In late 2021, more than 80 officials and representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean met for a dialogue on the challenges faced and the innovations developed around the issues of health, social protection, and early childhood development since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In that Regional Policy Dialogue, we discussed extensively the subject of violence against children, considering how COVID-19 has exacerbated violence within households.
In this post, the second in a series of articles that gather the most important themes addressed in the Dialogue, we outline five issues that we identified as priorities in order to prevent violence against children in the context of COVID-19 and in the eventual post-pandemic scenario in the region.
1. Prioritize prevention over reaction
Multiple scientific studies show that violence against children is not random; rather, it is explained by a host of risk factors in the absence of adequate protective factors. The situation caused by COVID-19 reinforces that idea, showing how the closure of early development centers, the loss of household income and the increased stress levels of caregivers have led to increased levels of violence inside the home.
The importance of contextual factors and the exacerbation of risk factors during the pandemic suggest that, in the future, it is crucial to adopt a systemic vision, in which violence prevention is a coordinated effort between different sectors so that caregivers’ mental health, strong and solid relationships, economic wellbeing, community safety, and family-friendly policies are maximized. In addition, and given the possible consequences of violence in early childhood, it will always be better to prevent than to remediate.
2. Caring for caregivers
Caring for fathers, mothers, and other caregivers is caring for children. The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a pandemic of stress and mental health problems. Scientific evidence has shown that this situation makes it harder for fathers, mothers, and caregivers to provide nurturing care. This is even more difficult in households with little access to information and resources on play and stimulation activities and strategies to promote positive discipline in early childhood.
In the Dialogue, we identified parenting programs as promising strategies to promote both the wellbeing of caregivers and their knowledge about child development and parenting. Experimental evaluations of several of these programs implemented in the region show their effectiveness in reducing violence against children and caregiver stress and in increasing their knowledge on parenting. In the context of COVID-19, we have seen the emergence of multiple innovations using the key components of these programs to serve families remotely. We also exchanged ideas about the importance of continuing and increasing investments to promote access, quality and scaling of mental health programs as critical for the protection of children in their homes.
3. Training facilitators in the prevention and treatment of cases of violence
The pandemic has highlighted the difficulties that countries face for early identification of violence against children, especially when it does not leave any physical marks (as is the case of certain forms of physical punishment and psychological abuse). When thinking of a preventive approach, it is fundamental to train facilitators and professionals who interact with families (pediatricians, educators, social workers, etc.) in the early detection of risk factors. The experience in some countries in the region shows that that task should go hand in hand with the strengthening of the response systems; identification without a proper response can generate stronger stress in facilitators.
4. Engaging fathers in parenting and early childhood programs
In the Dialogue, we identified strengthening the engagement of fathers in parenting and their participation in early childhood programs as a priority. This could contribute to reducing violence against women and children, to increasing the wellbeing of mothers, parents, and other caregivers and to directly promote childhood development.
5. Strengthening monitoring and evaluation systems
Lastly, given the growing interest in parenting programs and the innovations during the pandemic, it is fundamental to strengthen the monitoring systems and conduct evaluations on the needs, implementation, and impact of the policies and programs directed at preventing childhood violence, and to conduct the necessary adjustments so as to scale the interventions shown to be more cost-effective.
Which other subjects should be priorities to prevent childhood violence in the context of COVID-19? Tell us in the comments section below, and return to this blog for the next in a series of articles on lessons from a Regional Dialogue on early childhood development.