Leveraging Digital Technology to Increase Child Protection Response Time
Ugandans report nearly 200,000 child abuse cases annually to the National Child Helpline. Due to resource constraints and weak coordination between districts and communities, response time is slow, urgent cases are not followed up, and critical referrals to health and social protection services are not completed. To address the gap, in 2015, the Bantwana Initiative of World Education, Inc. and MTN Uganda launched the Closed-User Group (CUG) under the USAID/Better Outcomes for Children and Youth in Eastern and Northern Uganda (BOCY) project. The CUG eases communication to support timely response, coordination, follow up and tracking of referrals, and case closure.
The CUG is a low-cost, in-service phone network that links together critical community and district child protection actors through unlimited calls and texts between network members. CUG users include district protection officers, police, health facility staff, local social protection providers, para-social workers (PSWs), and other community structures who are the first line of response. Today, the CUG links more than 3,000 users together across 22 districts of program operation. PSWs use the CUG to consult with one another, their supervisors, districts, police, and other actors to address complex cases, like sexual abuse and gender-based violence. The CUG also strengthens the facility-community referral pathway to ensure HIV+ children and other critically vulnerable children can access urgent services.
Over a one year period, the number of recorded child protection cases increased from 11,274 to 19,760 (57%), and the number of completed referrals increased from 54% to 90%. Users report that the CUG has strengthened coordination and cooperation among all actors and helped to leverage resources and support quickly, which has been lifesaving for thousands of children.
Start small, scale up gradually: Starting small allowed for important relationship building and learning. This included managing expectations of MTN and the CUG users, such as confidentiality issues related to commercial and child protection priorities.
Share positive feedback with the commercial partner to instill good will and support: Open communication and sharing feedback regularly with MTN helped WEI/Bantwana establish itself as a preferred partner, which meant timely back-office help by a dedicated team of engineers who monitored service usage and solved problems quickly. MTN also provided 300 free handsets for PSWs who did not have handsets.
Effective for motivating PSWs: PSWs form the backbone of Uganda’s child protection system at the community level. The CUG has significantly eased their burden by enabling them to respond to cases, consult with peers and supervisors on complex cases in real time, and mobilize resources quickly, such as emergency transport funds to clinics or food supports for severely malnourished children. The CUG also motivates other community and district partners who use the CUG to address child protection cases and mobilize communities for integrated service delivery.
Provides the ‘glue’ between the districts and communities: The vast majority of child protection cases happen in the community, and getting services to children where they live is one of the biggest challenges facing Uganda’s child protection system. Feedback from users suggest that the CUG has enabled timely response, especially with households that are located deep in communities. In these cases, PSWs are able to call on their peers working in distant villages who are able to follow up cases more easily.
With USAID support, WEI/Bantwana and the Government of Uganda have established five District Action Centers (DACs) in Oyam, Apac, Jinja, Mayuge, and Bugiri districts to strengthen the child protection response. Staffed by a sub-county child protection officer, DACs are directly linked to the National Child Helpline. Through the CUG, DAC officers will be linked to PSWs which will help to ensure suspected child abuse cases that are reported into the National Child Helpline can be followed through at the community level.
Under USAID/Uganda Better Outcomes for Children and Youth in Eastern and Northern Uganda, WEI/Bantwana and partners deliver integrated service across the HIV continuum of care to build resilience in children and families and to strengthen the violence and HIV prevention and response system. BOCY’s work also contributes to Uganda’s 95-95-95 epidemic control goals.