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Why Safeguarding Matters: Our Experience Creating Safer Spaces for Children and Young People

Posted 19 December 2023 in EMpower News   |   Share

At a time when young people around the world face multiple risks at home, at school, online, and in their communities, safeguarding should not just be a buzzword. Creating a safer environment for young people—prioritising their safety, well-being, and rights—is essential.  

Of course, factors and contexts vary, but we should ensure that appropriate protective measures are in place. At EMpower, we recognise our role in facilitating opportunities that bring our grantee partners together to co-learn and strategise the best ways to do this. And our recent journey to advance youth safeguarding in East and Southeast Asia can shed light on how other organisations can do this.  

What Set the Wheels in Motion

It began when an issue having to do with child protection was brought to our attention by a local grantee partner. Although it was outside the purview of work supported by EMpower, it prompted us to think about and plan a regional learning initiative.  

In 2020, the EMpower Hong Kong team started an initiative in collaboration with a seasoned consultant to support our grantee partners in East and Southeast Asia in approaching safeguarding topics with more intentionality, equipping them with the right tools, while keeping children and young people front and centre in the process.  

A Glimpse into Our Journey Thus Far

To begin with, we invited all our grantee partners in the region to conduct self-assessments of their existing safeguarding policies and procedures based on the international minimum standards published by Keeping Children Safe. This self-reflection served as a first step for a more in-depth dialogue about strengthening practices over time.  

Using these self-assessments, we identified areas of strength but also potential gaps, offering suggestions from our external perspective. It is now an integral part of our regional due diligence procedure to ask all grantee partners, including new ones, to complete the safeguarding self-assessment on their policies and strategies. 

In 2021, when COVID-19 increased the risks young people faced in multiple ways, we kicked off a two-part webinar series on safeguarding children and young people in virtual spaces and developing effective NGO frameworks. Based on the positive response to the first series, we conceptualised and facilitated another one in 2022-2023, comprised of two webinars: one on assessment and the innovative management of risks, and the other on moving toward a safeguarding vision.  

Most of our partners actively participated in these webinars and expressed their enthusiasm for further learning opportunities. Seeing interest, we continued to nurture and fill this gap for knowledge and collaboration.

To facilitate self-paced learning, we established an online resource library with safeguarding resources and adaptable tools. Our partners have access to, for instance, a step-by-step guide for developing a thorough safeguarding framework through participatory approaches with different stakeholders involved in their programmes and organisations. They can find guidance on setting a vision and conducting strong safeguarding risk assessments, developing policies and procedures, implementing risk mitigation strategies, and responding effectively to harm.  

Over the last few years, we have seen the unique contexts and varied learning phases of our different grantee partners, which, in turn, inspired us to pilot one-on-one consultations in 2022. This allowed some of our partners to work directly with a consultant to further strengthen their organisational safeguarding practices. And we are continuing to offer customised safeguarding support.  

By adapting our approach based on feedback and evolving contexts, we are proud that we nurtured a collaborative learning process to reinforce safeguarding across the region.

Learning Together  

It is always EMpower’s priority to ensure the most useful learning experience for our grantee partners, a key aspect of our Theory of Change. We intentionally design dialogues and workshops to address both our grantee partners’ common concerns and their diverse interests.  

Some examples of the support our partners sought included: developing safeguarding frameworks that work in residential settings or outreach spaces, catering to groups of young people from minority backgrounds, understanding how to comply with local and international laws, improving the handling of concerns effectively, and engaging young people in the process of developing strong safeguarding frameworks.

After learning from each other, our partners were better equipped with tools to address these and other factors within their organisations. They can now further refine and implement their safeguarding practices within their organisational, programmatic, cultural, and legal contexts—and beyond.

Our Key Takeaways

We are grateful to our partners for their eagerness and commitment to continuously learn and improve, and to do what is in the best interests of children and young people.

Safeguarding is a team effort. It is an ongoing conversation and process that requires a continuous investment of time and a willingness to strengthen existing practices within programmes and organisations. By viewing safeguarding as an active dialogue rather than a mere compliance measure for funding purposes, we can cultivate a genuine environment that ensures the safety, well-being, and rights of those we serve and care for.

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