Child Protection & Social Protection
Children deserve to be cared for in a loving and nurturing environment, free of abuse, violence, exploitation and neglect, yet children are vulnerable to these in many different situations – families, schools, alternative care, in work environments and on the street.Child Protection prevents and responds to child abuse, exploitation and neglect, and family separation.
Social protection focuses on long-term outcomes and a greater need for systemic government-led initiatives to sustain interventions that support children and families. The defining feature of social protection is supporting families as direct beneficiaries, with success measured by a family’s ability to invest in the education, nutrition, and health of its children (PEPFAR, 2012).
How should protection support be delivered?
“Child Protection Programs should be both preventive,minimizing children’s risk of facing violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect, and responsive, providing specialized services in cases where children are at especially high risk for – or have experienced – child protection violations” (AIDSTAR-One, July 2011). Recognizing that children have different needs at different ages and stages in their development, child protection programs should be developmentally appropriate and address specific needs of early childhood development, middle childhood and adolescence.
The focus on Child Protection Systems Strengthening represents a major paradigm shift within the protection field and requires new policies, partnerships and programming approaches (Policy and Programming Resource Guide For Child Protection Systems Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2011).
Government, Civil Society, communities and families all play critical roles at different levels of the system and all share responsibility to protect children, including protecting them from HIV infection. Although families are ideally a child’s primary caregiver, many families find this role challenging without community support. For communities to support families and ensure that children and families access a range of essential services, they must have the support of government and civil society. A well-organized, well-functioning social service system creates an environment for government and non-government, communities and families to care for children to the best of their ability.
What is social protection?
Experts, policy-makers and implementers often use competing or overlapping terminology and definitions for social protection. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s (PEPFAR) defines social protection as “an umbrella term encompassing an array of government-led policy instruments for reducing vulnerability and risks faced by disadvantaged groups.” UNICEF endorses a Social Protection Floor (SPF) defined as “the first level of a comprehensive national social protection system that helps realize human rights for all through guaranteeing universal access to essential services (such as health, education, housing, water and sanitation, and other services as nationally defined) and providing social transfers, in cash or in kind, to guarantee income security, food security, adequate nutrition and access to essential services” .
Why is social protection important?
Social protection addresses vulnerability and chronic poverty for children and their families. Social protection measures help strengthen people’s resilience and prevent them from falling deeper into poverty. In addition to increasing household income (through cash transfers) social protection offers a systemic, country-owned approach that addresses social and structural causes of poverty and can lead to a more sustainable family-centered response to children affected by HIV/AIDS (PEPFAR, 2012).
Increasing evidence shows that social protection measures lead to positive outcomes for children including: increased family spending on education and health, helping families to cope with the burden of care for ill family members, improved nutritional status of children, lower childhood mortality, less school absenteeism, and a reduction in child labor. Abolishing user fees for health and education services can make a crucial difference for children by increasing uptake of services, such as immunization, and improving school attendance.
A recent systematic review of evidence on social transfers conducted by the U.K Department for International Development (DFID) concluded that 80 percent of the reviewed programs had a positive effect on reducing family poverty in economic terms (Hagen-Zanker et al. 2011).
“Investing in social protection and children makes sense from both an economic and a human development perspective. The demonstrated impacts of social protection on children’s development last long beyond childhood, increasing adult productivity, decreasing the burden of human development losses, and contributing to breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty.” (UNICEF, 2012)
How should social protection be delivered?
The social and structural causes of poverty are multifaceted and approaches must address a broad range of issues from national level to family level. Programs must address capacity and sustainability issues and work to strengthen the social service system at all levels. This includes strengthening the social welfare workforce at government, civil society and community level. Para-social workers are frequently the frontline of social protection efforts, identifying eligible families, managing casework and delivering assistance. Building up both the formal government and informal para-social welfare workforce are critical to meeting communities’ expanding social protection needs.
Social protection interventions must include multisectoral, integrated services that are context-specific to the needs of children and families. There is no ‘one size fits all’. The most effective social protection measures for children include a combination of approaches that increase income, improve livelihoods, and address underlying and social causes of vulnerability. Interventions should build on existing policies and programs and integrate with existing community structures such as schools, health facilities and community groups. Policies and programs should also be child-sensitive, gender-sensitive and HIV-sensitive to avoid unintentional stigma or discrimination when targeting programs to specific vulnerable groups (i.e., avoid focusing only on orphan status or HIV-infection).
Social protection measures may be targeted or universal. Targeted social protection is aimed at specific groups of children and families. Universal considers all children to be vulnerable. There are arguments for and against ‘universalism’ versus ‘targeted’. What is critical is that interventions are designed based on a situation analysis, civil society and community involvement and the participation of children and families in need.
Key Child Protection Activities and Messages
- Strengthen Child Protection Systems at every level: Government (Ministry of Social Services), Civil Society (NGO’s CBO’s, FBO’s), Community and Family. Build connections between levels of child protection networks.
- Mandate policies that safeguard children as part of all OVC programs and partner collaborations. Promote child protection training for staff and partners such as “Keeping Children Safe”specialized training.
- Strengthen Government Capacity: Work with trained partners who have technical expertise to perform high-quality, child-sensitive child protection work.
- Strengthen families to provide nurturing environments and to reduce risks of poverty, food insecurity, illness, including HIV and child abuse.
- Provide children, families and caregivers with life-skills training and educationto build self-esteem, resiliency and awareness of available support services.
- Prioritize the Child’s Best Interests to determine the most effective prevention, early intervention and alternative care options.
- Consider residential care as a last resort. As a last resort, it should be time-limited, including a transition plan.
- Promote legal protection to ensure child rights, birth registration, access to basic services, inheritance rights and to prevent harmful practices such as child labor, early marriage, child trafficking and female genital mutilation.
- Advocate for enforcement of strong child protection legislation at all levels. Include trained law enforcement.
- Register each child’s birth to ensure child rights and access to basic services. These services are vital in protecting against child abuse and exploitation.
- Integrate child protection activities within existing health services such as maternal and newborn health, prenatal care and PMTCT and within school-based programs.
- Base policies and practices on international standards such as the U.N. Convention on the rights of the child, and those listed in Protecting Children affected by HIV against Abuse, Exploitation, Violence and Neglect, appendix 1