Upon completion, you will be able to:
- Identify ten practices essential to case management
- Recognize the elements that impact resilience in children
- Appreciate the diverse influences that contribute to or detract from a child’s physical and emotional well-being in case management situations
Case management services should be:
- Provide services in ways that are appropriate and accessible for children. For example, present information in formats/language that can be understood by children of different ages.
- Organize and deliver services and make decisions in a way that considers children’s needs and best interests. For example, consider holding reviews and meetings at times that are convenient for children and their families, rather than those that coincide with staff’s work day.
All children, and their families, possess resources and skills to help themselves and to contribute to solving their own problems. Throughout the case management process (including during assessment, case planning, and reviews), case workers should focus on empowering children and their families to recognise, prevent and respond to child protection concerns themselves. By considering the child's and family’s strengths and resources, caseworkers and supervisors will transcend identifying problems and providing services and will encourage children and families to play an active role in the case management process, thereby building their capacity for self-care.
Understanding resilience in children
Resilience is a concept that is often used in the child protection field, and yet it is sometimes misunderstood. Resilience does not mean that a child is unaffected by a crisis situation. Rather it is a measurement of the qualities and environmental factors that enable a child to recover and thrive despite experiencing adversity and trauma. No one thing makes a child resilient, but there are a number of internal and external factors that can contribute to increased resilience, including:
- a good relationship with at least one caregiver or supportive adult
- positive parenting
- educational opportunities
- social relationships
Importantly, positive interactions with a caseworker or other service provider can increase a child’s resilience. Children who are more resilient tend to have higher self-esteem and self-worth. They also have a sense of being able to exert some control over their lives and to make a difference (locus of control). Caseworkers can support and strengthen these qualities in children by facilitating children’s participation, focusing on children and family’s strengths and resources, and acting with respect, care and empathy. For more information see www.resilienceproject.org.
Assessments and interventions must be made on the basis of knowledge about child development, child rights, and child protection (such as understanding vulnerabilities, risk factors, and family dynamics). Child development knowledge helps caseworkers determine how to communicate with and involve children depending on their age and evolving capacities. As standards for the treatment of children vary across cultures and regions, child rights knowledge is essential to ensure international norms and standards are respected and incorporated into case decisions. However, staff working with children who have been affected by humanitarian crises, sexual exploitation, or abandonment/ separation should receive additional specialized training in handling such sensitive cases. Without such knowledge, case plans may not adequately address children’s needs or uphold their rights and could even be harmful to the child.
Children have a right to express opinions about their experiences and to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Involving children, and their families, in planning and decision-making regarding their own care is critical to ensure the services provided are appropriate and effective.
A child’s ability to make decisions is related to their age, maturity, and evolving capacities. Even very young children are able to participate in decisions and voice their views, although the process may demand more time and skill from the caseworker. Agencies and caseworkers are responsible for informing children of their right to participate – including the right not to answer questions that make them uncomfortable – and for supporting them to exercise this right in an age-appropriate format throughout the case management process.
Children’s participation should particularly inform a caseworker when coming to a decision that is in the child’s best interests but against their wishes (e.g. recommending family reunification against the wishes of the child). Such decisions should be explained to the child with sensitivity and implemented with care and empathy. In contexts where children’s status is weak (e.g. due to gender, ethnicity, or disability) or where it is not culturally or socially acceptable for them to participate, children may be less at ease or feel less confident participating and making decisions. Caseworkers must deliberately encourage children to voice their concerns, reassure them about their ability to make decisions, and create a safe and confidential space for children to do so.
Cultural sensitivity improves caseworkers’ capacity to work effectively with children, families and communities to identify solutions that leverage local methods of care and protection and align with the children and families’ values and beliefs. Overlooking the cultural context can lead to case plans that are difficult to implement because they do not fit the realities of people’s lives and belief systems.
Caseworkers and agencies must recognise and respect diversity in the communities where they work and be aware of individual, family, group, and community differences in order to make an informed and holistic assessment of a child’s situation.
At times, the best interests of the child may conflict with cultural values or practices. In such cases, managers, supervisors, and caseworkers must continue to prioritise the child’s best interests and make decisions that do not place them at additional risk (do no harm). It may be difficult to identify culturally acceptable solutions that uphold the rights of children, but managers and caseworkers must make every effort to work with children and families to do so. With difficult issues like female genital mutilation, non-education of girls or child labour, caseworkers should develop harm reduction strategies and seek to address the underlying causes of social conditions. For example, families who send girls to school might be given priority access to cash transfer programmes or livelihood projects.
In some contexts, confronting these protection issues and cultural practices can lead to conflict and may create additional risks for children, families and communities as well as caseworkers. Decisions related to these issues must include a careful assessment of risk and always respect the principles of do no harm and the best interests of the child.
Child protection programmes are more effective when agencies work together and involve communities, families, and children in their efforts. Case management can provide a process for improving coordination and collaboration among all actors with a mandate to protect children including community leaders, government departments, service providers, CBOs, local NGOs and international agencies.
Accepted protocols on information-sharing and referrals contribute to quality case management and ensure that confidentiality and the best interests of the child are upheld. International organisations, in particular, have a responsibility to coordinate their activities and efforts with national governments and non-government agencies to ensure that existing systems are strengthened and not duplicated.
Caseworkers and agencies should act with integrity by not abusing the power or the trust of the child or their family. Caseworkers must neither ask for nor accept favours, payments, or gifts in exchange for services or support.
Personal and professional limitations and boundaries must be recognised and respected. Conflicts of interest must be addressed when they arise. An example of a conflict of interest might be a caseworker and child who are in some way related or from the same social network, or a caseworker acting for both the child and the perpetrator of the child’s abuse.
Caseworkers and agencies should seek to resolve these issues in a way that is positive for the child and neither negatively affects nor gives an unfair benefit to that child.
Many countries have mandatory reporting requirements which oblige certain actors (e.g. child protection agencies and staff, teachers, nurses, and doctors) to report cases of child abuse to relevant government authorities. However, these requirements can be challenging for caseworkers when the information is of such a sensitive nature that it cannot be shared without placing the child at risk of further harm.
This is of particular concern when data protection protocols are not in place or are not strictly followed. In humanitarian settings where there is concern about the safety and security of those involved, it is good practice to deal with reporting decisions on a case-by-case basis, informed by the standards and practices applicable in the country of operation and always guided by the best interests of the child.
Agencies working with children should also have their own internal child protection/safeguarding policies that should be followed at all times (See Reference Section for further information). These often set higher standards regarding the responsibilities and behaviour of staff than that sanctioned in law.