Providing immediate support is one of eight prioritized actions in the organization’s Safeguarding Action Plan to address the review’s recommendations.
SOS Children’s Villages International CEO Ingrid Maria Johansen not only apologized to people who experienced abuse while in the care of SOS Children’s Villages, but she invited them to come forward with their experiences. This led to an increase in the number of reported incidents—each of which is being followed up.
Different SOS Children’s Villages member associations are continuing to manage past and present child safeguarding incidents within their existing protocols and frameworks. At the same time, a new user guide, Listening and Responding to Individuals Experiences of Past Child Abuse, was made available in June 2021. It guides member associations and the General Secretariat on how to deal with and appropriately respond to allegations of past abuse.
This new approach, which is monitored globally, provides individuals affected with a dedicated support person and plan. Several member associations have already begun to implement it.
In Central and Eastern Europe, for example, individuals who have come forward to report instances of past abuse are receiving holistic support, meaning the approach looks at the entirety of their needs. The support may include mental health, psychosocial and legal assistance as well as support to improve individual living situations.
“Holistic support can mean several things,” says Léna Szilvasi, a director of quality management of SOS Children’s Villages based in the region. “But the most important is to listen to these individuals, to be available for them, to acknowledge what happened to them and to thank them for their openness.”
Through the listening and responding approach, a dedicated professional handles the case of each person affected by abuse. External professionals, such as therapists or psychiatrists, assess the individual and make recommendations for support and restorative steps. The outcome of the process is a plan which forms the basis for individual support.
“This new approach to handling past abuse helps the reporting individuals feel listened to and respected. Above that, it helps them to deal with feelings of anger and isolation, which were essential parts of their feelings and which usually affected their mental health and relationships,” says Ms. Szilvasi.
Lucia Miranda, Regional Safeguarding Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, said different types of support are offered to victims based on their circumstances.
Initial support mainly entails creating a safe space for victims, survivors or whistleblowers to talk. One meeting isn’t always enough. Sometimes it’s necessary to hold two or three meetings to listen to their stories in detail.
“Individual assessments follow to define specific support actions,” says Ms. Miranda. “It could be educational support or financial resources to cover their immediate needs. Most of the young people or individuals affected by abuse are very poor. They don’t even have money to take a bus or a taxi.”
In some cases, there is resistance to psychological support due to a fear of revisiting the past. People working with historical abuse cases who want to ensure a just process also find it difficult to accept that some emotional damage cannot be repaired.
If victims seek justice, SOS Children’s Villages supports the investigating authorities and does everything to contribute to an outcome if possible.
As of November 2021, six SOS Children’s Villages member associations have received additional funding to support this new approach, with another 14 member associations in the process.
In Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Middle East, all member associations have been asked to develop national guides based on the new global user guide, outlining remediation actions for past abuse incidents. The national guides will take into account the national context and legal requirements relating to past abuse incidents.
In Africa, Asia and Latin America, member associations are being actively supported to develop concept notes that outline how they will be dealing with past abuse incidents. In Latin America and the Caribbean, a regional user guide is already available to support member associations in responding to past abuse cases.