The Eastern and Southern Africa Learning Platform for Care Reform
Emily Delap - August 2022
Despite being primarily a public health emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic increased children's vulnerability to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence and placed additional pressure on those working to protect them. However, the old adage 'necessity is the mother of invention' became an operational reality, encouraging new opportunities and innovation for continuing the dialogue and fostering learning on care reform in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Over the last two years, Child Frontiers has supported UNICEF's regional office to find new ways to share learning on care reform. Having had to cancel a planned conference in 2020, the regional office decided to invest in a remote learning platform instead. Funded by USAID and established in collaboration with the Changing the Way We Care initiative, the platform is designed to inspire, support, and guide UNICEF staff and their government partners in the region.
So far, activities have included conventional webinars, newsletters and publications, alongside more experimental tools such as virtual study tours. The platform initially focused on sharing learning between countries with fairly advanced care reform processes. Throughout 2022, it has gradually expanded to support care reform across the whole region, including in countries where the reform process has had limited traction. Our team has discovered that sharing learning remotely has significant advantages over a face-to-face conference.
First, remote learning allows longer-term support to build knowledge and relationships over time. It is generally more flexible and can incorporate various learning techniques to meet participants' evolving needs. Second, it is more inclusive, ensuring that learning opportunities spread beyond the privileged few who get to travel to large conferences. For example, we have found that district-level social workers and a wide range of UNICEF staff have been able to participate in platform activities. Finally, we know that remote learning is both cost-efficient and carbon neutral.
As the process has evolved, we have tried to ensure that the agenda for the platform responds to the identified needs of those across the region. We consulted with both high-level policymakers and social workers, and worked to bring these two groups together. We also spoke with care leavers and have developed case studies with caregivers and children in different care settings to ensure that their experiences are incorporated into the platform.
We have found that it is crucial to celebrate - and build upon - successes in the context of COVID-19 and the global economic downturn. Exhausted by the additional challenges of protecting children in care, participants from all sectors requested to hear about what is working rather than what is not. Fortunately, the region provides numerous examples of good practice, led by governments and UNICEF, as well as by the vibrant NGO sector, which is often a crucial driver of reform.
The platform has revealed, as expected, that individuals learn in various ways. Some like to read, others to listen or debate. With participants often having busy and unpredictable work schedules, increasing learning opportunities has been vital, including some activities that require very little time. Our webinars are open to all and usually share learning with between 30 and 80 participants each time. We keep the webinars simple, usually with presentations and panel discussions, followed by a Q&A session. Indeed, efforts to create more dynamic, interactive sessions were not very successful. We have recently established small learning groups, with the same group of 8-12 participants meeting regularly to discuss dilemmas and deepen their understanding of a topic. This peer-to-peer learning method is proving to be particularly valuable in building relationships that can exist outside the platform.
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Everyone is welcome to join the webinars advertised in the newsletter, which provides updates on progress and resources on care reform.
Our next webinar takes place at the end of July and will offer nine lessons learned on care reform from the pandemic, with examples from Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.