Saved by a Case Manager
A child accused of sexual assault turned out to be a victim of physical, psychological and sexual violence
Alexandria, Egypt - Doaa Al-Saudi is a case manager at the Child Protection Center of the National Foundation for Family and Community Development in Alexandria, an affiliate of the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
Part of Doaa's work is to identify the needs of at-risk children after studying the cases and gathering the information needed. She then develops rehabilitation plans to ensure the child’ safety within the family and community.
Some day in 2019, she had to address a terrible case.
"The child was 12 years old. He had a half-sister by his mother, who was 8 years old. He was regularly harassed as his father was in jail, and his mother seemed to favor his sister. The 12-year-old boy was regularly beaten by his mother. She was often publicly upset at him, arguing with him in front of his teachers, complaining about his bad behavior, stealing and lying."
Doaa conducted one-to-one sessions with the mother and children separately to get more information for helping them. "When I studied the situation further, I couldn’t believe my ears. For instance, that the child was sexually assaulted by an adult who was paying him 20 pounds each time they had intercourse. The little boy used to buy the candy he loved with that money. The little boy also explained how he was selling himself to peers in schools and how he started taking drugs.”
Doaa was shocked by the horrifying stories she was hearing. Way beyond bad behaviors, the case demonstrated real problems related to physical, psychological abuse and neglect. Intensively trained on case management for months by UNICEF, Doaa reacted with a great deal of professionalism. “One of the principles of case management is to remain neutral,” Doaa says “no matter how shocking what you’re hearing is, you have to stay calm."
Doaa immediately referred the child to a public hospital - in accordance with a protocol of cooperation between the center and the Ministry of Health supported by UNICEF - for medical examination and to ensure that he was not exposed to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). She also referred him to a psychiatrist as part of the medical referral. The medical reports indicated he was STIs-free but with severe psychological and behavioral disorders that needed immediate intervention.
"One of the most importance things I learned during the UNICEF training about case management was how to take organized steps and communicate with the other partners for whom I could make a referral" she said.
Doaa planned for two weekly psychosocial support sessions for the children, as well as engaging them in educational and recreational activities at the Center. She asked the mother to attend family counseling sessions that provide tips on positive parenting and awareness about child sexual abuse to better deal with her child.
"We found out that the mother was not responding to the guidance received. She was actually the main cause of psychological and physical abuse and our report showed obvious negligence from her side" said Doaa.
The mother came to the point that she accused the child of sexually assaulting his little sister to get rid of him, a charge that forensic medicine later proved invalid, and confirmed to Doaa the need for legal intervention to protect the children.
Doaa contacted the UNICEF Project Coordinator and recommended to contact the Child Protection Committee to summon the mother for formal investigation with the assistance of one the Center’s lawyers.
The prosecution's investigation was a very tense period. In addition to her statements, which contained many sensitive and painful details, Doaa was also responsible for following up and psychologically supporting the children who were sent to a foster care house until the investigations ended.
"They stayed there for a month and I visited them every day. The boy was very honest and told me everything that happened. He told me he didn’t have any sexual encounters during his stay and I validated that with the social worker in charge there. Once, he asked me: Can my sister and I call you mom? We wished that you’d be our mom” she said.
“It was a hard time for them at that place. Most of the children there are permanent residence as they have no families. They gave the boy and his sister the impression that they will never be out of there. I reassured them by making them talk to their grandmother over the phone and promise them with things I can fulfill to maintain their trust.”
The prosecutor decided that the grandmother – who was dear to the two children – should be their guardian and they should move to live with her. Doaa paid a visit to the grandmother's house to help prepare it for the children and sensitize the grandmother about the recommendations for their care.
Doaa, in coordination with the Child Protection Committee, is now following up with the grandmother to ensure the children’s wellbeing and development. This follow-up was an essential part covered by the intensive training she received from UNICEF on child protection policy and rights, gender-based violence and early detection of various behavioral disorders.
The Child Protection Center where she works is one of the centers set up by UNICEF in April 2019, where the organization provided technical and financial support - funded by the European Union - to equip a full floor at the National Foundation for Family and Community Development in Alexandria to become a Child Protection Center.
The Center provides free support and assistance to children who are victims of violence and abuse, according to a case management approach, to identify their needs for financial, social, psychological, medical and legal support.
In addition to providing specialized psychiatric services by physicians and specialists, the center also offers non-specialized psychosocial support services such as art therapy, recreational and educational activities for children and their families.
Since its inception, the Center has supported more than 400 cases who have experienced various forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence in Alexandria.