Gabriel Rivera

Child & Youth Protection Policies: Lessons from Central America

Central America
Human Rights & Civ. Soc.
Learn&Share: knowhow3000

In 2021 I began one of the most enriching experiences of my professional life, providing technical advice to DKA, horizont3000, and kfb partner organisations in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The purpose? To formulate or update these organisations' policies for the protection of children and adolescents.

Policy Workshops

Protection policies aim to guarantee the right of children and adolescents, who participate in the activities carried out by our organisations, to live free from violence and discrimination and in safe spaces where measures are taken to prevent any situation that could harm them. They also have the right to report anyone who threatens or violates their rights, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

NGOs, like individuals, have a responsibility to protect and care for the children and adolescents they serve by developing such a protection policy. In it they declare their commitment never to harm them and to protect them from any form of violence, discrimination or neglect.

The advisory consisted in the development of following phases:

  • Elaboration of a protection diagnosis, which consisted of consulting participants and target groups to answer the questions: how safe is our organisation for children and adolescents; what measures are we applying to protect them; and how can we improve the conditions of protection?
  • Formulation and/or updating of protection policies, i.e. the drafting of an official document that establishes the actions they will take to prevent, detect and respond to situations that, being caused by adults linked to the organisation, cause harm to the children and adolescents who participate in their projects. The policies were formulated taking into account the expectations of children and adolescents participating in the organisations’ projects, who expressed that the right to protection means “that adults take care of us”, “that we are not hit or shouted at”, “that actions are taken to keep us safe”, “to grow up without fear”, and “to report if someone hurts us”.
  • The development of plans that set out the measures to be taken for the implementation of the protection policy.
  • Child-friendly versions were produced with the participation of children and adolescents, who drew pictures to illustrate the main contents of the protection policies. This brief, understandable and visually attractive format will be used to disseminate the policy.
  • Training two people per organisation in techniques borrowed from popular education ('educación popular'), using participatory and dynamic techniques for policy dissemination.
  • Introduction of a policy monitoring system, which consists of a virtual survey in which each organisation reports annually on its progress and challenges in implementing its protection policy.
Roadmaps for Policies

We have identified the following lessons learned from the advisory process:

  • Protection policies should be formulated in a participatory manner, involving all staff of the organisation and in consultation with children, adolescents, parents and community members.
  • Advisory work must be adapted to the diverse realities of the organisations and not the other way around, which means that the process must be flexible in order to adjust to the rhythm and style of organisational work.
  • One success factor is the appointment by each organisation of a person to coordinate and facilitate the diagnostic activities and collaborative drafting of the policy text.
  • Policies should be developed by the organisations themselves, considering their context, the characteristics of their projects and the actions they carry out with children and adolescents.

It is important to ensure that the policies meet the standards. After all, they establish the institutional and personal responsibility to protect, describe the behavioural guidelines for the care and treatment of children and adolescents, the behaviours that are unacceptable and considered intolerable, refer to the actions that will be taken to ensure protection, and establish the procedure for receiving, investigating and resolving complaints.

Through advisory work we seek that members and collaborators of the organisations take ownership of the policies, internalise the values and adopt attitudes and behaviours in their daily practice that contribute to the right of children and adolescents to live free from violence and to grow up in a safe environment where they can envision and realise their life projects.

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