Investing in caregivers | Empowering child survivors in prevention | Strengthening skills & safety
Challenging Heights work in under-served coastal communities in Ghana, providing support to women and children in hard-to-reach areas which are at risk of child trafficking. Programming covers prevention initiatives: helping tackle root causes for child trafficking, such as poverty, naivety, and family separation; response: including a holistic rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration programme for children affected by forced labour; and advocacy: to change policies and practices in source communities.
COVID-19 threatened these programmes. Not only has it been eroding the years of support Challenging Heights has provided to caregivers and perpetuating poverty, but amidst growing needs, direct response programmes have experienced slower implementation and a need to adapt to the current situation. The increased needs, concurrent vulnerabilities, and new terrain we are working in, led us to develop the following initiatives, supported by Family for Every Child.
1. COVID-19 responsive livelihood training programmes for vulnerable caregivers
COVID-19 has impacted caregivers’ livelihoods, and therefore their capacity to look after children in their care. In response, Challenge Heights delivered a training programme supporting at-risk caregivers to produce essential goods, and generate income for their households. Outreach was delivered through Community Child Protection Committees who supported the caregivers, many of whom were traditionally fishmongers, to see this as an alternative source of income.
A total of 35 women were trained in soap production, 80% of whom had child survivors living with them. The women received seed capital to get their businesses up and running, and help them achieve greater financial stability. For example, Odelia* was in need of additional income to support her two children. For her, learning to produce soap not only assisted her in developing a useful skill to support income generation, but helped reduce household costs as she no longer needed to purchase soap from the market.
Livelihood training in essential goods production like liquid soap production does not only save household income, but serves as an avenue to earn income. Provision of training to women who are among the most vulnerable population is essential to provide child care during the pandemic
The women also developed their own network between each other to share information regarding production, distribution and marketing, creating their own mechanisms to support the initiatives sustainability. Delivering the training in the local language also helped engage community members. Finally, another key learning was that when COVID-19 protocols are followed, face-to-face training is possible.
2. Keeping reintegration staff safe through training and protective equipment
Helping ensure staff’s ability to safely be in the field was part of Challenging Height’s initial response to the pandemic. In order to achieve this, reintegration staff received Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), so they could more safely continue to visit survivors and at-risk children of trafficking and provide continuous care. They also helped deliver PPE to some of these children and families, and received training on how to protect themselves and the children they served from contracting COVID-19.
Challenging Heights worked with key stakeholders to ensure community outreach was effective. This included cooperation with local government and authorities to be able to continuously monitor survivors; and parents and teachers who were able to help keep us informed via phone. In some cases government staff accompanied reintegration staff on house visits, with all those working in the field following COVID-19 protocols.
Challenges did however emerge. In particular, issues were related to children’s awareness levels of the pandemic and prevention, which was also addressed in activities outlined in the next section. Ensuring ongoing access to PPE is also a challenge.
3. Training child survivors in COVID-19 preventive measures and therapeutic care
Challenging Heights has also been working to empower child survivors of child labour in both COVID-19 preventative measures and providing therapeutic care. The aim of the preventative programme is to help ensure their physical and mental health, including mitigating the negative impacts of COVID-19 on their recovery process. So far, 54 survivors have been trained in COVID-19 preventive measures such as washing hands regularly, application of sanitizer, wearing masks, identifying symptoms and when and how to receive treatment.The shelter itself also followed COVID-19 protocols, to help children and staff stay safe and protected. Helpfully, the government has supported this training, providing a health official as facilitator.
In regards to therapeutic care, group and individual child counseling sessions were introduced for the children to speak with the staff about their concerns, especially those whose reintegration into their communities was delayed. Challenging Heights balanced the need between maintaining connection to families with social distancing by allowing parents and caretakers to visit the rehabilitation centre, but not allowing physical contact. Arts and narrative therapies also continued at the shelter through this period.