Going the extra mile for children during COVID-19

How UNICEF partner Blossom Inc has kept helping children and their families despite the pandemic

Gaulbert Sutherland
Blossom Inc Ayodele Dalgety-Dean
UNICEF Guyana 2020
30 September 2020

Societal issues like crime do not stop during a pandemic. And neither must the response, especially to protect children. The COVID-19 crisis has shut schools and hobbled other services and adaptation to the new normal is an ongoing process.

But the work goes on for local non-profit Blossom Inc, which operates six Child Advocacy Centres (CACs) across Guyana with support from the Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) and UNICEF. CACs offer specialized services designed around responding to cases of child sexual abuse efficiently by ensuring that children have access to a child-safe and child-friendly space to share their stories and get the support that will help them overcome the trauma they have suffered.  Being child-centred, the one-stop facilities ensure that survivors do not have to recount their experiences any more than necessary.

“We are busier than ever because as people lose work, as people are home with their loved ones, if they are in abusive situations, things just get worse,” said Founder and Managing Director of Blossom Inc, Ayodele Dalgety-Dean. The CPA reported recently that it had received 529 reports of child sexual abuse for this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dalgety-Dean said that for the period March-August 2020, 148 cases of child sexual abuse were received by the CACs and 220 forensic interviews were done.

Adjusting to work in the pandemic

Working when social distancing and masks are mandatory has required adaptation. Forensic interviews with victims are still done face to face but they are scheduled so that the CAC does not become overcrowded. Nonetheless, there are still challenges, particularly in relation to dealing with child victims from remote areas. “If they’re bringing out that child from the interior, you can’t say no, turn back and do it another day because that’s when they’re available, the transportation is available, so we then have to respond to that need,” Dalgety-Dean said. No child is ever turned away.

Virtual therapy

One of the key initiatives has been to offer psychosocial support over the telephone with over 934 sessions done with children during the pandemic. “It was a centre-based service and we had to swap to telephone. We didn’t really do telephone sessions before. This is how we had to adjust to work in the pandemic,” the Blossom founder said. “We are an organization that do trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy. We have had to transition this to an online therapy format.” The children, she said, talk about trauma, how they are coping, things they can do to help cope and indicate if things are not going well at home. Staff of the CACs try to contact the children at least once a week.

Blossom Inc, COVID-19, Child Protection
UNICEF Guyana 2020
Staff members of the Bartica Child Advocacy Centre travelling via boat to ensure that services to clients continue even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Be there for children

Notwithstanding the pandemic, children and other clients are assured that they can always come to the CAC. “They all know we are available for face to face if necessary and then we will see them in the office, six feet apart with our masks on,” said Dalgety-Dean. “We are doing this because systems are closing down, but the need doesn’t go away. In fact, with COVID, there is a heightened sense of vulnerability, there is more abuse.” She noted that with the closure of schools, children have lost one of their safe places. “So we have to be there for them. They have to know that there is a trusted adult available for them to talk to or for them to report any kind of mistreatment that they are getting,” she said.

Protecting families to protect children is a key focus of Blossom Inc. In Region Seven, one of the main gold mining areas which has recorded the fourth highest number of COVID-19 cases in Guyana, the two staff at the Bartica CAC have travelled hundreds of kilometres over land and on rivers to bring services to clients, including migrants and host communities, and raise awareness about COVID-19 and how to stay healthy. Protecting children is a calling that doesn’t stop even for a pandemic.

Blossom Inc, COVID-19, Child Protection, Region Seven
UNICEF Guyana 2020
A staff member of Blossom Inc ensuring that proper handwashing information is available.

What is UNICEF doing?

Blossom Inc is supported by UNICEF Guyana and Suriname as part of our ongoing work to protect children. UNICEF is the main funder for the Blossom-managed CACs, which includes support to migrants.