Project - Child Protection Policy put into Action: Translating policy into practice within Non-Formal Education (NFE)
11 February 2019 - 10 May 2021
Following the political protests in Lebanon, the CV-19 crisis and Beirut explosion, Lebanon has continued to be a focus for UK-based funders of international development– many of whom were already acting to provide services related to the refugee crisis.
Child Protection Policies are commonplace for these organisations, many of whom are larger charities funding work through local partners, trusts and foundations. Indeed, every year numerous conferences and training events in the UK focus on equipping staff to work in this area, seeking to better explain policies that are long and comprehensive. So, after the 2018 sexual misconduct scandal rocked international development, we were left asking: how could huge international organisations with such extensive policies on Safeguarding and Child Protection have fallen short in this way? Why are these so often signed and then either misunderstood, under-resourced or ignored?
This has always been a particular focus for AMF and building from our work running a non-formal education centre in Lebanon, we commissioned Himaya, a Lebanese NGO, to carry out field research and together produced a paper. Our research was based around ‘non-formal education centres’ (essentially ‘schools’ run by NGOs which aim to fill the gaps in the ‘formal’ state-school education system), and the organisations surveyed were a very representative cross section of aid recipients in Lebanon, which has and continues to be a prime recipient of UK Aid. Researchers asked staff working in NFE centres, parents and children about their experiences in relation to the Child Protection Policies they had signed (as employees) or were linked to by virtue of their association with a particular NGO (as a parent or child).
One of the first findings, and the one that throws the resulting challenges into starker focus, was that for the majority of organisations the impetus for the development of a Child Protection Policy (CPP, a term used in most organisations we surveyed to encompass ‘safeguarding’ and ‘Child Protection’ combined) came from an international donor. Although consultation between the donor organisation and the recipient’s headquarters staff was common, consultation with field staff or service users was universally absent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the resulting policies were often viewed by those tasked with their implementation as irrelevant, and some were presented during this assessment as only loosely adapted for use in Lebanon. It is important to note, however, that this does not mean that participants were unconcerned with keeping children safe, and in fact the findings were the opposite, with a strong desire from staff for more practical implementation guidance.
We found that teachers at most of the centres reported a lack of confidence in their own ability to carry out aspects of their role related to the CPP, which they attributed primarily to a lack of training. It is the opinion of this assessment however, that while partially true, this was not the only issue. Other emergent themes included confusion around respecting ‘cultural sensitivities’ (for example some teachers felt powerless to prevent violence against children in the face of corporal punishment at home -considered in some contexts as being ‘culturally acceptable’) and a perceived lack of follow-up after a referral had been made. It became clear in many cases that a lack of overall understanding of the process of reporting child protection issues and where a teacher’s role should begin and end meant that training seemed to have placed an undue burden on teachers to take responsibility for safeguarding and psychosocial care in its entirety.
Whilst the study highlighted that the intricacies of the issue stretch far beyond what a policy, or those tasked with its enforcement, are capable of fully surmounting, based on the findings it is our firm belief that the situation can be significantly improved. Independent donors and partners should insist that an adequate portion of the budget of any supported project is devoted to the proper preparation for, and implementation of, any policies designed to keep children safe. Ideally this should include a staff member solely focussed on this area for the duration of the project.
Since we began our study in February 2019, the world has changed more than we could have anticipated, but this examination of the challenges of enforcing child protection policy in a country under pressure is as relevant as ever. The Coronavirus lockdown forced the closure of non-formal education centres, but they will reopen. The economic devastation wrought by the turmoil in Lebanon's financial system will undoubtedly lead to less funding but, with the Syrian Crisis so far from resolution, the need to educate a generation of displaced and refugee children is likely to remain for some time. As funders look towards post-pandemic education, we would like to see protected funding and practical guidance, created by proper consultation of staff service-users, replace platitudes and impractical policies.