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Reflections at Year Five of ISK’s Child Protection Advocacy Network

By Heather Cronk and Ben Fishman
Reflections at Year Five of ISK’s Child Protection Advocacy Network

My life was completely transformed in 2014, when I was provided with the opportunity to live and work in Nairobi, Kenya. Little did I know what unforgettable opportunities awaited me. I was offered the position of elementary school counselor at the International School of Kenya (ISK). It was in Kenya and working at ISK where I found my passion and knew where I would like to focus my area of work.

I had a vison of creating a strong vibrant child protection network with other international and private schools throughout Kenya. It all started when my principal, Patricia Salleh Matta asked me if I would like to volunteer to be on the child protection or school drug policy committee. I was instantly drawn to working on a child protection committee and learning how it has evolved in Africa.

My principal requested that I form a Child Protection Advocacy Network (CPAN) along with a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) which, in turn, provoked my interest in learning; however, I had minimal background knowledge and was not sure where to begin.

Initially, I felt overwhelmed and was unsure where to start. Fortunately, everything that I needed in terms of resources and documentation had already been created by the Africa International School Association (AISA) Child Protection Manual, with guidelines in creating and establishing a CPAN and MDT. In retrospect, with seven years’ experience as the CPAN coordinator, I’m sharing my story to encourage other educators to create their own CPAN network.

Dr. Dennis Larkin, one of the original writers of the AISA Child Protection manual, said that just as schools put on fire drills, they should do the same when it comes to child protection cases. My advice is to start off small, especially if you are doing this by yourself and with any other international or private schools in your area and country. In Kenya, we were fortunate that there is a plethora of British and other international schools throughout the country.

The first 30 schools that joined CPAN came from the Kenyan Association International Independent Schools (KAIIS). During the network’s first year, the KAIIS Board asked CPAN to write a preamble to precede any policies developed by member schools.

The KAIIS Preamble is:

The Child Protection Advocacy Network (CPAN) and associated Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) aim to create awareness, advocate for the rights for all children, support at-risk children and share best practices for Child Protection through education in Kenya. We are a group dedicated to establishing and maintaining a network of professionals focused on child protection, utilizing local expertise and community resources.

If you are doing meetings in person then you will need a meeting budget to account for minimal costs such as food, support staff, copying, etc. Now that we are running meetings on Zoom, we no longer have these meeting costs, so it is possible start a CPAN with no budget.

In the beginning, ISK paid the “hosting” costs for meetings. At the end of the first year, CPAN decided as a group that each member school would pay the equivalent of US$25.00 per year for meeting and MDT costs (transport, food, reimbursement of mobile minutes, etc.). After the second year, CPAN agreed that we would raise the cost to US$50.00 per year to cover regular meeting costs and also pay for professional development (PD) training from local and overseas experts, since many of the schools do not provide PD funds to CPAN members.

During CPAN’s second year, Ms. Cronk was joined by her counselor colleague, Dr. Ben Fishman, a dedicated CPAN contributing member. Our advice is to create a network and delegate responsibilities and tasks to utilize expertise.

In the 2016–17 school year, CPAN expanded to include new KAIIS membership schools from other countries, (Sweden, Germany, France, etc.). We are currently close to fifty schools with over 200 people on the CPAN e-mailing list.

Ms. Cronk does not advertise CPAN, but through word of mouth, schools and people contact her on a regular basis to inquire if their school can join. The answer is always “Yes.”

In the 2016–17 school year, CPAN decided to add Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), cyberbullying, and anti-radicalization to our year’s agenda as topics to research with the task of identifying best practices and resources for each. Since then, we have discussed topics such as suicide, self-harm, gang activity, terrorism, supporting students through online learning, COVID-19, etc.

CPAN action committees worked on creating a policy and procedure document, which was first approved by the group then by individual member schools. In addition, CPAN members wrote a one-page document of “Best Practices in Child Protection,” which focuses on staff recruitment, reporting, investigating, and child/community education.

In addition to founding CPAN, Ms. Cronk also was asked to follow ASIA's guidelines for starting a Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT), write a MDT Profile and an MDT Confidentiality form. Ms. Cronk did this with assistance from a lawyer and has the MDT sign the paperwork for every school year. The MDT is consulted in the most serious abuse cases and responds to phone calls and e-mails when needed.

Members of the MDT attended their first CPAN meeting in May 2015 and were officially vetted by CPAN for the following school year 2015–2016. Since then, the MDT has been an integral part in our CPAN group. Every year, CPAN has continued to maintain their MDT volunteers, with the original group of fifteen members, and have added fifteen new members this past school year.

To form the original group, Ms. Cronk reached out to the local community of Kenyan and foreign professionals united in their common commitment to child protection. AISA recommends that the MDT be composed of government and nongovernmental agencies, medical doctors, psychologists, social workers, educators, lawyers, judges, police, etc.

Ms. Cronk began by inviting just one ISK parent who was a Kenyan Pediatrician and a faculty member’s sister who was a lawyer. Since then, the MDT has grown to include over 30 professionals whom CPAN considers the top child protection specialists in Africa.

After Ms. Cronk completed the British Embassy Child Exploitation Online Program (CEOP) training in Nairobi in 2015, she had the pleasure of having Mr. Kelvin Lay as her trainer and invited him to attend the following CPAN/MDT meeting. Mr. Lay is from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Lead Investigator for British Sex Offenders in South East Asia and in East Africa.

Since then, CPAN has formed a strong professional relationship with Mr. Lay and ever since he has become a dedicated and integral MDT member and comes to our meetings whenever he is on “loan” from the British government to the Kenyan government. Although Mr. Lay has “officially” retired in the U.K. now, he is still contributing his expertise when questions of minors and online pornographic material arise.

The MDT now comprises the Superintendent of Police, Human Rights lawyers, judges, social workers, NGOs (Childline, Center for Missing Children) medical doctors, U.S. and British Embassy nurses, aUNICEF Child Specialist, a U.K. National Crime Agency/Child Exploitation Online Officer (CEOPS), a Police Surgeon, psychologists, and others. CPAN also now consults with Chanel Worsteling, who is the Child Protection & Wellbeing Programme Manager with the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Ms. Cronk has the MDT attend the last 90 minutes of CPAN meetings to discuss case scenarios with those present. This is Question and Answer time (Q&A). We feel is a pertinent part of the meeting for CPAN members which keeps our “bond/commitment” with the voluntary MDT members.

The  Q&A with the MDT offers a chance to ask our Kenyan lawyers and judges to keep us current on Kenyan law pertaining to child protection, cyberbullying, FGM and anti-radicalization, which has been a focus of CPAN from its beginning. Our UNICEF Kenya Chief of Education MDT member made a presentation on sexual harassment, which was a needed area of our CPAN.

In December 2017, Ms. Cronk was informed by the Kenyan Association of International Independent Schools (KAIIS) Vice Chair and Treasurer that CPAN will receive an on-going annual grant of US$5,000 to finance all meeting costs and PD for CPAN and MDT. The CPAN trust account also allows us to bring in the best field experts to conduct trainings and continue to increase CPAN/MDT membership, now that the body is financially independent.

In the event that COVID-19 keeps us from having in-house training, our next best option is to present via Zoom. By not having to pay costs such as transport, hotel, food, and presenter’s fees drastically reduces costs.

At the end of the 2018 school year, when Dr. Ben Fishman departed ISK, Ms. Cronk reached out to the CPAN group for volunteers to help her run the network. Two counselors from Hillcrest, a nearby British International school, Tiffany Alger and Elena Troy, volunteered to help her over the following school year (2019-2020). The new CPAN goals under the new administration of THE (Tiffany/Heather/Elena) was to institutionalize CPAN and share leadership duties.

Last May, CPAN hosted its first meeting via Zoom with over 80 participants from North America, the U.K., Kenya, and Japan all in attendance. During this time, CPAN seemed even more of a “lifeline” for counselors in Kenya, allowing them to share experiences and challenges related to managing a global pandemic. Moreover, in addition to challenges due to the current global situation, child protection resources were shared that benefited students across the globe. CPAN just held its third Zoom meeting, so virtual gatherings could become the “new normal.”

Ms. Cronk is overjoyed with the outcome and recognition of all the advocacy and work that has been accomplished over the past seven years. With the goal of “institutionalizing” CPAN/MDT, the new leadership will sustain the network long after Ms. Cronk leaves Kenya.

Thank you for reading about our child protection journey! Lastly, I would like to convey to you that you aren’t alone in doing this for your school. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us or anyone else named in this article. We are all happy to help, share resources, and give advice in any way possible.

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04/16/2021 - Chris
Very well written article, impressive work!