Understanding the Child Protection Index with Andy Guth

Photography credits: Silviu Ghetie

With over 24 years of work experience in child welfare and protection, Andy Guth is one of the lead specialists in the region. His portfolio includes work with various national and international NGOs (The Romanian Orphanage Trust, For Our Children, the Romanian Federation of NGOs for Children, World Learning, SOS Kinderdorf, and World Vision), UN Agencies (WB, UNICEF) and Government in Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Russia. Between 1991 and 1997, he contributed to the design, implementation and scale up of various alternative care services (small group homes, foster care, mother and baby units), and also contributed to introducing specialized child protection services to Romania. Starting with 1997 he was directly involved in the design of the Child Welfare Reform Strategy for Romania and Bulgaria. He also contributed to developing the child welfare services network in Moldova and promoting child welfare system reforms in Russia (the regions of Kostroma, Rostov, Altay Krai, and Buryatia).

Please read below our interview about the Child Protection Index.

 What is the Child Protection Index and what is it useful for?

First of all, it is important to acknowledge that all countries in our region share a post-communist legacy that is still visible in the national child protection systems. Although, children’s rights are formally granted by international documents – and most prominently by the UNCRC – even 25 years after this fundamental UN document was introduced, many of these countries still do not fully comply with the standards they were bound to respect. Thus, there is an urgent demand for structural reforms that address and meet the needs of thousands of vulnerable children.

ChildPact’s Child Protection Index looks into the state of play of those UNCRC articles that are the most relevant for the reality of the vulnerable children in the region: Separation from parents; Child’s right to protection from all forms of violence; Children deprived of their family environment; Adoption; Rights of children with disabilities; Periodic review of treatment; Child labour; Children and drug abuse; Sexual exploitation of children; Prevention of abduction, sale and trafficking; Protection from other forms of exploitation; Protection of children affected by armed conflict; Rehabilitation of child victims. The Child Protection Index will point out how each country performs across more than 500 indicators, adapted from the official UNCRC implementation checklist.

How are you implementing the Index?

First of all, in each of the countries we are working with 8 high-level experts: 2 legal experts and 6 child protection experts. Each of them is carefully selected because of their vast experience in the child protection field and knowledge of their country’s system and evolution of practices in the field. While the legal experts are analysing the compliance of the national legal framework to the UNCRC – the child protection policies in place – the child protection experts are verifying the state of play of these policies in the field, checking whether the policies are actually implemented in practice. Each of the Index’s indicators is simultaneously and independently analysed by two experts who are allowed to compare their findings only at the end of their work. Beyond giving the score for each indicator, the experts are bringing detailed arguments and documentation in their support – quotes, references to paragraphs and pages are included in the extended argumentation of each answer. Once each of the experts is done scoring on a certain indicator, we compare their answers: if the scoring does not coincide, we invite the experts to discuss and support their position – further arguments are then considered and looked into. Finally, only when consensus is reached, the final score is given to the indicator. We are employing this methodology to over 500 indicators! By working this way, we make sure that the results of the Child Protection Index are valid, balanced and taking into account both sides of the coin. In the end, we will be gathering a sort of a library of documents and practices from across the region. However, since the experts are bringing evidence from documents mostly written in their national language, this is likely to restrict the public’s larger access to this library, for the time being.

Furthermore, it is equally important to mention that we are looking at these indicators from the position of the civil society analysing what services is the state providing to children – but we are not supposed to take into account what the civil society does to replace the states’ services. In this way, we are truly checking if the state fulfils the obligations it has taken upon itself when signing the UNCRC. Nonetheless, if we are looking into service that the state has delegated to the civil society, we make sure that the state takes ownership of them and finances them.

How are you preparing the experts to implement the Index?

We conduct an extended training with all of them, in each country. The training is divided in two parts. The first part consists in introducing the Index – its history, goals and structure – and in explaining the research methodology and the implementation steps that need to be done. The second part of the training is more practical and it consists in working with a certain segment of the Index. The purpose of the exercise is to ensure that each expert has a clear understanding of his/her future task. During the second part of the training, we split the experts in 4 groups as following: the child protection experts are divided in 2 groups of three and are given the task to analyse two indicators from each section: services, capacity, accountability and coordination; each of the legal experts are working separately analysing the legal framework of the given policies. The groups are not allowed to discuss among themselves! In the end, if the answers of the groups would differ, the difference is usually around the way they have interpreted the implementation of the law. In the end, with two different views on the same topic, the groups are allowed to discuss and to reach an agreement – by arguing their stand-point with clear documentation entries. All in all, the purpose of this exercise is to ensure that the experts fully understand the implementation methodology of the Index.

What were the learnt lessons from piloting the Child Protection Index in Romania?

The Romanian case was a favourable one to start with because numerous studies and recent analysis were available to support our work. This has allowed us to test each of the indicators, to verify whether we can tackle them properly and to refine the ones that were redundant. We are happy to say that piloting the Index in Romania was a complete success! Let us see whether we will have the same solid documentation in the rest of the countries as well. However, for the indicators where we will be lacking in information support, we will organise targeted focus groups with all the experts involved in the project!

How is this project possible? Who are its supporters?

The first supporter of this project was World Vision International, with funding from AUSAid. The Child Protection Index was one of the first strategic projects developed by ChildPact right after the establishment of this group in 2012. Acknowledging the huge potential of such a project, World Vision (who was one of the initial supporters of ChildPact) made available a small group of experts to think about the indicators’ framework. Practically World Vision ‘volunteered’ the time of several people who started to develop the idea. Now we also have funding from the Oak Foundation for developing the data visualisation platform and from the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through the Official Development Assistance program, with UNDP as implementation partner) for piloting the index in Romania and Moldova. It is amazing to think that only 3 years ago we were ‘playing’ with an idea, thinking about ‘who nice it would be to have an index’ and now we have a dedicated team and a small group of donors who support us.

You are fully involved and committed to implementing the Index! What does all this work mean to you?

To me, it is truly like a dream come true! I have always wanted to make such a comprehensive study and I am glad that now I was given this opportunity. Ever since I have read the UNCRC Implementation Book I thought that it would be really useful to undertake the suggested checklist. It is great that we can now do this and have a regional picture on how the UNCRC is respected in our ChildPact countries. By the end of our implementation journey, we will have solid arguments to reach out to governments and stakeholders in the region and advocate for change for the most vulnerable children.