10 Key Principles for Protecting Vulnerable Children and Families During a Global Pandemic

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10 KEY PRINCIPLES FOR PROTECTING VULNERABLE CHILDREN AND FAMILIES DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC WHAT IS COVID-19? COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus. ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, and ‘D’ for disease. Formerly, this disease was referred to as ‘2019 novel coronavirus’ or ‘2019-nCoV.’ The COVID-19 virus is a new virus linked to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and some types of common cold.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19? Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia or breathing difficulties. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. These symptoms are similar to the flu (influenza) or the common cold, which are a lot more common than COVID-19. Testing is required to confirm if someone has COVID-19.

HOW DOES COVID-19 SPREAD? The virus is transmitted through direct contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person (generated through coughing and sneezing). Individuals can also be infected from and touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and touching their face (e.g., eyes, nose, mouth). The COVID-19 virus may survive on surfaces for several hours, but simple disinfectants can kill it.

WHO IS MOST AT RISK? We are learning more about how COVID-19 affects people every day. Older people, and people with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, appear to be more at risk of developing severe symptoms. As this is a new virus, we are still learning about how it affects children. We know it is possible for people of any age to be infected with the virus, but so far there are relatively few cases of COVID-19 reported among children. This is a new virus and we need to learn more about how it affects children. The virus can be fatal in rare cases, so far mainly among older people with pre-existing medical conditions.

WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR COVID-19? There is no currently available vaccine for COVID-19. However, many of the symptoms can be treated and getting early care from a healthcare provider can make the disease less dangerous. There are several clinical trials that are being conducted to evaluate potential therapeutics for COVID-19.

HOW CAN THE SPREAD OF COVID-19 BE SLOWED DOWN OR PREVENTED? As with other respiratory infections like the flu or the common cold, public health measures are critical to slow the spread of illnesses. Public health measures are everyday preventive actions that include: · staying home when sick; · covering mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing. · washing hands often with soap and water; and cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects. · when outside keep the social distance of at least 2 meters between people As we learn more about COVID-19 public health officials may recommend additional actions.

IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON CHILDREN, FAMILIES, AND COMMUNITIES COVID-19 is a global pandemic which threatens children's rights in countries around the world and exposes them to potentially massive disruption to their healthcare, education, access to basic needs and services like food, protection and social interaction with family members, teachers, peers and communities. We know that children and families, and particularly the most vulnerable and deprived, including children without parental care and especially those in institutions, are currently and will be impacted for months and years to come.

Health: Experience from previous disease outbreaks highlight major risks to children and their families that arise from the pressure on healthcare systems resulting in reduced access to routine health services (e.g. disruption of routine immunisation and essential obstetric care services, co-morbidity and a predicted rise in other common causes of childhood illness like pneumonia). Although epidemiology of the virus suggests that older people and people with chronic medical conditions appear to be more at risk of developing severe symptoms, children are able to both get infected and transmit the disease-a fact not widely understood to-date. Poor hygiene practices combined with lack of sufficient hygiene supplies and personal hygiene habits such as sneezing or coughing in one's hand can exacerbate the spread of the virus. Food insecurity due to economic burdens, availability and access of essential items may be long term, increasing cases of malnutrition and livelihoods loss.. Education: At this time, it is estimated 862 million children are currently out of school due to Covid-19. The impact is already visible, and it could be continued for up to 12 months. The longterm impact of children out school now will extend beyond learning objectives and will hit the most vulnerable families and most marginalised (e.g girls) the hardest. Child protection: Further impacts of COVID-19 include heightened risks to child abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, psychological stress and negative impacts on development through loss of or separation from primary caregivers, loss of connection to protection mechanisms and services, limited access to community support, disruption in livelihoods and family connections, fear and anxiety caused by a pandemic and the increase of domestic violence in the home. Vulnerabilities can increase for children facing discrimination due to their ethnic group, children with disabilities, children migrating and/or facing displacement, and children living in institutions, juvenile justice and other detention centres. The mental health and psychosocial impact of quarantine, isolation, stigmatization, and separation from caregivers, loss of routine, connections and education can take a devastating psychological toll on children if not immediately supported. Additionally, when parents and caregivers become ill, it becomes increasingly difficult to effectively care for their children. This is exasperated by the fact that older adults who themselves face additional risks to COVID-19, may play a caregiving role. Caregivers facing significant loss of income without a family or societal safety-net may feel forced to resort to negative coping strategies that further place children at risk of child labour, early marriage, and early pregnancy.


#0 INFORMATION Ensure you have access to reliable, accurate and up to date information. Global information on the pandemic, WHO information on the latest advice and COVID-19 developments, information on government mitigation strategies, and of course access to technical information on child protection and care. Use simple templates to process, share and update information, so your team can all be up to date and can ask any questions and clarifications. Ensure information from reliable sources including government led information reaches all your beneficiaries in an appropriate format, accessible to all including in child friendly formats. Â Monitor local movement restrictions relevant to project sites and other areas, workforce/business closures/restrictions, school and other education facilities closures, in addition to monitoring specific guidance issued by national Ministries of Health, and security at country level. Monitor measures issued specifically for the child protection and care system and monitor the situation of health care infrastructure resilience, basic food prices, price for utilities, economic mitigation measures implemented by governments, including monitoring of social welfare systems.


Adopt key principles for planning your actions, for example child-centred, familyfocused, and community-based, in addition to the fundamental principles embedded in the UNGAC: the principles of necessity and suitability. A shared understanding of the values you adopt in all your planned interventions during the crisis will provide clarity for decision making and actions and will support effective collaboration and partnerships. Make sure your work continues to be driven by your values. · Prioritise and focus your efforts on the most critical work essential to maintain your commitments to children and families in your programmes. · Continue safeguarding children and adults at risk through appropriate measures. · Maintain your commitment to deliver your objectives and strategy. · Maintain your partnerships and collaborations. · Understand the role you can play in the child protection and care system, in the current circumstances.


Be aware that existing risks will increase, and new risks will appear. Always ask the question: what could be the unintended consequences of our actions? Â Social distancing can lead to social isolation which has negative consequences with higher impact on families at risk. The restrictive measures have consequences which impact negatively across: living conditions, family and social relationships, education, health, behaviour and household income. Families, both adults and children, suffer when services are discontinued. When schools are closed children will spend more time at home, sometimes in very tight quarters, without having access to online education or other stimulation. Parents and carers will face increased stress having to deal with childcare and income generation in such constrained circumstances. There could be increased risks for child abuse and neglect, increased risks of anti-social behaviours to escalate and for intra-familial violence. Children in institutions face increased risks. Women, girls, children and adults with disabilities are high risk categories and mitigation strategies will have to take account of these groups. Â Manage risks but plan to act on strengths. Build on pre-existing relationships of trust, adapt successful community engagement approaches, enable children, parents, carers and community volunteers and leaders to find solutions for the challenges they are facing. Focus on strengths when designing solutions, seek to amplify and leverage protective factors.


Each community is unique and appropriate communication and mitigation strategies will vary based on the level of community transmission, characteristics of the community and local capacity to implement strategies. Virtually all communities on earth will experience outbreaks, and a substantial proportion of people will become ill during a period of 12 to 18 months. Supplies of COVID-19 tests, vaccines and antiviral medication will be at best inadequate, and absent in some countries. Healthcare systems will be overwhelmed, and there may be a rise in secondary illnesses and unnecessary deaths. Societal and economic disruption are expected globally, but they’ll be exacerbated in countries with weaker infrastructure, economies and institutions. The country level situation is likely to evolve rapidly and there will be little time for preparedness.


The unprecedented scale of the pandemic and its early impacts indicate clearly that this is the time for system thinking, collaboration and coordinated action. Successful interventions involve coordination among networked actors child protection and social services, local schools and kindergartens, health services, employment agencies, social welfare providers, housing departments and NGOs. Ideally, families can be identified for additional support by any actor within the professional network at the earliest sign of crisis. Members of the network can be mobilized and collaborate to assist the family in sourcing the help they need from the appropriate agencies. Families may be provided with essential supplies e.g. firewood; medicines; equipment, toiletries, food, clothing and bedding for young children; materials for essential household repairs and access to the relevant government social protection.


We know from the past that in crisis situations we see an increase in residential care and new institutions are set up despite the evidence of the negative impacts on children, families and communities. We must prevent the development of new institutions and support governments to continue to implement care reform strategies.  Where sufficient assessment, planning and preparation has been undertaken to make an appropriate placement decision for children, and which has been or can be approved by the relevant authorities, the carefully planned and supported transition out of institutions should continue in the best interests of the child. We must ensure there are no new placements in institutions through crosssectoral coordination including government agencies, NGOs and civil society in areas of health, child protection, education, livelihoods and employment and finance among others. Institution managers and professionals must be included in this process.  There might be opportunities to work with different stakeholders which could lead to creative solutions and innovation. Use community mobilisation and resources, innovate with technology, adapt practice to ensure prevention measures are being observed and most importantly, put children, parents and carers in the driving seat.


Using a child centred, family focused, community-based approach we need be able to respond and meet urgent needs, to remain flexible in our response, planning and reviewing the situation to inform our actions. We need to continue to adapt and focus on building and strengthening the trust we have with children and their carers, with communities and other key stakeholders. Â Whilst we respond to short term needs, we must adapt to ensure medium term outcomes, and we must always plan for the recovery phase. Plan one month at a time, within a quarterly framework and review your plans on monthly and then quarterly basis. Track your progress and the ever-changing context to ensure alignment. Do not forget your strategy, mission, vision and your overall objectives and make sure your adapted programme keeps you on track.


In all interventions place children first and view them not in isolation but in connection with their main carers, close and extended family members and the wider community. Â Target the interventions so they reach and impact on all relevant wellbeing domains: improving living conditions, strengthening family and social relationships, providing for physical and mental health, access to education and a sustainable household economy. Â Treat family members as active participants in the whole process of support rather than passive recipients. Long-term family sustainability is sought by making community support and access to government social protection systems.


Document, share and inspire with stories of success. Â We all need to build the story of hope and resilience in addition to making sure that our learning and successes no matter how small they might be seen, can help others to overcome similar challenges. Learn from mistakes to make sure those are not repeated. Â Use success stories to inspire and motivate your team, to inspire the communities you work in, to strengthen families. Remember, people will step up when they know they are needed, and that they can make a difference and how they can make a difference.


The current situation provides with an opportunity for leadership: inclusive, thoughtful, reassuring and inspiring leadership. Now is the time to mobilise all our resources: your own group resources, the community and government system resources, in addition to bringing the local and international donors to lend a helping hand.


Adapt your monitoring and evaluation system and ensure reflective learning. This provides you with an opportunity to ensure children, parents, carers and other community members feedback directly into your measurement system. Â Collect, aggregate and use data for programme review, to ensure you maintain flexibility and adaptability whilst delivering outcomes for children and families.

Dr. Delia Pop

This document accompanies an April 15, 2020 webinar with

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