From 6 to 8 September 2022, Keeping Children Safe held an online conference on Child Participation in Safeguarding, with the active participation of Hintalovon. Our Child Participation Program manager, Barbara Németh, and one of our Child Rights Ambassadors, Anna Boukydis, gave a presentation on the relevance and development of the Child Safeguarding Policy in our work with child volunteers.
At the Foundation, we work closely with a group of adolescents (our children’s rights ambassadors), organise special child advisory boards and sometimes engage with occasional child volunteers, too. The Foundation’s Child Safeguarding Policy (CSP) ensures that this relationship and the participation of children in the Foundation’s activities is safe and meaningful. As our Child Participation Program has evolved, we have encountered a number of situations that have challenged both our CSP and our practice. We presented this journey and the main lessons learned at the conference, the main points of which are summarised here.
We have revised our CSP several times. One of the biggest changes was when we merged our separate policy about child participation into our CSP, reflecting a more integrated approach. Our policy protects children from exploitative, manipulative, tokenistic forms of child participation. A dedicated chapter addresses how we engage, inform child volunteers, how they participate in the Foundation’s activities, what we do to keep them safe and how we communicate with and about them. It also guides how we conduct research with children. The provisions about quality participation required more complex ethical considerations from us than traditional ethical reviews and motivated a thorough risk analysis and careful design in all our research. We have a complex complaint mechanism, too. Many of our child volunteers work with most of our colleagues directly, which enhanced the role of diverse, anonymous channels to report abuse to the policy compliance group.
Our child volunteers learn about the policy in many ways – in person, from its written, child-friendly versions, and they also complete an online quiz that focuses on its implementation. This process is time-consuming and requires some creativity, but putting down these building blocks are irreplaceable, and convey a far-reaching message for children about our values and stresses that we respect, protect, listen to them, and take them seriously. Based on our experiences, this framework has a strong educational power beyond our cooperation.
In the current social and political climate, speaking up in public or professional events as children is often seen as provocative, and can put children in vulnerable situation. We stress the importance of cased-based risk assessment, preventive measures and the specific training of children, but we also learnt that our trusted relationship and transparent communication is just as important in making children feel secure in these situations. Volunteering at human rights organizations is not supported by many, even by schools, so we want to make sure that parents support their children’s participation in our organization and that they are aware of our policy. Our comprehensive and living CSP is a guarantee of safe participation for many parents and children.
In the last years, our policy and practice has undergone many changes, and has taken a turn from over-regulation to simplification. This journey has helped us to set appropriate expectations for our partners who are just starting to work out their policy. In our approach, children’s safety relies on the empowerment of the whole community, including children. Our CSP has helped us to develop a trusting relationship with child volunteers, and it also gives us, adult employees a sense of security.
As a member of Hintalovon Foundation’s long-term child volunteer program concluded:
“As a Child Rights Ambassador – a member of Hintalovon Foundation’s long-term child volunteer program – I found that getting to know Hintalovon’s child safeguarding policy was made very accessible for us. When I joined the community lots of time was spent ensuring that everyone understood and felt comfortable with the policy. In hindsight, I’ve realized that it is this community that makes the CSP effective. No matter how well-written the document is if there aren’t people ready to bring it to life, committed to its values. The children are also a part of this community, so their input about the policy is also encouraged and taken into consideration.
As I joined the Hintalovon community and got to know the CSP, I inevitably compared the experience to my simultaneously unfolding school experiences. What I found was the school policy was not something we were thoroughly educated about, it only came up in situations of conflict. Whereas the foundation’s CSP is a much more all-encompassing, living document, with natural, everyday implementation, and a goal of keeping everyone safe and comfortable. I’ve also come to respect the differences between restrictive rules and healthy boundaries – with the contents of Hintalovon’s CSP decidedly falling in the latter category.
I believe that being educated about your rights is empowering, similarly, it was empowering to learn about the child safeguarding policy – knowing who I could turn to in a difficult situation, what to expect in case of a public appearance with the foundation, and so forth all ensure my feeling of security working with Hintalovon” – said Anna Boukydis, Child Rights Ambassador.
The presentation is available here.