Care Giver Empowerment

THE CONTEXT

The caregivers’ programme – Connecting, Coping and Caring was conceived, developed and implemented by SANJOG with the experience of learning limitations of counselling training programmes in NGOs across the region.  This programme and its action are complementary to efforts on articulation of minimum standards of care for children, in programmes implemented by governments and NGOs. It paves the way for actualisation of those standards by recognising field realities and understanding the context in which social workers and caregivers operate, while working with children and adolescents.  It is the experience of having supported and partnered with child protection initiatives globally that reinforces the value that caregivers must be seen as integral to the process of empowerment of children and adolescents, and not only as a tool for operation. Hence, empowerment of caregivers is a keystone to the process.

Strategically, this programme would like to contribute and align with efforts by other organisations dealing with similar challenges globally, and specifically with South Asia. The programme raises issues that are fundamental to organisational management process in NGOs and government institutions that are responsible for caring for children, which is one of the issues that Sanjog will be focussing on in collaboration with its partners in the coming years.

WHAT IS CONNECTING, COPING AND CARING?

Connecting, Coping and Caring is a training programme on care giving for children and adolescents who live in institutions: shelter homes, orphanages, night shelters or day care centres, and hostels. The training trains frontline social workers (professionally untrained) to deal with children in institutional care, to develop their professional capacities in providing quality care. At the front-line of child protection services are the care-givers, persons who interact directly with children, whether it be in shelter homes, drop-in-centers, red-light areas, in formal and informal groups, or in community spaces. They not only spend a considerable amount of time with them, but also work very closely with them – as house mothers, vocational trainers, teachers, and social workers – and when the situation demands, often play multiple roles. Para toxically, in the current scenario, it is the caregivers themselves who are most in need of empowerment and care.

The programme also offers trainings to management and directors of such shelters and organisations that run shelters on psychological issues of adolescents, their emotional and behavioural manifestations and trains them to monitor care giving standards and supervise their staff to ensure quality of care to children.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS PROGRAMME?

Although there are no officially published cumulative figures, child rights activists estimate that there are 200 to 300 of shelters or centres for children – orphans, drop in centres, day care, nights shelter for children of sex workers, street children and children who are victims of trafficking or sexual violence or any other kind of violence mostly run by NGOs. The role of a shelter for children is to help children and adolescents under their care grow into self sufficient, responsible citizens. This process of empowerment entails that the caregivers who are primarily responsible for bringing up these children feel empowered and enjoy a degree of satisfaction and well being with their jobs and their lives. 

Lack of professional training and skills in caregivers result in negative forms of disciplining – use of physical and psychological punishment to control children and consequent disempowerment in children. Contrary to what the intent and objective of such institutional care may be, children grow up with low self esteem, low levels of life skills (lack of communication skills or ability to manage oneself, form positive relationships or manage stress or problems) and deinstitutionalization or rehabilitation becomes difficult. 

Care giving or quality of care is a soft skills programme and difficult to monitor unless organisations have mental health friendly policies and ways of working. Directors and management of such institutions are usually never trained in monitoring or assessing care giving standards in shelter homes they manage.

 

THE PRINCIPLE BEHIND THE PROGRAM:

The uniqueness of this development-oriented intervention is that it sees the ‘change-makers’ also as human agencies that are as dynamic and requiring as much care as those they ‘care for’. Thus, the guiding principle that lies at the base of these training workshops is that the caregivers are humans first and ‘resources’ thereafter. Therefore any meaningful interaction with them needs to engage them not only as deliverers of the vital task of ‘care-giving’ but also as individual human beings with their strengths, limitations, faiths, needs and uniqueness.

The trainings do not discuss of ‘how things should be’ but a new perspective of looking at interpersonal interaction that will eventually change the attitudes of the caregivers toward the children in a positive way. One can acquire this new perspective only through realization and not through preaching and teaching. Realizations can only come from within.

Keeping this in mind, the training sessions are designed as a progression from ‘within to without’ as we believe that increased self-awareness and self-acceptance is essential for any attempt to enhance one’s understanding of another and sensitivity towards the other. Thus, the workshops are designed to allow maximum experiential learning.

WHAT DOES THE PROGRAMME ENTAIL?

The training programme is conducted in 3 phases over 12 months, and is conducted by mental health practitioners, all with extensive experience in training and with exposure to child protection issues and conditions in which caregivers work. Three trainings of 5 days each have been conducted for 16-18 participants, who have to deal with children in shelter home, with the following themes:

Phase -1: Working with ‘oneself’- looking at values, attitudes and beliefs, Building trust and empathy, Positive discipline with children.

Phase -2: Communication skills, Feedback Principles, Assertive communication

Phase-3: Anger Management, Stress Management, Conflict Resolution

Module: The Caregivers’ Empowerment Core Modules are held in three phases of five days training each. The trainings aim to build empathy in caregivers towards children, in building their understanding of their roles and the limits thereof, in building their skills in communication (with children, their peers and with authorities) and stress management, handling children individually and in groups and in creating enabling environments for children and themselves to work with each other. By helping caregivers connect with their own issues, as in their childhood and adolescence, and by helping them empathise with themselves, the programme helps them become more empathetic to others, and especially children. The programme pays particular attention on skills building in caregivers to deal with issues on stressors of puberty and adolescent sexuality and positive disciplining techniques. 

PROGRAMME CONTENT & METHODOLOGY

The training methodology and content are chosen with utmost caution to preserve the consistency between the objective of the training and the process. The broad objectives of the programme are

1) Enhancing understanding of the children and adolescents in institutional and non-institutional care,

2) Learning how to handle the children sensitively, positive discipline and effectively communicate with them, and

3) Understanding the role of a caregiver, the responsibilities, the boundaries and the need for self care.

The methodology used includes written and nonverbal exercises, role-plays, interactive lectures, simulations, games, group work and handouts. The sessions are so designed to flow from a cognitive sharing and understanding of the children and adolescents they work with and the nature of their job, to an emotive exploration and catharsis of their experiences leading to new realization followed by skills training to improve the newly identified areas of improvement.

WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM THE TRAINING?

The training is designed to be relevant to management and practitioners working in institutions for children:

  • Direct and indirect caregivers: shelter home mothers, social workers, counsellors, teachers, cooks, support staff, case workers, legal aid officers (who offer legal assistance to children), coordinators and superintendents of such shelters, vocational trainers.
  • Management of such shelters and institutions: Directors, managers and monitoring officers (people responsible for policy and monitoring of such institutions).
  • Mental health professionals: counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, who work with children in such shelters.

RESULTS ACHIEVED:

  • The programme has successfully trained more than 300 caregivers in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal which includes 100 in Bangladesh in the last 5 years.
  • A trained resource pool of 15 mental health professionals in the region that includes 7 in Bangladesh.
  • Changes in information, attitudes, skills and behaviours of participating caregivers while dealing with chidlren and adolescents through building trust and empathy, effective communication & conflict resolution skills and responding to stressful situations.