Reporting any Child Safety Concern

In developing our child safety policy for the school and SOC we canvassed supporters, many of whom are professionals in education and child welfare, for their feedback and comments - and a very good suggestion came in: to make it easy for visitors and volunteers to report any incident they witness.

Cambodia, alongside many other nations - including western nations - is undergoing an evolution in attitudes towards practices that were once common-place: the smacking of children for example. And don't forget, in impoverished Cambodia, household violence and alcohol problems are definitely a part of the wider social fabric. So we're not going to pretend that violence or abuse are non-existent here. If you do see any cases that we should follow-up, please let us know.

For some background on how this issue has been dealt with locally check out our September 2011 newsletter. (This will take 30 seconds or so to download.)

The other - and very important dimension to child safety concerns visitors and volunteers. If you see any visitors or volunteers compromising the safety of children at the school or SOC - please let us know.

You can fill in an incident report - send a message (below) or contact me directly. I will need:

  • What happened - what you saw.
  • Where and when it occurred.

Send an email to: Duncan Stuart  Include your name and phone number and I will:

  • Let you know I have received your report.
  • Follow this up - setting out the actions that will result.
  • Let you know the outcomes.

See below our Child Safety Policy.  Or download a copy.

 

In Cambodia, many child safety policies are all about visitors. Our child and safety policy goes somewhat wider and addresses health, freedom from violence, freedom from fear as well as guidelines for volunteers.  

CHILD SAFETY POLICY - NOVEMBER 2011

Introduction. Savong’s School and SOC (Savong Organisation Cambodia) are committed to creating a safe, supportive environment for children and to give these children education they would not otherwise have received – in order that they reach greater potential in life. We also recognise that children have the right to live in health, without violence and without fear.

For that reason, Child Safety is extremely important at Savong School and the SOC. These organizations work in an under-privileged community environment, and with a wide variety of volunteers from a variety of cultures, so it is important that a clear child safety policy is laid down in order that everyone understand what is, and what is not acceptable practice. This policy sets out the principles and rules for ensuring safety for all children who attend Savong School and who live at the SOC.  
  • Staff will be familiar with these policies, and all visitors will be given a copy of these policies to ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities.

 
Health and Accident Prevention.  Savong School and SOC is committed to the promotion of a healthy and safe environment for children. Children mix with others, and learn through their natural spirit of adventure and play – so in these circumstances there will always be risks of illness (for example through common contagious diseases) and injury – for example through falling off a bicycle. Even so, where illness is readily preventable the policy is clear: take whatever steps are possible to prevent the illness, and in the case of a child falling sick or needing treatment because of injury – take whatever steps are necessary to bring the child back to full health.
 
Many health and safety issues are associated with poverty or lack of resources, and visitors and supporters are encouraged to contribute time, skills or financial resources to improving the standards of health and safety.
 
Prevention and treatment of sickness.
  • Children and staff will be educated about best practices in hygiene and food preparation. Instructions (for example “Wash your Hands”) shall be posted in clear Khmer and Pictograms.
  • Water at the school and SOC will be tested regularly – at least twice a year.
  • Children resident at the SOC will receive a medical check twice a year. A health record shall be kept up to date for each child. The health check shall include:
    • Eye examination
    • Ear examination
    • Blood pressure and blood tests.
    • An overall review of skin health and search for symptoms.
  • Parents have the responsibility to keep sick children home from school during times of sickness.
  • Where vaccinations for preventable disease are possible and available, these shall be administered at the school and the SOC.
  • A special account shall be set aside so that there are always available resources for medical or ambulance bills.
  • All sickness, illness or medical conditions shall be treated without delay.
 
Prevention and treatment of accidents.
 
  • All injuries will be treated immediately.

  • First Aid Kits will be kept at the School and SOC, and these will be easily accessible.

  • Contact names of the local doctor, hospital and ambulance service will be posted at the school and SOC.

  • The parent or parents of the child will be notified, and if necessary, given transport to see their child (for example if the child is in hospital.)

  • All accidents shall be recorded in an Accident & Injury Book – for regular review – with recommendations. The approach involves identifying risks then taking steps to eliminate or minimize these risks. Safety meetings shall be held with staff every 6 months.

 
Floods and storms
  • In the case of severe storms or flooding, there shall be a clear evacuation plan. This includes:

    • An agreed meeting place for the children.
    • Transport to a safer place.
    • Accommodation
    • Checking the safety of water supplies after these climate events.
 
Safety from violence.  All children have the right to physical and emotional safety. This includes the assurance that they will be safe in their home environment, their school environment and in their day to day life. Therefore:
  • The school students shall have easy access to trustworthy adults – school staff - to assist them in cases where there are cases of physical or emotional violence - including domestic violence. This access to help shall be made explicit.

  • The SOC will have a full time, 24 hour manager on site and in cases where there are cases of physical or emotional violence including domestic violence. This access to help shall be made explicit.

  • No physical violence, (hitting, physical disciplining, smacking, fighting) will be tolerated at the school or SOC.  This includes physical violence from carers, visitors, staff, parents or fellow-students.

  • Children will be treated respectfully and encouraged to report any violence if this occurs, and provided with protection if this is necessary.

  • Police will be involved if there is any issue of violence that cannot be immediately resolved.

  • The management and staff of the SOC and the school shall have clear steps to take in the case of a violent situation—including numbers for the local police (and the phones to make these calls).

  • Emotional safety is also recognized – and this includes situations such as bullying or persistent belittling of individuals by others. Neither of these behaviours will be tolerated. School or SOC management will discipline those who offend.

  • Education will be provided to staff and students regarding conflict resolution and discipline - to encourage non-violent approaches.

  • Visitors who witness any violence or bullying are encouraged to report this to Savong or through the www.savong.com website CHILD SAFETY page.

Safety from Fear. All children at the school and SOC shall be protected as far as possible from situations that may put them in harm’s way. They have a right to live an environment that is nurturing and where they are treated with respect by other children and by adults just as we expect them to treat all others with respect.

  • School and SOC management and supervisors have a duty of care to oversee the general running of the school and SOC and to keep an eye on the safety of all children. They shall have the authority to ask students, staff, volunteers and visitors to comply with their requests.
  • Volunteers and visitors are here as guests of the School and SOC and must respect the need to create a stable, nurturing environment. For that reason please respect the privacy of each child.
    • Visits must be by prior arrangement.
    • We need your ID (Copy of passport and a copy of a police background check, but we need to view the originals - OR you can bring the originals & we can photocopy when you are here. ) 

    •  Visitors and volunteers will be asked to read and sign a copy of the Child Safety Policy to acknowledge they have read this document.
    • Visitors and volunteers may of course interact with the children – but not in the child’s personal space – for example their bedroom at the SOC – or when alone. Other adults and groups of children should be present. This guiding principle applies to interaction in their physical environment, but also via the phone and by internet.
    • Personal one-to-one contact via phone, email or social network websites such as Facebook is therefore prohibited unless – following discussion – it is explicitly authorised.  The purpose of these rules is to protect children from the potential of predators.
    • In addition to these specific guidelines, visitors should be respectful in the way they publish online in blogs or social network sites any photos, stories or identifying material that might compromise the child. For example young children in Cambodia may run around naked, but please do not post photos – especially where a child may be identified.
    • We encourage and enable visitors to accompany children from the school or SOC on day trips or extended field trips. This must be done by prior arrangement only, local adults and supervisors must be present and on no account may a visitor travel alone with a child.
  • Any suspected or actual sexual abuse or predatory behaviour by any individual, local or foreign, toward any child in the care of the school or SOC shall become, immediately, a police matter.  

Summary comments. This policy attempts to balance the need for safety against the basic right for children to enjoy a life full of play and adventure; a social life where they are free to meet other children, and have the pleasure of interacting and learning from adults including volunteers. The key is to show respect, and to encourage in the children that same respect for all those around them.

 

If there are items that are unclear, or you feel should be modified or added, please let us know.

 

Duncan Stuart

Duncan@kudos-dynamics.com

The child safety policy is the product of input from many supporters, some of whom work full time in child welfare agencies. In terms of health and playground safety a balance was sought between seeking safety for children, while allowing and even encouraging a sense of adventure and play.

How we are developing the policy

The Child Safety Policy (above) is a work in progress. We began with a good draft and then sent out a survey to past visitors, supporters and donors to Savong's projects - outlining the Child Safety Policy and asking for feedback. Among the respondents are those who work in child-care services in their own respective countries.

The survey has demonstrated that child safety issues are a topic of hot debate world-wide. For example there is the trade-off between absolute safety, versus the desirability of 'adventure play.'  To exaggerate: there are those of us who think the climbing of trees should be banned (the child might fall and break their neck) and those of us who shudder that we might ban such adventure play.

A similar issue is that of physical discipline - and our research has shown that smacking, or hitting of children in Cambodia is far from uncommon. Is a light smack permissable?

So we are trying to keep a balanced viewpoint of acceptable practices that don't crimp the fundamental freedoms that children should be entitled to enjoy - the freedom to play and learn and socialise. Feel welcome to join the conversation.


"Well done, I think the issue of the children's room being private is an excellent one, as well as the one re email etc....  I also wonder what steps could be taken in regards to background checks of those that volunteer? Is is possible to request that volunteers bring an official background check from their country of origin. Also having volunteers read and sign a copy your safety policy stating they understand and will abide by it, when they first arrive, means that they are given the clear message that child safety is important and serious."

Feedback via survey

"This is a tricky area. You want to avoid persecuting an innocent volunteer, but of course much more important is to prevent serious and abusive behaviour. I think all volunteers should be made aware of exactly what is and isn't allowed by signing a consent form at the start of, or preferably before, their stint at the school."
Feedback via survey

 

 

Why we ask for Police clearance

Cambodia has, unfortunately, become something of a target for child predators. The local police have units dedicated to gathering evidence on such people - and the USA among other countries led the way in ensuring that extradition from Cambodia of anyone arrested would be followed up by a full trial in the suspect's own country. (See this ABC news report.)

But prevention is better than cure. This has meant that NGOs and similar organisations have stepped up their level of caution regarding the strangers and visitors they get to meet each year. For sure, this is uncomfortable territory, and gets us into that conversation where we - and others - are now asking: "Sorry, but you'll need to produce a police clearance from your own country before you can visit or volunteer." 

That's not to say that we automatically assume everyone is a predator. But such steps are required in the same way that by clicking on a safety belt we're simply acknowledging a worst case scenario.

What's the worst case? In 2010 Siem Reap was rocked by news that the English director of a well regarded orphanage had, during his tenure, been abusing children in his care.  We still regard that orphanage highly by the way - and their child safety standards show how serious they are: no cameras, no photos of the kids - everybody has to sign in and sign out. And police clearance.

This writer is in New Zealand, and I asked my local police station about how hard or easy is it to obtain a proof of my police record. The answer is: it is easy. It takes about 2-3 weeks and can be applied-for online, though you need to scan or copy your driver license and/or passport as proof of identity.

  • http://www.justice.govt.nz/services/criminal-records/forms/request-by-individual.pdf

In Australia you can begin by checking this website of the Federal Police.

  • http://www.afp.gov.au/what-we-do/police-checks/national-police-checks.aspx

So what we'll be doing on this page is finding out how to go about this in each of the main countries from where we have - and enjoy - volunteers. USA, Australia, Singapore, Sth Korea and Japan and the UK as well as NZ.

Feedback to our survey of supporters has included the suggestion from many folk that these police clearances should be standard practice.

Standards in Cambodia

We are grateful to TearFund and the Cambodian Ministery of Education for researching attitudes to violence in Cambodia. TearFund organised a large-scale research project in partnership with Christian agencies and churches in Cambodia.

The first stage of the research involved focus groups of boys and girls aged 11-13 from an urban slum community, a rural community and a provincial town community, and found that most children believed that children should be beaten by teachers if they are disobedient or if they “made a mistake”, with few feeling that beating was inappropriate in some cases. Children also felt that parents should beat children if they “made a mistake”.

The second stage, supported by the Ministry of Education, comprised a written questionnaire survey of 1,314 children aged 12-15. Half of the boys (50.5%) and over a third of the girls (36.4%) reported having been beaten by their parents; 82.4% of girls and 81.1% of boys reported witnessing other children being beaten by their parents. Nearly one in four girls (24.1%) and over one in three boys (34.7%) reported having been beaten by their teacher in school.”

These figures reported courtesy of Miles, G. & Varin, S., 2005, “Stop Violence Against Us!” a preliminary national research study into the prevalence and perceptions of Cambodian children to violence against children in Cambodia, Summary report, Tearfund.

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