People living in extreme poverty are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. They often are in desperate need of basic necessities, they often lack a public voice to speak up for their rights, and they often don’t know their rights or what recourse they have when those rights are violated. Children in extreme poverty are even more vulnerable — the biggest reason, perhaps, that they are preyed upon by those who would exploit and abuse children.
We must never turn a blind eye to this abuse or believe that something like this could never happen in our midst.
“This is an incredibly painful topic, one that breaks the heart of God,” says Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, President of Compassion International. “But sadly, it’s a reality of our sin-stained world and one that we must not ignore. Our desire is that under no circumstances will any abuse, harm, assault or exploitation of children be tolerated or accepted by our ministry.”
At Compassion, we are passionate about ensuring that children in poverty are known, loved and protected. Therefore, child protection is not just part of our ministry; it is foundational to our ministry.
That’s why we have developed, and continue to develop, robust training, policies and networks to both prevent and respond to abuse.
PREVENTION AND EDUCATION
In order to best protect children, we take a proactive stance toward these issues — not just responding to instances of abuse, but actively training and educating in order to prevent harm to a child.
The frontline staff who interact with sponsored children on a daily basis are volunteers and staff members at local churches that host Compassion-assisted centers. Although these are not Compassion staff, we are serious about ensuring that they are trained in Child Protection. When a church first begins partnering with Compassion, they go through a thorough training in Child Protection. In addition to signing our Code of Conduct and Statement of Commitment to Child Protection every year, beginning this year, they will also attend a refresher session on Child Protection annually.
Children and Caregivers
Each year, children receive age-appropriate training in Child Protection through Compassion’s curriculum. This ensures that children know what their rights are, how to protect themselves, and how they can respond if they or someone they know is hurt.
“While it’s not a child’s fault if they have been hurt, we want to give kids the tools to protect themselves, to make choices that help keep them safe, and to empower them to yell or run away or tell an adult so they can prevent a situation from getting worse,” says Megan Kelly, Compassion International’s Senior Child Protection Advisor.
Parents or caregivers are also trained each year in knowing their children’s rights, as well as how to respond if something were to happen.
Regional and International Staff
Our national, regional and international staff, who do not regularly visit children in their work, complete computer-based training on Child Protection when they are hired, as well as sign our Code of Conduct and Statement of Commitment to Child Protection, saying they understand and acknowledge Compassion’s Child Protection standards, expectations of behavior and our ethics standards. Beginning this year, they will also repeat this training annually. Employees who visit Compassion centers on a more frequent basis, such as sponsor trip leaders, receive additional training on Child Protection.
Visitors to Our Ministry
One of the most life-changing opportunities for sponsors is the opportunity to visit the child they sponsor. These visits encourage children and give sponsors a whole new perspective on their ministry to that child. While we know that sponsors are dedicated child advocates, our priority is always Child Protection, so we have guidelines for all visitors to our ministry, including sponsors, contractors and vendors. Visitors must undergo background checks as well as Child Protection training during their trip preparation. They sign the Code of Conduct, which includes behavioral expectations such as never meeting alone with a child. We require that all visitors follow these policies without exception so that all children may be safe.
We have been working for the past year and a half to make these policies even stronger, and in the future, Child Protection education will be woven throughout visits to see our ministry.
While our prayer is that our prevention and education efforts protect children from instances of harm, the reality is that abuse does occur.
“Our goal is to have a consistent high-quality approach to protecting children that focuses on prevention. We want to prevent abuse from occurring, rather than restoring a child from harm,” says Kelly. “The reality is that because we live in a fallen world, abuse will still happen, so there is a component of Child Protection that has to be ready to respond to instances of abuse. We intervene when harm has occurred, restore a sense of safety, and help the child to heal from their experience.”
Anyone can and is encouraged to report suspected abuse, including children, caregivers, staff, volunteers and visitors. Our Compassion staff, church partner staff and our volunteers are required to report if they have reason to believe a child may have been harmed. The most common reporting we receive is from children or caregivers of children who have experienced abuse in the community. They have come to see the church as a safe place where they can turn.
Compassion also uses Ethics Point hotline that allows for anonymous reporting as well as Ethics Point Child Protection software that allows anyone to file a complaint of abuse or misconduct.
Abuse goes beyond just sexual abuse and can include neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, child labor, human trafficking, and harmful cultural practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation. We respond to all of these when they are reported, including physical abuse. In Compassion’s program, we have a prohibition against physical discipline. In most contexts in which we work, physical discipline is not a crime. But our expectation with our church partners is that regardless of the cultural beliefs that exist about physical discipline at home or school, we don’t engage in physical discipline at any Compassion center.
Once a complaint is filed, Compassion has a robust process for learning the truth. If the allegation involves the harm of a child by a member of the community, our church partner would lead the response, with Compassion’s support. If the allegation involves a member of our church partner or someone affiliated with Compassion, Compassion’s Child Protection team would carry out the investigation with our Audit team working in parallel. In some instances, an outside agency may be brought in to assist in the investigation. If Compassion has reason to believe a crime has been committed, Compassion would always alert the appropriate authorities, no exceptions.
If the investigation involves an employee and we determine abuse or misconduct has taken place, Compassion would administer disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment. If church partner staff, who are not employees of Compassion, were implicated in abuse, we would require that church partner to take appropriate action, including and up to termination of that staff member. If the church did not comply, we would engage in conversation with the church leaders to help them understand our concerns. Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of the children in our care, so Compassion can and would terminate the partnership with that church if we believed the safety of children in the program was at risk.
When a child experiences harm, we ensure children receive the care they need so they can recover in all the different aspects of their life.
- Medical: If it’s a case of physical or sexual abuse, care would generally involve medical intervention, including receiving a medical check and any necessary care and treatment.
- Counseling services: Depending on the nature of the abuse, we connect children with resources in the community to receive counseling support to recover.
- Legal counsel: When necessary, we help connect victims with legal counsel.
- Spiritual care: Our church partners come alongside the child and family to offer pastoral support and counseling to the hurting child and family.
- Alternative housing: When a child’s living arrangement is not safe, we support the child in finding an appropriate place to live where he or she is safe to recover.
PARTNERING TO PROTECT CHILDREN
In order to best protect children, Compassion partners with many organizations globally and locally. Some of these partnerships focus on training to prevent abuse, while others focus on responding to abuse, such as offering medical care and psychological care.
“The synergy we get by partnering is so much better than what we can do on own,” says Kelly.
For example, in Guatemala, we partner with an excellent organization called MOCVIN, which produces materials to train churches on preventing sexual violence against children. And in the U.S., we partner with expert organizations such as GRACE to shape our own training and policies. Our desire is to continue to strengthen these connections globally so that together we can share resources and expertise to protect children.
CONTINUING TO GROW
In an effort to always improve our protection policies, Compassion last year initiated Child Protection 2.0, a comprehensive, years-long approach to updating and standardizing Child Protection policies on a global level, as well as enhancing our training and improving our child protection strategies. This will allow us to continue to hone our commitment to and foundation of Child Protection and continue to raise awareness about child protection.
Tragically, ways to harm children continue to evolve, including the use of technology and social media. The availability of the internet in the areas where we work has also grown exponentially in the last several years, so our strategy needs to continue to adapt.
As we continue to develop Child Protection strategies, we will continue to educate church partner staff, Compassion staff and beneficiaries on ways to prevent harm, so that all children can be known, loved and protected.
Child protection begins with prevention.
11 Comments |Add a comment
It’s so good to know Compassion International has set up ways to prevent child abuse, or if it has occurred, to bring abusers to justice, if possible, and help the abused child through counseling, medical needs, and other needs too. Also, recognizing abuse occurring in a home, or classroom, and removing a child from that abuse is of utmost importance. It was so good to read this entire article and become aware of Compassion’s involvement, and tenants, legality, and more to prevent abuse, and educate children and adults to recognize when abuse is occurring and how to not only report it to appropriate authorities, including caregivers and teachers but to also learn how to escape abuse when it is occurring too. Very important article……
Child protection should not be taken as mere philo-concept but indeed a ground where we can serve the heart of God. We the communities around the world have the role to masterguide the rights and spiritual welfare of our children wherever they are on the globe!!!!
“It takes a village to raise a child”
Let us love our children.
IT IS WONDERFUL TO HAVE SUCH AN A MINISTRY/ORGANIZATION WHO HAVE AVENUES TO TO REACH THE MOST VULNERABLE CHILDREN AND OTHERS, I PRAY WE WILL GET THIS KIND OF SERVICES IN MY HOME STATE AND OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD WHERE CHILDREN AND ADULTS ARE ABUSED. My PRAYERS andSUPPORT WILL CONTINUE WILL WITH YOU.
GOD BLESS YOU BOUNTIFULLY andSTRENGTHEN EACH OF YOU ALWAYS.
Thank you for this article; it answered several questions I’d had. I sponsor a young girl in a part of the world where child marriage is a concern; this was mentioned as a form of abuse in the article (and rightly so). What happens if a child in the program becomes a victim of child marriage? Or are parents/caregivers required to promise that this won’t happen when they sign their daughters up for the program? For my sponsored child, I hope this won’t become an issue for a long time (if ever), as she’s very young.
Amanda, we appreciate the love and concern you have for your precious girl, Ashwinie. I can tell that this issue is very close to your heart, and we thank you for asking this question. Our heart is for every child to be known, loved and protected. As you may know after reading this blog, we take child protection very seriously. We have developed robust training, policies and networks to both prevent and respond to abuse. As our blog said, we do ensure that children know what their rights are, how to protect themselves, and how they can respond if they or someone they know is hurt. Parents/caregivers are not required to promise that they will not abuse their child. However, we do provide training to parents/caregivers each year, so they know their children’s rights, as well as how to respond if something were to happen. If our Compassion staff, church partner staff or our volunteers have any reason to believe a child may have been harmed (including child marriage), they are required to report it. We use Ethics Point Child Protection software that allows anyone to file a complaint of abuse or misconduct. Please rest assured that if Compassion has reason to believe a child has been a victim of child marriage, Compassion would always alert the appropriate authorities, no exceptions. I hope this information is helpful. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please email us at [email protected], and we would be happy to answer you there. Have a blessed day.
I am so eased to see the proactive response to a very difficult matter. Far better than being reactive, when the damage has been done. This makes a powerful statement in your commitment in keeping children safe. As one who was abused as child, this makes it even more so. God bless your ministry.
Hi Carolyn! Thank you so very much for your kind words and support! I am so sorry to hear about your past, but so thankful to know you are okay now and living a life of gratitude and support of others who need help! God bless you! -Shannon
This is good work you can extend it to Migori PAG church in Kenya
Hello Reverend Charles,
Thank you for your positive feedback on our program. If you would like for Compassion to possibly help children through your church, we would be happy to talk with you more about this to see if we can help. May I ask, Where is your church located in Kenya? Do you have children in need there? How old are these children? What denomination is your church? Thank you so much for getting back with us! Blessings, Shannon
A well-written article, Amber, on an important topic. My previous Compassion “child” was a female Indian college student when Compassion had to withdraw from her country. Violence against women is so severe there that it makes the news even in the USA, so I was always concerned for her safety, and still pray for her. My current child is a little girl in Haiti, another country where children are very vulnerable. I am glad to know that Compassion staff and the host church staff are trained and working hard to protect her!
Thank you for writing this post. Child abuse is a hard topic to write about. I am thankful that Compassion is dedicated to protecting children from abuse. I support four children through this ministry and I am grateful for your efforts in this area. Thank you again for the ministry of working with and protecting children in poverty.