What does it take to have an effective Safeguarding Reporting Mechanism? Insights from the Aarambha project, Nepal

24 January 2024 by Nancy Abwola, Girls' Education Challenge

In conjunction with our Portfolio in Practice Brief: Protection is possible, we are featuring aspects of the GEC’s safeguarding approach that were particularly successful for GEC projects. This blog looks at the importance of safeguarding referral pathways and effective reporting mechanisms.

Since 2018, People in Need (PIN) has spearheaded the Aarambha project in Nepal's Madhesh Pradesh, tackling high illiteracy and early marriage rates. Working in collaboration with Aasaman Nepal and Social Organization District Coordination Committee (SODCC), Aarambha supports out-of-school adolescent girls in Bara and Rautahat districts. The project aims to improve their literacy, numeracy and life skills, and challenges harmful social norms. It is aligned with the Government of Nepal’s education plan. In particular, it aims to increase attendance, skill acquisition, enabling school environments and community engagement. Aarambha stands as a testament to the transformative power of education and strategic collaboration.

At the heart of PIN's effectiveness is its multifaceted approach. The organisation ensures that community members and beneficiaries always have a local touchpoint, such as safeguarding focal points at partner offices, who then escalate issues for response and action and with the government structures such as the Girls and Inclusive Education Network (GIEN) whose crucial role is to oversee the functioning of the CRM at schools and ensure safeguarding, right to education and protection of girls is prioritised

Safeguarding reporting and response mechanisms are a key minimum standard for any institution that works with and for vulnerable communities. The entire mechanism should be anchored by a survivor-centered approach which is underpinned by best practice principles where the safety and well-being of the survivor is the primary consideration. It must not exacerbate further harm and the wishes and feelings of the survivor should be given the highest levels of consideration.

What does it take to have an effective reporting mechanism?
• Maintaining a survivor-centered approach of ensuring confidentiality, safety, respect and nondiscrimination. Survivors are supported to receive specialised services to enable them to recover physically, psychologically and emotionally from the abuse they have experienced. The project works towards ensuring that they do not experience any further harm as a result of reporting such as retaliation, stigma and shame and physical harm. The project has integrated this skill in all its safeguarding trainings. PIN also has an internal case management tracking system that helps to track and follow up each case with referral partners where necessary. This approach won the trust of the community and learners who had greater confidence to use the reporting mechanism. Anyone who reports a case is treated with respect and dignity. They are listened to and respond are guided by their needs and desire for a safe outcome.

"It was confidential and safe during the whole reporting period. "The way PIN interacted with me was warm, comforting, and made it possible for me to share my experiences. It was very assuring and my mental and emotional well-being was considered throughout.” (female survivor)

Being intentional and investing in human resources for safeguarding. Having the right personnel as focal points for the reporting mechanism has also been key. PIN recruited a Safeguarding Lead at the national level and appointed safeguarding focal persons with partners at schools and in the community. Additionally, the safeguarding role has institutionally been integrated in every staff’s job description following PIN’s safe and inclusive recruitment process. All safeguarding focal points are regularly trained on key safeguarding policies, survivor centered approaches, reporting mechanisms and basic psychosocial counselling. PIN has in place an investigation team that conducts safe and fair investigations and hold staff accountable to the policies. The team has been able to conduct investigations on allegations of misconduct by personnel employed by the project and has taken swift and robust when required. Having a skilled team managing the reporting mechanism has fostered greater trust and confidence of the community.

Collaborative approach to the design of the reporting mechanism. From inception, PIN understood the importance of involving the very individuals the mechanism was designed to serve. Beneficiaries, parents and community members were all actively consulted, during the design phase to ensure that the system is convenient for all, making it truly representative and fully accessible. There was a participatory process in identifying and mapping the referral and reporting mechanism to include learners and community members.

Regular monitoring of safeguarding implementation and the reporting mechanism. The reporting mechanism has been refined over time, ensuring it remains proactive, not just reactive, in addressing concerns. PIN regularly reviews cases that come in and how they were reported to ensure that the reporting mechanism is functional and effective. Reaching out to the entire community, ensuring uniform understanding, keeping pace with continuous training, and challenging societal stigmas, especially around sensitive issues, are challenges PIN continuously works to overcome. Recognising these challenges, PIN has taken definitive steps to foster better communication and understanding.

Coordination and collaboration with other safeguarding service providers. Survivors often have multiple needs for different services such as health, legal and protection. PIN has built a good relationship with other civil society organisations and government entities to be able to refer survivors to services where they can be safely supported. PIN has undertaken extensive mapping of support services and has solidified partnerships with several key entities such as Transcultural Psycolosocial Organisation (TPO) Nepal for mental health services, Stop Crisis Management Center for emergency care, legal help, and shelter for survivors of gender-based violence, Ear Care Institution and some legal service providers to ensure comprehensive care. PIN also works with local government structures on child protection for stronger advocacy and law enforcement Survivors are referred to all these service points to receive specialised support. These relationships are cemented in mutual trust, ensuring seamless coordination and an unwavering dedication to the welfare and safety of the those in need.

Regular awareness raising on the referral mechanism. PIN integrates awareness efforts at every stage of its project intervention. This ensures that the community gains a comprehensive understanding of the mechanism. In pursuit of greater accessibility and effective communication, PIN developed visually appealing and locally contextualized infographics and robust reference cards that facilitate community feedback and response. The efficacy of these tools is increased by their availability in local languages, effectively bridging linguistic divides. By combining custom resources with traditional outreach and socialising efforts, the information is presented at every event and programme activities, schools and local government premises enabling PIN to consistently and effectively engage with the community and beneficiaries.

PIN Nepal’s experience is a reflection of how the GEC safeguarding model was able to establish and sustain an effective reporting mechanism, keeping the beneficiaries and project team safe. PIN Nepal reported that 99.5% of their beneficiaries (Endline Evaluation Report, 2021) had knowledge of where to report in case of any staff misconduct or concern such as reporting to the police, community groups, project staff and local government office.

Overall, the GEC saw a 341% increase in the reporting of incidents from 2018 to 2020, with extensive support provided to projects to help them respond appropriately. This remarkable rise in case reporting is a positive indicator that individuals felt safe and supported in coming forward and speaking up. An increase in reporting denotes a greater trust and confidence in reporting mechanisms from staff members and girls: an important achievement in Nepal and across the whole GEC portfolio. Full detail of the FM safeguarding approach can be found here.

With special thanks to Alka Shrestha, the Safeguarding Advisor at PIN Nepal, for her contribution to this blog


Index photo credit: Sajana Shrestha