By Hassan Mulusi
Whereas Child Protection is a familiar practice at Raising Voices, Child safeguarding seems an emerging one. It is common to find staff concerned about the plight of children, especially those that visit our offices for urgent action attention and staff talking about the wellbeing of their own children. During visits to monitor activities, staff found it so relational and common practice to enter schools, connect with community members about their work with less worry about how such connections may pan out because of our work. As the organization has continued to grow, such concerns have begun to acquire space in the larger picture operations of Raising Voices.
Beginning of 2019 saw emerging discussions about child safeguarding in Raising Voices when one of the staff was appointed a child safeguarding focal person for Raising Voices.
“No sooner had this communication come that I coincidentally got an invitation from IIDC about a workshop for child safeguarding, through the then Country Director, Delphine Mugisha. Having been in copy of the communication appointing me as child protection officer, and in response to a workshop invitation from IIDC about child safeguarding, she quickly constituted a committee of 5 staff including herself that attended this workshop at IIDC offices. This was the beginning of the idea of child safeguarding in the Raising Voices organizational annals,” Mr Mulusi recalls
The first workshop conducted by and at IIDC widely opened our spectrum in viewing how work by Raising Voices affects different stakeholders and how much caution staff needed to take to safeguard intended stakeholders including children, community members, staff, visitors, among others. This training, dubbed the first Module, provided great insights and recognition of the need to act faster on the information so far gained. Accordingly, from this training, Raising Voices developed an action plan and committed to disseminating the ideas among the staff and collaborators of the organization.
Drafting a child safeguarding policy
The action plan drawn was quite collective and encompassing roles for a range of departmental representatives. One of the initial undertakings from this action plan was drafting a child safeguarding policy for Raising Voices. Indeed, the interim committee as then appointed by the Country Director, with great support from herself, drafted this policy and pursued it to approval by the board of Raising Voices, and in some ways, serving as the overall organizational safeguarding policy until recently when discussions have emerged to merge the policy with ideas of violence against women work, to come up with the general safeguarding policy. This discussion is still live at the management level.
Having presented the draft policy for review to the Directors, the feedback indicated that the first draft was quite commendable and that it would serve the intended purpose. However, given a myriad of many other existing policies and the need to make it alive, the lead staff were advised to create an abridged version for easy dissemination to staff and our collaborators. This was easily done, and in-built with additional insights, as this abridging process coincided with the second Module training on the policy by IIDC. Thus far, we had both versions of the policy approved by the board of Raising Voices.
The implementation of this policy registered critical milestones. They include the full management approval and support, being able to infuse ideas of the policy in contracts of resource persons and indeed the recruitment of majority resource persons had elements of safeguarding questions embedded. Imbedding such questions on safeguarding has enabled us to do background checks on potential candidates and understand the attitudes that finalist candidates present towards children. The approval by the board eased the recruitment of the the committee members and also allowed the team access to the input and information of the leadership of the organization.
However, it is also noted that the policy and the action plan were not fully disseminated to staff and collaborators because of the Covid 19 pandemic and staff attrition as well. The safeguarding committee also suffered critical setback with the moving on of the Country Director, who was a strong member and advocate and several other members who left the organization. Thus, the committee is currently reconstituting to bring other members representatively on board.
Child safeguarding is therefore a core practice that Raising Voices has fully embraced and determined to pursue to become part of Raising Voices’ culture. Despite the pitfalls in many places, driven by the leadership we already provide in the field of violence prevention, we will be able to disseminate it to most of the staff, we will utilize the current information structure within the organization to disseminate it and bring more people on board to keep child safeguarding alive.