Safeguarding young people in orphanages and children’s homes: an overview
Unfortunately, it has been widely demonstrated that international volunteering, along with other forms of travel and tourism, increases the risk of sexual abuse and harassment for children and young people in developing countries. Orphanages and children’s homes face the highest risk, due to the proximity between children and volunteers.
This shocking fact should make us even more aware of the need for proper measures and policies to protect young people we care for. Their physical and psychological well-being, and therefore their future, depends on our ability to provide a safe and caring environment for them.
Do you manage an orphanage or a children’s home? What do you do to ensure your kids are protected from the risk of abuse and sexual harassment?
In most cases, NGOs are not sufficiently demanding with the screening and selection process for volunteers. Usually, it is the fear of “scaring the volunteer off” that makes us give up on further investigation. But this is exactly how individuals with a criminal background are accepted into our organizations, causing unthinkable harm to vulnerable children and young people.
How do you prevent this from happening in your own NGO? Firstly, discourage all ill-intentioned people with a careful and detailed screening process. In addition to CV, application form and/or cover letter, it is advisable to request one or two professional references, giving testimony of the candidate behaviour within another professional context. But even more importantly a criminal background check should be required to relevant authorities in the country of residency of the volunteer (or where he/she has lived in the past 5 years). The volunteer himself/herself can easily request this document. In most countries, it is necessary to pay a small fee.
The time necessary to deal with this kind of paperwork is greatly rewarded by the certainty that no one with a criminal record will ever be able to work within the premises of our orphanages or children’s homes.
In addition to the screening and selection process, every organization working with vulnerable young people should have a Safeguarding Children and Child Protection policy in place, defining how the organization prevents sexual misconduct against young people they care for. The very process of writing the policy helps managers and coordinators reflect on existing risk factors, develop guidelines for prevention and plan a response.
Let’s see what recommendations are given by Better Volunteering Better Care (a global initiative led by Save the Children UK and Better Care Network) to develop a good Child Protection Policy:
“Volunteers should not reside on the same premises as children, nor should they ever be alone with children. As part of these measures, centres should systematically ensure that they conduct background and criminal checks on all potential volunteers before entering the country for placement or, if they are already in the country, prior to the commencement of that placement. Volunteers should be appropriately skilled, and focused on capacity building of local staff, without direct contact with children. Further, centres should not allow any unscreened volunteers or visitors on the premises to limit potential unsupervised access to children. Child Protection Policies should also form part of a contract with volunteers, clearly articulating the expectations of the volunteer regarding protecting children from the risk of abuse” (read the rest of the 2016 report here).
If your organization doesn’t have a policy for safeguarding children and young people, have a look at resources available online, such as those provided by NSPCC,or contact us for further information.
Staff and volunteers need to be trained accordingly to the safeguarding children policy and they should be able to recognize possible evidence of misconduct or signs of abuse. They also need to know who they should speak to in case they want to share a suspect or report a fact. The NGO should encourage this form of internal control, putting some real effort into training and informing volunteers, who have often no experience dealing with such cases.
Your prevention strategy against staff and volunteers’ sexual misconduct would not be complete unless you take young people on board. They must be empowered to defend themselves and their peers from sexual harassment and abuse with training and information. In fact, many of them have no idea of what sexual misconduct “looks like”, or what kinds of behaviour are to be considered inappropriate, especially if performed by a person they admire and trust. By teaching kids how to tell what is acceptable from what is not, and by giving them the option to open up about these matters to a person that won’t judge them, you will give them the power to stand up for themselves and their friends.
Caution is never enough in orphanages and homes for children. Therefore, be thorough and do not run any useless risks: recruit only those volunteers that your NGO really needs, and leave the rest home!
What measures do you adopt in your NGO to protect minors from sexual misconduct of staff and volunteers?