Information does not make children safe. Practice does.
Helping vulnerable children in Cambodia practice precautions against Covid-19
Children at residential care facilities are already vulnerable under normal circumstances, let alone during the Covid-19 pandemic. Adding to their existing challenge of a lack of family care, these children are now facing a new but uncertain situation.
Like other children during this time, they cannot go to schools outside their compounds, play as freely as they could with their friends and are told to stay in all the time. All they could ask is when this will end, and no one knows the answer.
In Cambodia, 9,383 children are living in residential care facilities, and 1,469 others are being reintegrated into families and communities. During the pandemic, they need more support than ever including on education, play and mental health.
Social workers, caregivers and NGO staff are now increasing their services with knowledge and resources to keep children informed and safe. They provide hygiene supplies, organize learning sessions, enforce the practice of the recommended precautionary measures and offer mental counselling.
For the last two months, health staff have been telling children and their caregivers the same messages - handwashing with clean water, soap or alcohol-based gel, covering nose and mouth with a tissue or flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing, wearing masks and keeping a two-meter distance from others.
At the end of each learning session, children demonstrate their learning by showing how they practice healthy habits like handwashing.
Not only at residential care facilities, but social workers also need to go from homes to homes to inform children and parents of a foster or home care programme run by local NGOs. The alternative care project supports foster parents or guardians to raise children in family settings.
“I need to talk a lot and repetitively to make children understand. And I could not stop there but let them do. I then come back again another time to check to ensure they really do. And this also applies to their foster parents,” said Ms. Long Saran, Project Officer of community alternative care of the Komar Rikreay Association.
In villages, a positive parenting programme, which is normally run to prevent violence against children committed by parents and caregivers, is now integrated with Covid-19 precautious measures.
Parents learn all the necessary techniques and share with their children back homes. They also receive hygiene supplies including soaps, masks and hand sanitizers for their daily practice.
UNICEF makes the efforts of social workers and NGOs possible through ongoing support to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) and local NGO partners. The main purpose is to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable children.
At thes time of writing, Cambodia reported 122 people infected by Covid-19 and all recovered. Since the first case was found, UNICEF, with contributions from USAID and the Government of Japan, has supported the Ministry of Health to lead a nationwide emergency communication and community engagement campaign. More than 10 million out of the country’s population of 16 million have benefited from the activities.