I just got back from a visit to our partners in Belarus. The two NGOs, Hope and Homes for Children and Ponimanie, are both based in the capital city of Minsk but their work is spread across the country. Hope and Homes for Children works to build the capacity of local childcare professionals so that they are able to more effectively prevent children being unnecessarily separated from their parents, move children out of institutions and place children in alternative family-based care. Ponimanie works to prevent child abuse and neglect and within the frame of the Childhood supported project “Barnahus in Belarus”, Ponimanie has trained a large number of psychologists, police officers and prosecutors in child psychology and interview techniques. Child-friendly interview rooms, where children who are witnesses to or victims of sexual abuse can be interviewed, have been set up in several regions.
Galina from Hope and Homes och Andrey from Ponimanie
After a four-hour drive from Minsk, Galina from Hope and Homes, Andrey from Ponimanie and I arrive in Kalinkovichi, a town in the region of Gomel in south-eastern Belrus. One of the most important local partners for both Ponimanie and Hope and Homes are the Social Pedagogical Centres that provide support to vulnerable children and their families. The Social Pedagogical Centre in Kalinkovichi has just recently been moved to a new location, housed in a school building. The director of the Centre and one of the psychologists are working hard to get the rooms painted and furnished. A Ponimanie interview room will be set up, and Hope and Homes will have one of its resource rooms here. Hope and Homes and Ponimanie talk about the possibility of holding joint training sessions and workshops for the Centre’s staff. It is really encouraging to see how the organizations that Childhood supports support each other. And the teamwork has, as Galina says, “a synergistic effect” – one plus one equals more than two. The individual organizations working together achieve much more than they could alone.
Thanks to the organization Ponimanie and its project “Barnahus in Belarus” there are now child-friendly interview rooms in Belarus where children who are witnesses to or victims of sexual abuse can be interviewed.
Often children who are witnesses to or victims of sexual abuse are forced to suffer through up to twenty interviews conducted by different adults. Every conversation about the abuse forces the child to suffer through the trauma again. Moreover, the interviews are often conducted by people who are not trained in how to interview children. By asking insensitive questions and unconsciously blaming the child, the interviews may cause new trauma. Thanks to Childhood’s support, Ponimanie has been able to train prosecutors, police officers and psychologists in child psychology and interview techniques. The training, the interview rooms and advocacy has resulted in that child victims now only need to tell their story once in a safe environment with trained professionals.
The following story about two sisters shows how important the project Barnahus is. Natasha, 15, was sexually abused by her stepfather when she was 11 years old. She moved and stayed with her grandmother and never told anyone what had happened. When Natasha’s stepfather later started to abuse Natasha’s sister Irina, the girls’ grandmother found out about it. The grandmother contacted Ponimanie who helped her contact the local prosecutor. The prosecutor chose to use a child-friendly Barnahus interview room. A specially trained psychologist met with the kids and interviewed them once to collect the children’s testimony.
The court approved the interview as evidence and chose not to ask the children to testify during the trial. The step-father was sentenced to prison. Thanks to Ponimanie, Natasha and Irina now receive rehabilitation and support.
Photo: Jerker Andersson
To protect the children, the names of the children are changed.
Last week I was at a conference in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. “Safe Belarus for Children” is the name of the conference and it was arranged for the fourth time by Ponimanie, one of Childhood’s partner organizations in Belarus.
Victor Vieth speaking at the conference
Ponimanie means understanding in Russian, and one of Ponimanie’s projects is called Dom Ponimaniya, House of Understanding. The project is inspired by the Scandinavian Barnahus model, where the purpose is to ensure that child victims of abuse receive the services they need in a child-friendly environment.
The conference lasted for three days and attracted over 200 participants from different countries. International experts and representatives of non-governmental organizations, officials from various Belarusian ministries, commissions and committees, psychologists, professors and journalists were invited to discuss child protection in Belarus and other countries.
One of the engaging speakers was Victor Vieth, the Executive Director of the National Child Protection Training Center in Minnesota, who presented his plan to end child abuse in the United States within 120 years. Is it really possible to end child abuse in three generations? After listen to Victor Vieth, I would say yes, it is possible.