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“We need our partners to know that if something goes wrong, we’re here to support them, not blame them.” Joanna Clark, Deaf Child Worldwide’s Director

Deaf Child Worldwide is the international development arm of the National Deaf Children’s Society and works through partner organisations in East Africa, South Asia and Latin America. In 2014, Deaf Child Worldwide drew on ChildHope’s expertise to strengthen its safeguarding and child protection policies. We spoke to Deaf Child Worldwide’s director Joanna Clark to find out more.

Can you give us an introduction to Deaf Child Worldwide’s work?

We support deaf children and young people and their families to help develop their communication and language skills at home, in school and in the community. We work with schools and the education sector more broadly to make sure systems become more appropriate for deaf students, and we support deaf young people with training in life skills, relationships and livelihoods.

What safeguarding risks do deaf children face?

They face all the same risks as hearing children, but deaf children in particular are often targeted as there’s the assumption that they won’t be able to communicate to other people what has happened to them. We work in some very rural, poor communities where children may have very little knowledge of what the norms are around the behaviour of adults or others or even within the family. So they can be very vulnerable.

Is it true that some parents don’t realise they are abusing their children?

Sadly there can be a lot of abuse in the home, with parents not always understanding it as such. Many disabled children aren’t able to communicate well with their families and often aren’t sent to school. As a result, they can get very frustrated and sometimes this is interpreted as aggression or lack of cooperation. People at home or in the street or even the police often don’t understand that the deaf children can’t easily express themselves, and this can result in inappropriate and sometimes violent responses from adults.

What led you to getting in touch with ChildHope?

We’ve always had a designated safeguarding officer – someone who oversees what’s happening with our partners. Part of our agreement with our partners is that they have a child protection policy and that they recognise ours. But it’s one thing having things on paper – it’s another thing actually putting these things into practise. Around four years ago, we decided to invest more to integrate safeguarding into everything we were doing. We wanted to make sure everyone on our team was up to speed with safeguarding and child protection, so we invited ChildHope in to do some training for us.

Tell us about your safeguarding training with ChildHope.

ChildHope delivered a really good training session – it was very interactive and everyone got a lot out of it. As a result we’ve had a number of training sessions from ChildHope for our UK team and for people from our regional offices when they’re over in London. Since that first training, we’ve moved from having a designated safeguarding officer who was responsible for safeguarding in addition to their everyday role, to having someone who spends half their time on safeguarding. She has been able to come up with a more systematic way to go through safeguarding issues with our partners, making better assessments of where they are in terms of their safeguarding understanding and implementation and what we can do to support them.

What other support have you had from ChildHope?

We now have plans to run regular safeguarding training for our partners and ChildHope is helping us identify local experts to support us with that training. They’ve already introduced us to their partners in Kenya and Uganda. The plan is that they’ll deliver training on the broader, more generic safeguarding issues and then we’ll bring in a specific element on issues facing deaf children. We’re also looking at how safeguarding training can be made much more accessible to deaf people.

What do you get out of ChildHope’s Lunch and Learn seminars?

The Lunch and Learn seminars are really valuable. Different members of our team have attended and without exception they’ve found them very helpful. They are a great opportunity to meet colleagues from other agencies - we’ve really appreciated having a good forum to discuss what are sometimes quite complex issues. As an organisation working through partners, we are usually two or three steps removed when a safeguarding incident happens. It’s really valuable to hear from other organisations who work in the same way. We can think through together what our role should be in those difficult situations.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt about working with partners on safeguarding issues?

For us, it’s about really developing relationships with our partners so that we can talk openly about things. It can be hard to speak up about something negative because there’s the worry you’ll get a negative response. We need really clear procedures in place so that everyone understands them and feels comfortable implementing them and we need our partners to know that if something goes wrong, we’re here to support them, not blame them.

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