COVID-19 briefing

Last updated: 20 April 2020

Implementing International Child Safeguarding Standards in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic

This briefing sets out how organisations can use the Keeping Children Safe International Child Safeguarding Standards to ensure they do all they can to protect children from harm caused by their staff, programmes, operations and partners in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not exhaustive and will be continually updated as the context changes and new challenges and good practices emerge.

Contents

  1. The KCS Standards
  2. Risk Assessment
  3. Implementing the Standards during the pandemic

The KCS standards

There are four International Child Safeguarding Standards:

Standard 1: Policy

The development of a policy that describes how an organisation is committed to preventing harm to children, outlining the steps that must be taken should an incident occur. The policy is comprehensive in the sense that it contains sections and provisions generally considered to be standard, i.e. a clear statement of commitment to protect children, scope, code of conduct, prevention measures identified such as safe recruitment, training of staff and others, clear reporting requirements and identified ways of raising concerns/making complaints.

Standard 2: People

The identification of clear responsibilities and expectations for all staff and associates, supporting them to understand and act accordingly.

Standard 3: Procedures

The creation of a child-safe environment by implementing high quality safeguarding procedures that are applied in all programmes and activities.

Standard 4: Accountability

The regular monitoring and review of an organisation’s safeguarding measures.

The Standards are based on the following set of principles:

  • All children have equal rights to protection from harm
  • Everyone has a responsibility to support the protection of children
  • Organisations have a duty of care to the children with whom they work, are in contact with, or who are affected by their activities and operations
  • If organisations work with partners they have a responsibility to help them to meet minimum requirements on child protection
  • All actions on child safeguarding are taken in the best interests of the child, which are paramount

More information about the Standards can be found in the KCS guidance: The International Child Safeguarding Standards and how to implement them.

Safeguarding children in emergencies

There is substantial evidence that the risks of abuse and exploitation of children increase significantly during a crisis. Abusers may use the opportunity to abuse or exploit children when attention and resources are being drawn into dealing with the spread of the virus – in some cases at the expense of safeguarding practices. In addition, organisations may inadvertently put children at risk with poorly designed programmes and operations which do not adequately consider safeguarding risks.

It is critical therefore that all organisations including: government, private sector, donors and civil society not only increase vigilance on safeguarding during this pandemic, but that they actively step-up child safeguarding measures in order to mitigate the increased risks.


Risk assessment

Risk assessment is the foundation for an effective safeguarding framework. All organisations should undertake a detailed and dynamic child safeguarding risk assessment ensuring the impact of Covid-19 is considered and appropriate mitigations are in place. This should include the impact and risks of any staff, resource or programmatic changes as a result of COVID-19.

Risk assessment involves seven stages

Establishing the context, scope and setting of your organisation

The following is a non-exhaustive list of questions to help identify safeguarding risks (for each one consider how that risk may be affected by the pandemic):

  • Is your organisation located in places where child abuse is prevalent?
  • Is your organisation located in places where laws and authorities are weak in responding to child abuse?
  • How is the current capacity of child protection, health, social welfare and legal systems affected by the current crisis? What will this mean for your reporting and responding systems?
  • How have children been affected by the current crisis? For example, quarantine and isolation measures may have resulted in school or childcare closures or increased obstacles to reporting incidents.
  • Does your organisation have experience in working in emergencies?
  • Do your programmes include responding to or working with vulnerable children, such as children with disabilities, children from minority groups, street children, sexually abused children, among others?
  • Children in residential care?
  • What level of child participation does your organisation have (for example,  workshops, events with children)?
  • Does your organisation use children’s photos and stories to communicate its work or to raise funds?
  • What level of general working with children does your organisation have?
  • Are your staffing and resource level affected by the pandemic? What does this mean for your ability to implement a robust safeguarding framework?
  • What is the level of turnover of community volunteers, consultants or other staff who are often far removed from office processes such as safeguarding and code of conduct of training or briefing, or working in remote areas with infrequent monitoring? How has this been impacted by the pandemic?
  • Have senior managers with special responsibilities for implementing child safeguarding policies and procedures been trained /briefed on executing their safeguarding responsibilities? How has this been impacted by the pandemic?
  • Have safeguarding focal points attended a safeguarding workshop /training designed specifically for designated safeguarding focal points?
  • What is the level of your organisation’s reliance on partners to implement your programme(s)?
  • How has your ability to monitor your partners been affected by the pandemic?
  • Do your partners have experience in working in emergencies?
  • Do your partners’ programmes include responding to or working with vulnerable children, such as children with learning disabilities, children from minority groups, street children, sexually abused children, among others?
  • Do your partners’ programmes include responding to or working with children in residential care?
  • What level of child participation do your partners have (for, example,  workshops, events with children)?
  • What level of general working with children do your partners have?

Identifying your organisation’s potential impact on or contact with children

It is important to identify the different ways in which an organisation comes into contact with children, even when children may not be the primary focus. Then, to identify who in the organisation has contact with, access to, or impacts on children. Contact with children does not always involve personal contact. It can also be made via the internet, and other forms of social media, through letters, and by phone. Contact with children can take place through people, programmes and operations.

Among the questions to ask are:

  1. How often does the organisation have contact with the child(ren)?
  2. Where does the contact take place?
  3. What is the type of contact? For instance: one-on-one staff with children’s groups; one-on-one counselling between staff and child

This should include:

    • People: trustees, staff, volunteers, consultants, media, visitors, partners, contractors, or other associates engaged by the organisation
    • Programmes: the services and activities that are delivered by the organisation
    • Operations: the key functions an organisation needs to carry out to be effective
    • Partners

How has this changed during the pandemic?

Identifying and analysing the potential risks of that impact or contact

Each area where an organisation may have contact with, or impact on, children (such as,  People, Programmes and Operations, and Partners) needs to be examined to identify potential risks of harm, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, negligence, online grooming, cyberbullying, among types of harm.

Evaluating the risks in terms of likelihood they could occur and the seriousness of the impact on children

Each potential risk of harm should then be categorised according to the following risk significance levels:

  • High: Highly likely to happen and significant impact on child.
  • Medium: Either highly likely to happen or significant impact on child.
  • Low: Less likely to happen and less of an impact on child.

Implementing strategies to minimise and prevent risk

The next step is to agree on mitigating strategies to eliminate the risk or, if that is not possible, to minimise it. Each action should have a defined risk owner with an appropriate deadline and resources assigned.

Mitigations could include implementing one or more of the following :

Systems and processes: revise current systems and /or processes

Existing systems and processes will need to be adapted, such as risk assessment and quality assurance systems, processes for designing and implementing programmes and projects and quarterly or annual reporting processes. New ones may have to be developed or developed in the context of the pandemic, such as processes for reporting on suspected or actual concerns about children.

Organisational culture: strengthen organisational safeguarding culture

Changes may need to be made to the culture of the organisation so that child safeguarding is considered relevant and important to the organisation and that it is open and transparent about its measures and how it addresses concerns and incidents. Organisational culture is determined by a range of factors including management and leadership style, focus of business and, in some cases, where it is located.

Policies practices and procedures: change existing policies practices and procedures

Existing policies, practices and procedures will need to be adapted to integrate child safeguarding, including your recruitment and selection policy and procedures and code of conduct for staff. New policies, practices and procedures may need to be introduced such as a whistle-blowing policy to support staff who raise concerns.

Roles and responsibilities: change existing roles or add new roles

Changes will need to be made to existing roles and responsibilities to ensure that responsibilities are clearly articulated for staff with specific safeguarding roles and new roles may need to be introduced and included in the job descriptions accordingly.

Capacity building: provide additional induction, training

A range of capacity building initiatives will be required to inform and educate staff and associates about their responsibilities and obligations to safeguard children. These will need to be appropriate to your organisation.

Reviewing and revising risks and preventative measures

Your risk assessment should be dynamic and regularly reviewed. Check that your mitigating strategies are working. This is especially important during an emergency situation, such as the current pandemic. It is important to make sure that the risk of harm to children from your staff, programmes or operations has not changed and that no further actions need to be taken. The risk assessment should also be reviewed if any changes occur that may increase the risk of harm to children.

Communicating and consulting

In assessing risks of harm to children and developing mitigating strategies, it is important to consult with an organisation’s key stakeholders, both internal and external. If possible, children and their carers should be consulted when identifying risks of harm, although that is not always easy during an emergency. Key stakeholders, including children and their careers, should be informed of the risks that have been identified and how they will be addressed. Again, if possible, children and their carers should be involved in monitoring the effectiveness of implementing the mitigating strategies. Child-friendly materials may need to be developed and materials in local languages.


Implementing the Standards during the pandemic

Keeping Children Safe recommends all organisations implement the child safeguarding framework contained within the KCS guidance: The International Child Safeguarding Standards and how to implement them.

Organisations can assess how near or far they are from meeting the Standards using the KCS Online Self-Assessment tool. Or contact the KCS team for a more detailed review.

The following are key minimum considerations for implementing the Standards during the pandemic. Depending on the context, there will be others.

Standard 1: Policy

It may be that your organisation’s child safeguarding policy will not accurately reflect your response to Covid-19. It is important that organisations review and revise their child safeguarding policy and keep it under review as circumstances continue to evolve. You might consider attaching an annex to your existing child safeguarding policy that summarises any key COVID-19 related changes. Amongst other things the revised child safeguarding policy should reflect:

  • any updated advice received from local safeguarding partners
  • any updated advice received from local authorities regarding, for example, reporting mechanisms, and referral thresholds
  • what staff and volunteers should do if they have any concerns about a child safeguarding concern
  •  the need for increased vigilance on safeguarding in emergency  situations
  • the continued importance of all staff and volunteers acting immediately on any safeguarding concern.

Standard 2: People

Remember

During the pandemic, staff may change fast – they may be given new responsibilities, staff may be redeployed, furloughed, sick or in isolation or new staff members could be brought in. It is therefore crucial to ensure that all staff are made aware of who has which responsibilities in the organisation to ensure the implementation of the safeguarding policy and its procedures. It is also crucial to ensure that regular updates are done every single time there is a staff change which impacts on the division of responsibility. This update will need to be dated and widely circulated. All staff and volunteers should already have been trained on child safeguarding and be familiar with your organisation’s child safeguarding policy, practices and procedures. The important thing for these staff will be awareness of any new local arrangements so they know what to do if they are worried about a child.

Leaders should communicate internally and externally the need for increased vigilance on safeguarding during the pandemic. That safeguarding remains a critical priority for the organisation,  that there will be zero-tolerance of code of conduct violations and that the safety and wellbeing of children remains paramount.

Make sure all staff and volunteers understand, have signed and agree to abide by your updated Child Safeguarding Policy, Code of Conduct and other relevant policies.

Ensure that all staff, volunteers and contract workers are aware of their child safeguarding responsibilities and know how to identify and mitigate risks within their spheres of work. Emphasise:

  • the need for increased vigilance on safeguarding during the pandemic
  • that safeguarding is a critical organisational priority
  • zero-tolerance for code of conduct violations
  • the continuing responsibility to act immediately on any safeguarding concern
  • any changes to the reporting and responding procedure as a result of the pandemic.

Designated Child Safeguarding Staff and Focal Points

All efforts should be made to prioritise safeguarding and maintain adequate staffing and resources during the pandemic. Robust contingency arrangements should be in place should staff become unavailable.

Make sure your current list of Child Safeguarding Focal Points is up to date and that they include contact numbers that are known to work. If any locations do not have a Child Safeguarding Focal Point, have a plan to fill that vacancy as quickly as possible.

Ensure that all Child Safeguarding Focal Points have received training and are able to carry out their function in an emergency.

Make sure that Child Safeguarding Focal Points are able to conduct assessments on possible increased child safeguarding risks as a result of COVID-9 in partnership with other staff, and that they are able to adapt existing tools and procedures accordingly.

The optimal scenario is for a designated child safeguarding focal point to be on-site at every physical location. Where this is not possible, especially if staff and /or volunteers are working from home, consider the following:

  • a child safeguarding focal point can be available to be contacted by phone or online video, or arrange to share a child safeguarding focal point with another local organisation (for example, a partner organisation), who would then be available by phone or online video

If a designated child safeguarding focal point is not available through either of the two options above, consider having an appropriately trained and vetted senior management person taking responsibility for co-ordinating safeguarding on site. This might include updating and managing access to child safeguarding files, liaising with statutory authorities, among other responsibilities.

All trustees, staff, volunteers, and consultants, as well as children and their carers should know who the designated child safeguarding focal points are and how to contact them on any given day.

Recruitment and Supervision of Staff

All staff and volunteers should be adequately supervised, especially those recently hired during the emergency. It is well documented that abusers attempt to access children and adults in vulnerable circumstances by posing as ‘helpers’ during emergencies such as the current health crisis. Therefore, on no account should safeguarding checks during recruitment be relaxed, in most cases, extra vigilance should be deployed.

Minimum considerations for recruitment

When you are designing the job, analyse the role and think about the issues of child safeguarding and risk in that job:

  • What contact with children will the job involve?
  • Will the employee have unsupervised access to children, or hold a position of trust?
  • What other sort of contact may the person have with children (such as,via email, telephone, letter, Internet)?
  • Develop clear job descriptions, terms of reference /role briefs for all posts including short-term contracts, or where consultants are being recruited
  • Make sure that the selection criteria outline the relevant experience needed if the post involves direct work with children
  • Make sure that the commitment to keeping children safe is included in details of any post sent to prospective job candidates
  • Develop application forms that ask for consent to gain information on a person’s past convictions /pending disciplinary proceedings
  • Ask for documentation to confirm identity and proof of relevant qualifications.
  • Make sure you have a well-planned interview process – make sure the interviewers have the relevant experience and knowledge about child protection and best practice
  • Include some specific questions in the interview that draw out people’s attitudes and values in relation to the protection of children. Can they give examples of where they have acted to protect a child, what they learned from this and what impact it has had their current practice?
  • Take up to three references including some from previous employees or others who have knowledge of the candidate’s experience and suitability to work with children
  • Verify the identity of referees
  • Conduct as many background checks as possible
  • Consider the use of probationary periods of employment to ensure suitability once in post.

Make it standard practice to:

  • Ask questions about extended unemployment breaks on résumés
  • Ask questions about people’s motivation to work in youth organisations
  • Ask questions about their relationship with referees – this has often revealed that the referee only has a small amount of knowledge about the person
  • Ensure reference checks are done and contact at least two people. If the referees are not suitable, get more
  • Always check and /or secure referees from children’s organisations
  • Check with other referees or managers in an organisation given by the candidate. Often the better person to check, along with the referee given, is the senior manager or director
  • Ask referees about the suitability of the candidate to have direct contact with children. Another good question is – ‘does the referee know of any issues or incidents involving the candidate and his / her contact with children?’
  • Make notes of the referee’s comments and place them on the personal file of the candidate
  • Keep the resume of the person in their personal file, if recruited, along with any notes made during the interview
  • Have two international staff and a national staff member at each interview to allow for each person to contribute their feelings about the candidate’s suitability to have access to children.

Standard 3: Procedures

Reporting and responding

Keeping Children Safe recommends all organisations implement the KCS guidance: Managing Serious Child Safeguarding Allegations when responding to safeguarding concerns.

If you have not already done so, complete a mapping of the services currently available locally for survivors (ensure you understand how these will be affected by the pandemic) and obtain a legal mapping of the country you are working in regarding relevant laws related to child safeguarding and child protection, including the abuse of children and adults, the availability of criminal records checks, any obligations to report to local authorities, among other topics.

Understand barriers children may face to reporting in this context. For example, lack of privacy in the home, lack of access to safeguarding staff and so on.

Make sure you have adequate child safeguarding reporting, response and referral mechanisms in place that are also child-friendly and adapted to the current context.

Ensure clear processes are in place regarding referrals to statutory authorities (for example, police, social welfare, among others) on issues of potential child abuse /harm by staff, partners, volunteers and that there is a clear, documented understanding of what constitutes a criminal act locally. Be clear on how this is likely to be affected by the pandemic and adapt practices and processes accordingly.

Make extra efforts to be sure children and parents know where to go if they need help: Give them emergency contact details for your safeguarding team (use work phone numbers). Share the number and page for National Child Helplines with children. Post it on your website or find other safe ways to distribute it to children and their carers.

Let the communities where you work know, through appropriate means, how they can report any safeguarding concerns including how this will be managed during the pandemic.

Make sure your partners have their child safeguarding policies and procedures in place. If not, they should agree to abide by yours. Include this as an addendum to your existing partnership agreement. As well as adequate child safeguarding reporting, response and referral mechanisms adapted to the changing context.

If you fund or provide capacity building support for organisations during the pandemic, build-in additional due diligence and support on safeguarding.

If staff are working remotely, make sure they have contact details for your safeguarding team and can access your recording and reporting systems.

If children are no longer participating in person in your programmes and projects because of COVID-19, plan to check in with these children and establish how you will stay in contact. Consider matching each child to a level of risk you think they’re exposed to, as best you can. This will help you focus your attention on the most-in-need children and develop a proportionate contact plan for if they’re not at your locations.

One system that has been suggested is like this:

Red: children who are at most risk of harm or neglect

Amber: children who are at a moderate risk of harm or neglect

Blue: you may have some concerns, or the child has previously been at ‘red’ or ‘amber’ and still needs to be monitored

Your plan to check in with vulnerable children should contain:

  • How often you will be in contact with each child. This is likely to be at least once a week, and twice a week for higher-risk children. Decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on the level of risk.
  • Who will be in touch and how?In person, by phone, or both?
  • Whether you’ll use online learning platforms or other technology to check in with children
  • How you’ll record updates on children and their needs, and decisions on what you’ll do next
  • What happens if you can’t make contact or need to escalate concerns
  • How you’ll share information with other agencies.

Children may be at increased risk of online abuse as a result of the crisis.  This could include being groomed or coerced, scammed or bullied online. Ensure that appropriate policies, procedures and monitoring systems are in place to protect children and children’s information on your IT systems or when using your website or online resources.  Follow and share guidance followed by INTERPOL on keeping children safe online.

Consider who has the technical knowledge to maintain safe IT arrangements. Also consider what your contingency arrangements are if your IT staff become unavailable.

 When a concern is brought to your attention

  • Always make sure the child is safe. Address the immediate health and welfare needs of the child.
  • Report any concerns in accordance with applicable local office procedures.
  • A report may be made to the relevant director (Country, Regional, National,IH) depending on the location of the abuse, or your line manager or designated Child Safeguarding Focal Point immediately (but within 24 hours maximum).
  • An allegation of child abuse is a serious issue. In following the Child Safeguarding Policy and local procedures, it is essential that all parties maintain confidentiality. You should share information purely on a ‘need to know’ basis. In addition, unless abuse has actually been proven, you must always refer to ‘alleged abuse’.
  • Cooperate fully in any investigation of concerns and allegations.
  • All offices should have written procedures in place related to reporting and responding to child safeguarding issues. These should also be available in the local languages and staff should be familiar with them. Ask the Child Safeguarding Focal Point in your office for a copy of the local procedures.
  • If you are uncertain of what to do, you can speak to the Child Safeguarding Focal Point or your senior manager.

Standard 4: Accountability

  • During emergencies child safeguarding procedures will need to be monitored and evaluated frequently, as the fast-changing situation will mean you need to make constant adjustments
  • Regular monitoring and evaluation should be conducted of all project sites (including those of partner organisations). In person visits may not be possible during the pandemic. In this case, remote monitoring and evaluation methods will have to be designed and implemented
  • Ensure that human and financial resources necessary for monitoring and evaluation efforts are made available
  • Require that systematic processes are in place to ask children and parents / carers about their views on policies and procedures for keeping children safe. Again, this may not be possible to do on-site during the pandemic. Other methods should be considered, including online platforms
  • Ensure that all incidents, allegations and complaints of abuse are recorded and monitored
  • Arrangements are in place to monitor compliance with child protection policies and procedures
  • A summary is made of the number of incidents of abuse and number of complaints
  • Monitoring and evaluation visits verify that the Child Safeguarding Measures are known and understood by concerned partners and communities; records of these visits are kept. This may have to be done remotely
  • Monitoring and evaluation visits verify that procedures identified for reporting and responding to cases are updated and functional and that records of these visits are kept. If visits are possible. If not, this will have to be verified remotely
  • Adjustments are made in the light of monitoring and evaluation results and complaints received; records are kept of the steps taken
  • A record is kept of all monitoring and evaluation visits (either on-site or remote) including who conducted them, and what future visits are planned.

After the crisis it will be important to make sure that any child safeguarding cases that have not yet been resolved are still being dealt with. This includes unfinished investigations. If your organisation has provided any medical or psychosocial support to a survivor, you will have to make sure that this support continues, if it is still needed.

Efforts should be made to learn from how your organisation planned, implemented, monitored and evaluated child safeguarding during this pandemic. Lessons learned should be used to review and revise, if necessary, your child safeguarding policy, practices and procedures. Any gaps in safeguarding should be identified and; reviewed and, if necessary, safeguarding roles and responsibilities should be updated; and any additional training needs should be identified and addressed.

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