Information does not make children safe. Practice does.

Helping vulnerable children in Cambodia practice precautions against Covid-19

Bunly Meas
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Miguel Jeronimo
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Miguel Jeronimo
03 June 2020

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.

Children at the Battambang residential care Center II attended a follow-up session on Covid-19 understanding and practices organized by social workers from the provincial Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Miguel Jeronimo
Children at the Battambang residential care Center II attended a follow-up session on Covid-19 understanding and practices organized by social workers from the provincial Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation

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.

Health staff from a local NGO, Cambodia’s Children Trust (CCT) in Battambang province, organized a learning session for children and their caregivers on Covid-19 prevention. The intention is to make children understand and protect themselves.
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Miguel Jeronimo
Health staff from a local NGO, Cambodia’s Children Trust (CCT) in Battambang province, organized a learning session for children and their caregivers on Covid-19 prevention. The intention is to make children understand and protect themselves.

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. 

Sum Sroy, social worker of the Department of Social Affairs in Battambang province checked children’s understanding on Covid-19 precautious measure in a follow-up learning session at the Residential Care Center II.
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Miguel Jeronimo
Sum Sroy, social worker of the Department of Social Affairs in Battambang province checked children’s understanding on Covid-19 precautious measure in a follow-up learning session at the Residential Care Center II.

At the end of each learning session, children demonstrate their learning by showing how they practice healthy habits like handwashing.

Two adolescents at the Battambang Center II showed social workers and their friends on proper steps to wash hands–a simple but effective techniques to prevent infections and spread of viruses such as Covid-19.
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Miguel Jeronimo
Two adolescents at the Battambang Center II showed social workers and their friends on proper steps to wash hands–a simple but effective techniques to prevent infections and spread of viruses such as Covid-19.

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.   

Long Saran, project officer of the Komar Rikreay Cambodia in Battambang province, organized a learning session for five children who are living in a foster care family.
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Bunly Meas
Long Saran, project officer of the Komar Rikreay Cambodia in Battambang province, organized a learning session for five children who are living in a foster care family.

“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.

A child practiced handwashing with hand sanitizer during a learning session at a home care family organized by the Cambodia Children’s Trust (CCT) in Battambang province.
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Miguel Jeronimo
A child practiced handwashing with hand sanitizer during a learning session at a home care family organized by the Cambodia Children’s Trust (CCT) in Battambang province.

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.

A mother showed how she covered her mouth with flexed elbow when sneezing during a learning session for parents organized by a local NGO, Improving Cambodia’s Society through Skilful Parenting (ICS-SP) in Battambang province.
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Miguel Jeronimo
A mother showed how she covered her mouth with flexed elbow when sneezing during a learning session for parents organized by a local NGO, Improving Cambodia’s Society through Skilful Parenting (ICS-SP) in Battambang province.

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.    

A mother practiced wearing a mask to her daughter after learning from a local staff.
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Miguel Jeronimo
A mother practiced wearing a mask to her daughter after learning from a local staff.

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.

UNICEF staff talked to children to find out challenges vulnerable children in residential care facilities have and support they need.
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/ Miguel Jeronimo
UNICEF staff talked to children to find out challenges vulnerable children in residential care facilities have and support they need.

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.