“24 Hours a Day, 365 Days a Year, to Protect every Child and Adolescent”
Cases of domestic violence have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Counsellors and advocates continue working to protect children.
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Working round the clock, 365 days a year, the child protection counselors handle cases of rights violations. There are many cases: mistreatment, abandonment, cruelty, and abuse are just some of the issues they deal with.
Hildamalia Heredia is a child protection counselor in the municipality of Baruta, in Caracas. One of the questions I asked her was how it made her feel to be a protection counselor. Eyes shining, she replied enthusiastically: “Proud, satisfied. I want to do everything I can to help that child move forwards. I want to see them gain confidence and leave here having got the support they need, feeling that they’ve been heard. When you follow up with them and things are getting better, you see the difference.”
Counselors and advocates for children share a sense of pride in what they do every day. They say that every conciliation and every child or adolescent who leaves their office with greater peace of mind is an achievement for them.
Susana Nesta is a lawyer. She is also a child protection counselor. She has been working in this space for more than 12 years, has dealt with many cases, and is amazed by the recent transformation of the facilities. When on duty she responds to calls in the early hours of the morning and, if necessary, swings immediately into action.
Once, early in the morning, the phone rang and the caller reported hearing loud crying in a working-class neighborhood nearby. Susana says she put on her shoes and went straight there. As she approached, she saw a rubbish bin and beneath the waste, she found a baby. He had been abandoned. Her distress is visible as she describes the newborn with his umbilical cord still attached.
Cases like this reoccur and dealing with them requires the constant support and coordinated efforts of everyone who works in the child protection system.
“These are emergencies and we have to deal with them immediately. We have a special responsibility,” says Susana. She explains that thanks to the renovation of her workplace, she now feels more comfortable performing her duties since the facilities are better equipped to receive the children and their families. They now have appropriate and comfortable furniture, private spaces for consultations, clean white walls, and colorful murals, as well as space where the children can watch films and play. “Before children would come here and you’d see them sitting outside looking anxious,” she says.
This year UNICEF has helped strengthen the technical capacities of the staff and provided incentives to retain the workforce. It has also renovated workspaces in some Child Protection Council offices, creating safe, pleasant, and functional spaces where staff can continue to protect Venezuelan children.
“Now there is a space for them where they can play and disconnect for a moment from their situation. When they come in, a smile appears on their faces,” says Susana, referring to the children she assists at the Child Protection Council.
“And when I come here to work, I feel a lot of peace, I feel motivated,” she adds.
These new spaces are also used to run training courses for counselors, advocates, and community rights promoters, says Lourdes López, an advocate for children and adolescents.
“Seeing the transformation of the physical space, I feel very proud and every day I feel more committed to my work. The atmosphere in the workplace is very important in this type of role: people need to feel that they have privacy to discuss their situation. Before, the tears, arguments, and discussions were on display to everyone. Now we have better conditions to carry out our work,” she says.
In 2020, more than 280,000 people in Greater Caracas alone benefited from services related to psychosocial support, counseling, access to identity rights, and specialized training in protecting and restoring the rights of children and adolescents, thanks to the commitment of those working in the child protection system.
“Each conciliation is an achievement and a great joy because you look towards the future and you know you are giving joy, tranquillity, and emotional stability to a child. We are bursting with pride at a job well done,” says Lourdes.