INTERNATIONAL TASK FORCE ON CHILD PROTECTION | March 2015 Update

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Download the complete March 2015 Report.

Dear International Task Force Members:

This month, the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA) hosted a Child Protection Symposium, with support from the AISA Child Protection committee, led by Dennis Larkin, who is also an ITFCP volunteer on the School Evaluation Committee.

Sixty people met over two days, to hear from experts including school educators, psychologists, counselors, security and legal experts. The AISA working committee met over two days, the results of which included a review and update of the AISA Child Protection Handbook, and the creation of new resources to support school communities including adult learning materials, advice about setting up multi-disciplinary teams when local systems are not in place, and other open-source resources.

To ensure we are aware of each group’s efforts and to learn from each other, Dennis has asked Natasha Winnard, Guidance Counselor from the Khartoum International Community School, a member of the AISA Child Protection Group, to attend our next ITFCP meeting in London on Tuesday 12 May, and report on their progress. In particular, there is significant opportunity for alignment/joining of efforts on the School Policies and Resources Committee.

The discussion at the Symposium was rich. Dennis gave an inspirational talk, which I hope was video-taped, so that you can all hear it too. I’ve written to Peter Bateman at AISA to inquire.

Here then, are the findings and results of discussions that took place at the AISA Child Protection Symposium in Cape Town:

Workshop: School Accreditation and Child Protection

A review of the 24 Essential Questions

Kelly Christian, Jackie Gilbert, Peter Mott and I lead two sessions during which we explored 24 Essential Questions identified by the School Evaluation Committee to stimulate discussion about effective Child Protection practices. Indeed they did! Those who attended included school counselors, teachers, leaders, security managers, psychologists and an insurance representative.

Findings and recommendations:

  • Condense the essential questions and organize them around the categories used by the School Policy and Resources Committee:
    • Prevention
    • Reporting
    • Crisis/Conflict Resolution
    • Recovery
       
  • Develop specific standards – a review of the draft standards examples elicited a number of comments that they seem “too vague”.
     
  • We asked participants to rate their own schools’ effectiveness in child protection:

    Responses ranged from:
    • provision of a full program on child protection (no one)
    • developing program (a few)
    • some policies and procedures (most)
    • no policies and procedures (a few…this category was renamed by participants as “freaking out mode!”)
       
  • We then focused on the areas where participants believed their schools needed the most development. These included:
    • Guiding statements:
      • “What is abuse?” Discussion about various interpretations of ethics – western values.
      • The school community needs to come together to define child abuse to ensure a shared understanding of what it is and what it includes. (neglect, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse)
      • What is the local context? The child abuse policy must be explained and discussed with parents as part of the admission process – it is not enough to simply ask them to read it due to cultural differences;
      • Create a statement of commitment and code of conduct for the community – this must be tied to the school’s identity. “We are a safe school.”
      • “Does contextually appropriate mean there is room for negotiation about what child abuse is?”
      • “What is an acceptable level of ambiguity?”
      • Does the definition come from the school or from the Accreditors?
      • Make child abuse a non-negotiable when it comes to standards.
    • Policies and Practices:
      • Adjust US/UK protocols to international laws
      • Online safety is an increasing concern – need new policies.
    • Reporting:
      • “How do you talk about abuse?” (language challenges – within a shared language and between languages)
      • The word ‘fear’ was mentioned three times during these discussions. There is fear of reporting (ruining a career, fear of reprisal given the close friendships internationally) and a fear of local police. “We need to create an open environment/culture.”
      • “How do you deal with suspicion?”
      • “What if there are political challenges?” (reporting people in positions of power within the school and outside of school, including governmental officials)
      • We identified the necessity to identify a completely independent (neutral) 3rd party reporting site to ensure confidentiality, with counseling available for risk assessment and links to law enforcement to investigate (ICMEC)
      • There must be clear procedures for reporting – within school and outside of school to legal authorities. There is an obligation to report.
    • Training:
      • At the end of each session, attendees were polled to ask how many felt annual training should be required for the school community (educators, parents, students); each group unanimously endorsed required training;
      • Availability of online training via COBIS was cited; a number of schools said they saw this as a cost effective first step even as training is “internationalized” and made available more broadly;
      • Participants noted “Commitment needs to come from the top!”;
      • Train the community: What is abuse? What are the indicators of abuse? How to report abuse. Where can one report confidentially? Identify roles/responsibilities of staff and external experts;
      • Consider translation needs for the parents;
      • Check the International School Counselor standards;
      • Strengthen the curriculum; learn how and when/when not to investigate, realizing it is not the role of educators to investigate
      • Identify an expert on staff to speak with a child if abuse is suspected. Don’t ask the child to repeatedly tell his/her story of abuse.
    • Community Capacity Building/Assessment:
      • Set up a child protection team; it was clear that this is a significant area for development; very few schools have gone out to the local community to assess the level of support services available from local law enforcement, counseling and medical experts.
      • Questions and comments:“Where does our school fit in?” “What is available?”
        Be sure to understand the local legal requirements. It was agreed that meeting local law enforcement at the time of a crisis is too late. There needs to be a proactive approach and if services are weak or lacking, the school must take proactive steps to set up a network of support - a multi-disciplinary team to take action in event of a crisis. This was compared to practicing fire drills. How often is there a fire? How often are children abused? If a child is being abused, he/she is “on fire” every day.
        Approach and engage local authorities with humility and respect.
         
  • Recruiting:
    • There is a need for training. Many asked for legal advice to guide them in handling staff who are suspected, but not proven abusers.
    • There is a lack of awareness of liability, both negligence and slander in the area of referrals and written references.
    • “There needs to be a code of ethics among directors.”
       
  • Overall: Schools need a comprehensive program to ensure they are equipped to prevent, identify, report, manage and recover from instances of abuse. “Be a safe school community; become a hard target.
    • Comments:
      • There is nothing more difficult that being the only person responsible. (A counselor)
      • It is a lonely job! (A counselor)
      • We need expertise and resources.
      • It is a challenge to gain support to establish a child protection program in our school.
      • We need to “fit it in”.
      • We need to move from policy to program. Begin by researching exemplars/samples of policies and programs. Bring in experts when needed. Get legal advice – ensure the school has a legal base for its actions - both local laws and international law. Go to the Board with this as a priority.
         
  • Resources and Research:
    • There is a need to identify and share current research about abuse and its effects.
    • AISA Speaker: Sherry Hamby, PhD, Director, Life Paths Research; sherry.hamby@sewanee.edu; Sherry Hamby is a Research Associate Professor of Psychology at Sewanee, the University of the South, studying the methodological and measurement challenges of violence research and cross- cultural issues in measuring and intervening for violence.)
    • There is a need for expert training about the impact of abuse and trauma on school learning environments.
    • AISA Speaker: Douglas W. Walker, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist and Principal Investigator; dwallacewalker@yahoo.com; Doug Walker is a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN.org).

  • Identified priorities for the ITFCP
    • School Evaluation Committee
      • Agree on Accreditation Standards: Refine in light of feedback; clearly define indicators of compliance/non-compliance in light of the US Rights of the Child.
      • Confer with other committee chairs to ensure their recommendations are clearly understood and considered as part of the new standards.
    • School Recruitment Committee
      • Identify schools to participate in the pilot of essential screening practices with clear objectives documented
      • Identify experts to train heads about legalities of reporting, referrals and reference writing
         
  • School Policies and Resources Committee
    • Create and chair a smaller working committee to set up an architecture for international school resources at the ICMEC site (Chair: Kevin Ruth); ensure this includes an effective reporting point including confidential counseling/referral services with links to law enforcement around the world
    • Identify and recommend annual training for members of all international associations; review the COBIS online model and internationalize it; create new means of online training for children, parents and educators

Next ITFCP Meeting

Date:  12th May 2015
Venue:  To be announced – likely to be close the venue of the COBIS Educators’ Conference in central London. Colin is on the case.


London Meeting Schedule

Who:  Open invitationITFCP Committee Meetings  to all committee volunteers to attend their respective committee meeting
Where:  Tuesday 12 May, 09.00 – 12.00
What:  Committees will meet in separate rooms, concurrently

Lunch: 12.00 – 13.00
 
ITFCP General Meeting
Who:  Task Force Members + all Committee Volunteers When: Tuesday 12 May, 13.00 – 17.00
Where:  To be determined as attendees are confirmed
What:  Committee Chairs will report on progress; discussion; expert speakers to be identified


Committee Chairs: Please confer with your committee members to learn if any are able to join us on 12 May.

As a reminder, attendance at all meetings is optional and all travel costs are the responsibility of each volunteer. Once we determine the total cost of the meeting space, we will confer about sharing this expense.

Confirmed attendees to date:

  • Colin Bell
  • Christy Brown
  • Linda Duevel
  • Roger Hove
  • Jane Larsson
  • Laura Light (School Recruitment)
  • Peter Mott (School Evaluation)
  • Yolanda Murphy-Barrena (new Executive Director of AAIE)
  • Pauline O’Brien (School Recruitment)
  • Jeff Paulson (School Policies and Resources)
  • Graham Ranger (School Evaluation)
  • Kevin Ruth
  • Natasha Winnard (AISA Child Protection Committee)

Clarifications, comments and questions welcomed!

MEMBERS OF THE TASK FORCE:

  • Colin Bell, CEO, Council of British International Schools
  • Bambi Betts, Executive Director, Academy of International School Heads
  • Christine Brown, Regional Education Officer for Europe, U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Schools
  • Linda Duevel, President, Association for the Advancement of International Education
  • Roger Hove, President, International Schools Services
  • Jane Larsson, Executive Director, Council of International Schools (Chair)
  • Kevin Ruth, Executive Director, ECIS

On behalf of the Task Force Members, and in your service,

Jane Larsson
Chair, International Task Force on Child Protection


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