Skip to main content

Protecting women and children: the story of WAVE’s safeguarding guidelines 

 
Organisational strengthening and effectiveness / Partner story

Photo by: Daria Obymaha

When a woman faces violence at home, the children that live with her are also exposed to that pattern of behaviour. It is estimated that 275 million children worldwide live in homes where violence occurs1. Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE), one of Oak’s Issues Affecting Women’s partners, is working to keep children safe and empower them in situations of violence in the home. WAVE was established in 1994 and today is a European network of 170 members in 46 European countries, most of which are women’s specialist services, including shelters, women’s centres, and helplines. WAVE has been working since 1994 on the prevention and combatting of all forms of violence against women and their children. 

At Oak, child safeguarding is an ultimate priority, and that is why we offer additional support in the form of expertise, advice, or small grants to our partners to help them develop internal systems and processes that ensure the safety of children as they carry out their work. For WAVE, child safeguarding is a central component of its work. Therefore, when our partnership began, it was a natural next step for WAVE to take the initiative to identify child-safeguarding as a key priority. To this end, WAVE allocated part of its main grant budget to safeguarding, and launched a two-year project called ‘Safeguarding and Empowering Children’.  The result of this project was a set of safeguarding guidelines to support the work of women’s organisations on the ground, and advocate for better custody proceedings for children who experience violence at home. 

“Safeguarding children is a priority for most of our members,” says Stephanie Futter-Orel, executive manager of WAVE. “In the shelters, women try to deal with their own trauma, and then they have to support their children as well. There is often a lack of comprehensive safeguarding guidelines in service centres that are helping women. That is why we decided that there is a need to focus on the topic of child safeguarding from the perspective of different country settings.”  

Collaboration for adaptable policies 
Working with organisations from countries all around Europe, one of WAVE’s main interests was to design a safeguarding framework that can be applied to different national contexts. That is because, in some of the countries where WAVE’s members carry out their work, there are good safeguarding practices already in place, whereas in other countries, the teams face more challenging settings. It was clear that the guidelines had “to be a basic framework that members can adapt to their national contexts, and the organisations they can work with,” says Stephanie. This would ensure that the guidelines are genuinely applicable in varying contexts and situations. 

Four organisations led the project along with WAVE, each one bringing different perspectives to the table: Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb (AZKZ) from Croatia, the Women for Women Together Against Violence Association (NANE) from Hungary, the Central Information Office of Autonomous Women’s Shelters (ZIF) from Germany and the Women’s Rights Foundation (WRF) from Malta. As explained by project coordinator, Branislava Arađan, most of these organisations are at the frontlines of gender-based violence, providing on-the-ground services, and regularly engaging with the judicial system. In terms of the child safe-guarding process, by the end of 2021, these four partner organisations were having regular meetings, during which they provided inputs based on their experience and mapped the field for existing actors and legislations. These regular meetings also provided a space for partners to know each other and their work better. 

In addition, WAVE and its partners collected further input from other members of the network during a joint webinar with Autonomous Women’s Shelters Austria on “child safeguarding in women’s support services”.  While the complexity of the subject meant that collecting information on current safeguarding practices was sometimes a challenge, the organisations were able to overcome this obstacle and collaboratively gathered data on regulatory frameworks and stakeholders.  

Overall, the teams involved in the project saw the importance of establishing a safeguarding framework, so they rallied together to draw up the guidelines. These summarise national and international examples of the legislative context currently set up to protect children; describe the purpose of the guidelines; determine areas, risks, and factors for protection; and outline safeguarding procedures for preventing and reporting incidents within women’s specialist services.  

Looking to the future 
Since the guidelines were published and shared with WAVE members in December 2022, they have been translated to Croatian and German. Both Stephanie and Branislava highlighted the importance of translation for disseminating the guidelines with frontline services. The hope is that they can become a baseline guide for women’s specialist services, particularly in countries that were not part of the design process. In addition, WAVE hopes to be able to share these procedures with other relevant organisations. 

This year, the plan is to create an additional toolkit that encourages movement building for child-friendly custody proceedings at court. This would disseminate promising practices around how and with whom to work when domestic violence perpetrators try to maintain power in custody, contact and visitation arrangements, and how to ensure the safety and human rights of the mother and the child(ren) in these procedures. During the 25th WAVE Conference taking place in October 2023 in Madrid, the project partners will deliver a workshop based on the toolkit, to further discuss and disseminate the publication.  

It is clear that this is just the beginning of a complex journey. More work remains to be done in terms of implementing these guidelines and extending their practices to all European women’s organisations as well as institutional partners. Nevertheless, this safeguarding journey now has a sturdy foundation from where to start building up frameworks, that keep children safe in contexts of violence against women. 

Oak is proud to be part of WAVE’s efforts to promote children’s safety in its work. You can find out more about Oak’s approach to child safeguarding on our website and in our Child Safeguarding Policy. If your organisation is an Oak grantee partner and interested in receiving child safeguarding support, please contact your programme officer.   

References: 

(1) The Body Shop/UNICEF (2006). Behind Closed Doors. The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children. London: The Body Shop International Plc. Available from: https://www.acesdv.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/BehindClosedDoors.pdf