MCC photo/Jodi Mikalachki

Grade three student Stella Koki Musila stands with her teacher Esther Munee Mutiso at Utooni Starlight Academy, a rural school in eastern Kenya. The MCC education coordinator in Kenya works with teachers to develop child-centred learning, whole-community school management and effective child protection.

Name: Lynn Longenecker

Position: Mennonite Central Committee education coordinator

MCC is working with its partner organizations around the world to prevent and respond to violence, exploitation and abuse against children.

The initiative began in 2013 when MCC’s boards approved a child protection policy. It aims to ensure the safety of all children and youth under age 18 who interact with MCC programs in Canada, the U.S. and all other countries.  

This year, all MCC partners that work with children are developing their own child protection policies.

Education coordinator Lynn Longenecker explains the process.

What is child protection?

We’re trying to ensure, through the work we’re doing and supporting, that children are safe and are not being abused. It has to do with taking steps to prevent abuse and to respond where there’s suspected abuse, whether that’s neglect, physical, emotional, psychological or sexual abuse.

Why is it important for MCC to hold our partners to this standard?

We must acknowledge that children have been abused, whether that’s violent or humiliating punishment, sexual abuse or inappropriate use of power. Too often the abuse is done by the very adults trusted to take care of them. We know abuse happens everywhere – in the U.S., in Canada and in every country we work in. It’s important to name it and take steps to prevent it, to take steps to deal with it when it’s there.

Mercy Bayton presents the results of an exercise about defining different types of abuse as part of a training offered by MCC’s Honduran partner, Proyecto MAMA. Proyecto MAMA photo/Rosa Trochez

What is MCC doing to ensure partners are focused on child protection?

Last year, international MCC offices communicated our expectations about child protection to our partner organizations. Then we began to provide training on how to develop child protection policies and procedures. Starting this year we’ve written the requirement to have a policy into our memorandum of understanding with partners so it’s clearly required.

Teachers, parents and students also need basic training on understanding, preventing and responding to abuse. Ideally we find local experts to provide this, people who can speak from deep understanding of the local context and culture.

In school settings we also want to go beyond simply eliminating abuse and actually build a more positive overall school climate where children feel safe, valued and are able to thrive. We can do this by helping teachers develop skills for positive discipline.

What is positive discipline?

It’s power with, rather than power over. It focuses on positive reinforcement, setting up clear expectations from the start, involving children in establishing expectations and finding non-violent consequences that can provide that reinforcement.

Another layer is to use more effective instructional techniques that engage children in learning. If they’re really engaged in learning, a big portion of discipline issues don’t come up.

Then you can bring in an additional layer of restorative discipline. That means looking at the harm that’s been done by the child when a problem has happened. It means recognizing and being accountable for the harm they’ve done. Finding some way to repair that or make it better, rather than just giving a punishment that has nothing to do with the harm caused or the person harmed.

What’s an example of positive discipline?                        

It’s important to pay attention to the underlying needs that can be causing misbehaviour instead of using corporal punishment, which our policy defines as abuse.

For example, students who are being very disruptive in class might really need attention or control in their lives. A savvy teacher might notice this and find ways to give students leadership roles, specific responsibilities or jobs in the classroom to help them experience that attention or control through positive rather than negative actions.

Or students might be disruptive simply because they’re feeling lost or incapable of learning. Getting enough extra help to experience success can make all the difference.

Abuse is deep and change doesn't happen quickly. We need to work with urgency but also realize it’s a long process and can’t expect it just to be better instantly.

Fourth-grade students at Proom Primary School in Prey Veng Province, Cambodia, participated in a day of games, activities and opportunities to just “be a kid” on International Children’s day, June 1, 2016. MCC facilitated the festivities and used the day as an opportunity to inform parents and guardians about the collaboration between Proom and MCC to create a child protection policy at the school. MCC photo/Annalisa Brenneman

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