NGOs are not always needed to enable child protection. As child protection workers, we should be careful not to disrupt or marginalize the good child protection efforts the community is already making. We should also respect the wishes of communities who do not want to partner with NGOs or other outsiders.
That said, good NGO facilitation of a community-led process can help communities to:
1. Better understand children's perspectives and experiences. Adults frequently think that they understand the situation of girls and boys in their communities. But as both practical experience and ample research shows, adults are typically out of touch with the lived experiences of children and do not understand their perspectives. With skilled facilitation, communities can develop the habit of regularly talking with—and learning from—children.
2. Engage with children as actors. In many communities, children are viewed as dependents, to be seen but not heard, and lacking good ideas and abilities. Skilled facilitation enables communities to make use of children's creativity, leadership skills, and energy in improving the lives of children—while negotiating the issues of power between children and adults that may arise.
3. Work in a more inclusive manner. Left to their own devices, community power elites frequently guide decision-making, and the poorest of the poor—including children who work in the mines or who are sexually exploited—may have no voice. In many patriarchal societies, women and girls have little or no voice. An inclusive community-led process helps communities to support all their children, and it builds the support and participation needed to create effective, sustainable action. It also helps to end discrimination.
4. Support children's best interests. A community’s social norms sometimes enable practices that violate children’s rights or are not in their best interests. Good facilitation encourages the kind of dialogue and reflection that raises doubts about such practices and creates an opening for social change to happen from the inside. NGOs can help to give communities the skills and understanding needed to take appropriate community action to support vulnerable children.
5. Connect with the formal child protection system. Communities sometimes operate as self-contained systems. But a strong child protection system requires effective collaboration between communities and other formal actors. NGO facilitators can often help to broker constructive collaboration between the community and outside stakeholders, such as social workers or local health departments.
In addition, NGOs can often help communities to document and learn from their actions to protect children.
Transforming our approach from a program to community process
Good facilitation is crucial if we want to help communities strengthen their child protection efforts and think critically about what norms and behaviours might be enabling harms to children. A community-led approach involves requires a fundamental shift towards deeper, more respectful engagement with communities on our part.