In a country like India, generally poverty and social exclusion are considered to be the main reasons for separation of children from their families, and landing up in the child protection (CP) system. Psycho-social and economic pressures, and circumstances of a family often lead to stress, family disintegration and child destitution.
The COVID-19 outbreak affects all segments of the population and is particularly detrimental to members of those social groups living in the most vulnerable situations, including people living in poverty, migrants, daily wagers, slum dwellers’ families and the wider community. These can have negative consequences for children’s well-being, development and protection.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) views the community as the most crucial place for optimal child development and for their attainment of rights. The child’s primary environment is his / her family and the wider community. They are best placed to identify concerns and respond early to them to reduce any negative impact on the child’s development. Building capacities of communities for strengthening care and protection of children remains one of the prominent focus areas of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS). The flagship protection initiative of the Government of India (GoI), operationalized in 2009, recognizes the pivotal role of families and communities in both preventive measures as well as facilitating swift responses for child protection violations.
The major thrust must be towards preventive interventions for all children, with children themselves, their families and communities at the helm of dialogue and action. The principle of inverting the pyramid of Child Protection (CP) is about decision making and powers, services and programs concentrated in a decentralized manner in block and village level, and lesser concentration at district, state and centre level.
Miracle Foundation India (Miracle) has taken cognizance of this by engaging with the community and facilitating activation of community led child protection committees in order to strengthen families and prevent separation of children so that they do not land up in the child protection system in the rural and urban areas of Gujarat and Maharashtra respectively.
Miracle Foundation India, in collaboration with Deepak Foundation (DF) is implementing the community intervention with a goal to develop a sustainable and replicable pilot mode of family and community strengthening aimed at prevention & gatekeeping.
Strategy and approach of community intervention
Identifying and preventing children at risk of being separated from their family requires a robust approach to family strengthening through a broad range of support measures for children, families, and communities which is very different from other community development programs. These measures are tailored to the individual needs of the child and family, mobilizing their social, community network as a resource, access to financial and community-based services (health, educational, etc.), informal support networks in the community, etc. The program focuses on building greater sensitivity and understanding, techniques of how to move from concept to practice for building community ownership, encouraging utmost participation particularly from marginalized stakeholders, empowering women, children and families, and importantly the role of Miracle Foundation’s team as a facilitator in the community project. It addresses the major child protection issues such as preventing children from child labour, school dropout, child marriage, trafficking, prevent children getting into crime and children entering into Child Care Institutions (CCI).
The core of the program - community as the Protagonist. Main strategies of the program are as follows
- Identification of potential geographical areas in collaboration with the State Child Protection Society, gathering data from CWC - where the Intervention on prevention and family strengthening is required
- Family Strengthening using Home Thrive ScaleTM
- Activation & Strengthening of Village /Ward Child Protection Committees(V/WCPCs) for them to take charge
- Child Participation
- Strengthening Community Ecosystem - engaging with community volunteers, collaboration with formal and informal community level workforce i.e. ASHA, ANM, W/VCPC and Bal Panchayat members
- Collaboration with government and Non-Government agencies
Although community ownership and participation are important, it is also essential to ask who is the community and who holds the decision-making power. It is not uncommon for NGOs to work with community leaders to convene several open discussions at which decisions are made in regard to forming community groups. This approach is problematic because quite often there are marginalized people, including children and the poorest of the poor, who either do not attend such gatherings or remain voiceless when they do attend. Because the decision making process is not inclusive, it is ill advised to speak of community ownership.
Miracle tries its best to ensure the same by involving them in each and every step of the program such as planning, implementation and monitoring. Under the technical guidance of Leher (NGO), Miracle implemented some of the tools such as problem tree analysis, categorization and prioritization of issues, and involving the community not only to identify the issues but also prepare a plan to solve the problem.
Community views and needs are given due weight in all aspects. High levels of community ownership were evident throughout the planning and implementation phases. Miracle’s role is always as a facilitator and ensures the bottom-up approach with the community.
With regular technical mentoring support toDF, capacity building on different topics and sensitization workshop with community and field presence, major achievement of the program are as follows:
The field team built a good rapport in the community and families were identified through community mapping, detailed key informant interviews, FGDs, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and total 126 vulnerable families at the verge of separation were identified. Miracle developed a Home Thrive ScaleTM for baseline data analysis as well as for follow up throughout the project period with the children and families.
Total 50 Community Volunteers (CVs) were identified and they were capacitated in Life Skill Education (LSE), Parenting Skill and in process to get trained in psycho-social support. They were also engaged for family strengthening work with identified vulnerable families. Community volunteers are reaching out to children and families to impart the training on LSE and Parenting Skill as per the need of the community.
During the pandemic, CVs took up the challenge to create awareness on COVID in their respective areas, identified females and linked them with Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), Public Distribution System (PDS) and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). They also linked families with NGOs for COVID relief support and prepared a plan for convergence with formal and informal groups in the community to address any COVID related emergencies. A WhatsApp group of the committee members was also created for regular communication and sharing the informative materials (Govt. Resolution, documents and videos) pertaining to the importance of V/WCPC in the community and child protection.
To address the issues related to child rights and child protection, the Village/ Ward Child Protection Committee (V/WCPC) and Bal Panchayat were formed. Regular meetings are being organized with these groups at intervention areas. Community volunteers are also involved in the meeting to create awareness and ownership on the community issues. The initial meeting with the V/WCPC members focused on discussion on the roles & responsibilities, rapport building, discussing roles and responsibilities, now the discussion has moved to discussing the community issues and solutions through the problem tree exercise. With the help of problem tree exercise, VCPC members discussed the case and identified issues,
such as lack of livelihood for parents, dropout issues for children. Once issues were identified, the VCPC members identified stakeholders (SMC & PRI) and coordinated with them and counselled children and parents and prevented dropout also linked parents with MGNREGA schemes. Volunteers are currently helping the parents in gathering documents required for the scheme.
Community ownership is the key for the sustainability of the program which could be done by engaging and Involving community from the Initiation of the program, a community centric approach is required where communities should talk about their problems, causes and solution of the problem. Role of NGO representatives should be as a facilitator. The approach should always be bottom-up with the community.
Data analysis/Finding of need assessment and HTS should be discussed with community to ensure their partnership and ownership for the program.
Enabling collaboration within community among existing formal and informal institutions should be ensured.
In upcoming days, Miracle will continue the efforts to strengthen W/VCPC, develop roadmap for initiating and sustaining the Bal Panchayats process as a model of child governance, collaboration with village/ward level formal and informal institutions and leverage technologic/HTs for Family Strengthening initiatives.