Fitzmaurice, NGO Assistant Intern, Picaflor House, 2019.