Child protection training

The participants were a combination of church and school leaders, all of whom have previously been trained in Creating Safe Environments for Children, a key modular training tool created by our friends, Viva.

It was clear that the LVLE team had done an excellent job of conveying the concepts and justifications for child protection to the participants during previous trainings, and they had clearly retained much of what they had learnt. My objective was to help the participants to put what they had learnt into practice and to start to build upon it.

The participants were increasingly engaged as we discussed the very real challenges the participants face in Goma when it comes to tacking child abuse. It is, quite simply, endemic here. If a businessman can afford to start a school, he can do so without restrictions, with no experience of or interest in teaching. This enables him to ‘take his pick’ of the children in his care and to abuse, exploit and traumatise them with impunity. As a person in authority, the school leader/owner is seldom challenged and, if he is, he can pay off the child, the parents, or even the police.

Similarly, churches are not the safe places they should be, and some pastors abuse their position in order to harm children. Those who challenge the abusive behaviour of a person with influence or power or money risk losing their livelihood, or worse.

There are no simple answers. But we were able to agree that silence facilitates abuse; that doing nothing enables perpetrators to flourish and children to be profoundly damaged or destroyed; that the Bible simply does not give us the option of standing by.

Feedback was encouraging. In the words of one participant, ‘I have learnt the importance of trusting and believing children, how to protect and keep them safe, and how to approach the authorities in a way that makes them more likely to take a reported allegation seriously.’

We discussed how three elements – declaring in advance, through the creation and application of a Child Protection policy, that abuse is not acceptable and that we, the church or school, will take action; placing a Child Protection Officer in a context where his or her actions in the case of a reported abuse have already been agreed and endorsed by the church or school, and that those working with the children have already agreed to and signed the Policy; and knowing how to proceed in such a case – can protect not only the child, but the church or school and the person who is appointed as Child Protection Officer, as well as providing a clear message to the children and others that they will be believed, they will be helped and supported and that action will be taken on their behalf.

We went through the process that should be applied if a child indicates that he or she has been abused, and applied them to a case study.

Finally, we focused on prevention and on how to teach children to keep themselves safe and to speak up where there is an abusive situation. I demonstrated Touch Talk, a training resource which allows children to explore and discuss how to protect themselves against abuse, particularly sexual abuse, through what happens to three characters in a story.