Solutions Spotlight: Keeping Children Safe During the Pandemic


Delivery workers are one focus of the Tulsa campaign, which brings together local partners to raise awareness of child abuse and how to report

When Oklahoma’s schools and day care centers shuttered in March to slow the spread of COVID-19, toddlers to teens saw their in-person education experience replaced by virtual learning and home schooling. The state’s child abuse hotline also saw a 50 percent drop in calls, which child welfare professionals there attribute to the reduced contact that teachers and carers had with their charges.

Now that school’s out and back-to-school arrangements for the fall are uncertain, Oklahoma — like other states across the nation — faces the same challenge: how do you keep children and teens safe from abuse when the safety nets of day care and school disappear?

Under normal circumstances, teachers, day care staff and after-school activity leaders are key adults in children’s lives who can act as ‘reporters’ of suspected child abuse and neglect. They serve as the eyes and ears of child safety in the nursery, classroom, or on the athletic field.

COVID-19 changed all this, replacing classroom contact with Zoom video calls and email check-ins. Aftercare activities were cancelled. Sports were shut down.

This widespread loss of in-person contact with children and young people immediately led to dramatic drops in reporting across the country. According to one report in April, calls to Washington state’s child abuse hotline went down about 50%, while Montana and Louisiana reported about a 45% reduction since schools closed in March. Arizona’s calls were down a third compared with previous weeks. “That means many children are suffering in silence,” Darren DaRonco, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Child Safety, told the Associated Press.

Single biggest problem

Child welfare system experts warn that the current system of detecting abuse and neglect is rendered “almost completely powerless” during pandemic restrictions. “The child protection system really depends on reporting by professionals. And now professionals are seeing [children] much less, that’s a very fundamental problem. The single biggest problem,” says Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and co-director of its Center on Children and Families.

Oklahoma has the highest percentage of adverse childhood experiences in the country, with 28.5% of children age 0-17 experiencing two or more stressful or traumatic events that may have a lasting impact on their health and well-being. Latest data for the state shows that 13,125 children are neglected and 1,379 abused each year.

Maura Guten is president and CEO of Child Abuse Network, Tulsa’s children’s advocacy center which brings multiple agencies such as doctors and police under one roof to investigate child abuse. She says shelter-in-place arrangements have exacerbated Oklahoma’s already concerning child welfare situation.

“We’re the acute response… and these are some of the worst cases I’ve seen in 20 years,” says Guten. “There is a lot more serious neglect, for example very young children wandering [alone] outside and nobody recognizing that they’re gone for an extended period of time. And we’re seeing a lot more hospitalizations, use of our mobile interviewing equipment, and more emergency interviews in the evening or early morning.”

During a normal summer, CAN sees 40-50 children a week. Guten says lockdown could easily double that workload: “We’re seeing a lot more kids independently seeking services — running away, running for help to a police station or neighbor.”

Family & Children’s Services (F&CS) is the largest community mental health centre in Oklahoma and provides therapeutic services to victims of child abuse and neglect. Christine Marsh, F&CS’s senior director of child abuse and trauma services, says the side effects of COVID-19, such as job losses, financial stress and living in close quarters, have placed an additional burden on families: “People are getting on each other’s nerves, there is high stress and possible depression because of the ongoing isolation,” she says.

“And kids whose parents do have to work are being left unsupervised, or in the hands of people who really aren’t prepared to take care of kids and could cause harm.”

Marsh says F&CS therapists have had to adapt their video or telephone interactions with children, for example, if family members are in close proximity: “We’ve worked on code words for kids, so instead of saying, ‘I don’t want to talk about it, my mom’s sitting here’, we set up a code word they can say to mean, ‘Someone’s here and I don’t want to talk about that right now.’”

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This response echoes what domestic violence organizations are doing to help victims communicate abuse during COVID-19, such as the Signal for Help gesture launched in April by Women’s Funding Network.

Haskins calls for greater public awareness of the prevalence of child abuse, and for reporting to fall within the purview of everyone in the community and not just professionals. “I think people are aware in maybe an abstract way,” he says. “But it’s about emphasizing to the public not only that there is a problem, but that kids in their own community are undoubtedly being neglected, and in some cases abused.”

Since May, an awareness campaign in Tulsa has been urging everyone from pizza delivery people to grocery store clerks to help keep young people safe over the summer and beyond. The Look Out, Reach Out campaign calls on the whole community to recognize and report signs of child abuse and neglect, and publicizes the state’s child abuse hotline.

A collaborative project by local non-profits and co-ordinated by Tulsa Area United Way(TAUW), the campaign was launched in May via NBC affiliate KJRH-2 Works For You, in the form of a TV slot aired every Thursday during that month about how to recognize and report abuse and neglect.

Look Out, Reach Out

On May 29, TAUW and campaign partners Child Abuse Network, Family & Children’s Services (F&CS), and The Parent Child Center of Tulsa launched a website, collating the advice and information discussed on the TV slots. From July, flyers promoting the site and helpline will be distributed at sites with high footfall including 81 QuikTrip convenience stores/gas stations, 17 Reasor’s grocery stores, seven Goodwill shops and four Supermercados Morelos outlets in the Tulsa area.


TAUW leveraged pro bono support from its supporter network for the campaign branding, messaging, and execution. Social media including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, is being used to communicate campaign messages.

Krista Hemme, TAUW’s VP of marketing and communications, says the campaign is aimed at both “the usual abusers” but also parents who never thought they’d be in a situation where they would strike a child. “There is an incredible need to make the community aware of what the warning signs are, prevention, what parents can do, and making people aware of the reporting process — that you can do anonymously.”

Marsh at campaign partner, F&CS adds: “If you’re the pizza delivery person that’s going into a home because you’re one of the frontline people now — and you notice something — you can report. It doesn’t hurt to make a report. And it can create a trail of trends even if that report isn’t going to cause an investigation.”

During a regular school yearYWCA El Paso in Texas sees around 2,500 children a week through its after-school programs. But, with schools closed and its programs shuttered, that figure dropped to about 250 children a week during lockdown. Texas saw child abuse reporting reduce significantly since March, yet the numbers of children showing up at emergency rooms with head trauma, bruises and other injuries spiked.

The non-profit applied for and was granted a PPP loan, enabling it to quickly pivot from staff running after-school activities to the YWCA Cares program, checking in with vulnerable families and providing respite care.


YWCA El Paso is providing childcare for parents, including those who need support during the pandemic



Dr. Sylvia Acosta, CEO at YWCA El Paso, says: “We informed every school district in our community and we worked out a way that counsellors could refer individuals to us that they felt needed lots of support.”

For example, a 13-year-old girl had not shown up to class since schooling went virtual. YWCA followed up with the family and discovered that the single parent had several other children under the age of 13, including a child with a disability. The 13-year-old had had to step in to help her siblings with homework, meaning she could not show up online for school.

“We were able to provide respite care for three days and also connect the family to long-term childcare funding so they could continue with that,” says Dr. Acosta. “So all the children except for the 13-year-old were out of the house, the parent could take care of the child with the disability, and the 13-year-old could go back to school.”

Staff provides three days of respite care, between 6:30am and 6:30pm. This offers parents a chance to take time out, organize household chores, and investigate long-term childcare subsidies. “It allows them to take a step back and allows us to help them find the resources to be successful,” says Dr. Acosta.

While these initiatives are to be welcomed, school professionals worry that many at-risk children still face huge challenges. Melissa Ambrose, school wellness co-ordinator for Jefferson Union High School District in the San Francisco Bay Area, gives the example of a senior who had been set to leave home — where her parents experience chronic alcoholism and gambling addiction — for college in the fall but now cannot as teaching at her college will now be virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“She’s devastated,” says Ambrose. “She says she can’t bear her house for another year. But she has no choice.”

Ambrose is also concerned about how counsellors will see students when schools go back: “None of our offices have six feet of space. How do we see kids privately?” And with no budget for professional development in the coming school year, she is worried that teachers won’t be equipped with the skills they need to keep students safe: “What we really need is for teachers to be trained in trauma informed practices, because they’re going to have way more contact with the kids than we are,” she says. However, union rules stipulate that any training over the summer cannot be mandatory and must be compensated.

Funding is a perennial problem, says Haskins at Brookings, who hopes for more federal dollars for child welfare services: “That would be something the federal government could do if it was worried about this problem — figure out a way [to give] more money to the states to conduct these programs, to make more home visits, to purchase more protection for the workers who are having to visit the homes. And to make sure the kids are kept stably placed in whatever setting they are in.

The App Helping Africa’s Midwives Save Lives

This article first appeared on the Women & Girls Hub from News Deeply

A mobile health project in Ethiopia gives any health worker with a smartphone access to the information they need to deal with emergencies during childbirth. Now it’s being scaled up to reach 10,000 health workers across Africa and Southeast Asia by 2017.

A midwife at Gimbi Health Center in West Wellega, Ethiopia, uses the Safe Delivery App to help her carry out an examination on a patient. Photo by Mulugeta Wolde

For Ethiopian mother Mitike Birhanu, the birth of her twins almost ended in tragedy. She was unconscious when the second of her babies was delivered, and the newborn seemed lifeless. But her midwife quickly consulted an app on her smartphone, diagnosed the problems, and used emergency procedures to save both Mitike’s life and that of her child.

Every year, over 300,000 women globally die from pregnancy-related causes, and over 5 million babies die during birth or within the first weeks of their lives. Yet the vast majority of maternal and newborn deaths could be prevented if health workers attending births had better emergency skills and knowledge.

Many health workers in low- or middle-income countries work in environments where there is no electricity or running water. But one thing they do have is smartphones.

The Safe Delivery App (SDA) was created as a simple tool for health workers such as midwives and nurses to access basic emergency obstetric and neonatal care skills. Developed by Danish NGO Maternity Foundation in collaboration with the University of Southern Denmark and the University of Copenhagen, the app aims to train and instruct birth attendants on how to manage potentially fatal complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Based on global clinical guidelines, the SDA contains four basic features: animated instruction videos, action cards, a drug list and practical procedure instructions. The five- to seven-minute videos teach lifesaving skills such as how to stop a woman bleeding after birth or how to resuscitate a newborn. When there is no time to watch the full video, the action cards give clear, essential recommendations and immediate care information – such as how to mix an alcohol-based hand rub.

The SDA is free to download from Google Play and the App Store. And it can be preinstalled on phones, so once it’s downloaded, users don’t need a network connection or internet access to view the videos or other features.

Meaza Semaw, project coordinator at the Ethiopian Midwives Association, says the app is ideal for places like Ethiopia, where women’s access to quality maternal health services is challenging, especially if they experience complications in birth. “The Safe Delivery App is a great tool to improve maternal health in Ethiopia. Most midwives, if not all, have a mobile phone, so accessibility is very high,” she says. “The app is easy to use because it is supported by animations and videos. In addition, it uses local languages.”

With the support of the MSD for Mothers program, the first four of the app’s 10 videos were tested in a one-year, randomized controlled trial across 78 facilities in Ethiopia during 2014. Results show users’ skills in handling most common complications such as postpartum hemorrhage and newborn resuscitation more than doubled after 12 months of using the app.

The app was officially launched in April 2015, and a year later was chosen by the Women Deliver conference as an example of how a partnership-based innovation can help end maternal and newborn mortality. SDA is now currently in use in Kenya, with plans to roll out to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Laos and India in the coming months.

So far, the app has been funded with help from over $50,000 in donations through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, and Maternity Foundation is working with partners in individual countries to fund the translation and rollout of the app. The hope is to be able to fulfill the commitment Maternity Foundation made to the U.N.’s Every Woman Every Child to reach 10,000 health workers with the app by the end of 2017, so ensuring a safer birth for 1 million women.

At Wollega University in Ethiopia, student midwives use the app during training. (Mulugeta Wolde)At Wollega University in Ethiopia, student midwives use the app during training. (Mulugeta Wolde)

Maternity Foundation CEO Anna Frellsen says the organization is working in partnership with governments, midwives’ associations and larger NGOs to achieve its goal. “We really want to see the app integrated as part of the existing health system in countries, and we are starting to engage with the [health] ministries and stakeholders in each country to find out how it can be used and adapted,” she says.

The Ethiopian Midwives Association is currently working on integrating the SDA into its ongoing training program. Frellsen hopes other health organizations in participating countries will do likewise.

There is also a new version of the app in the works, which will feature quizzes and a test (rewarded by a certificate) to “push” learning to the user and make the experience more interactive.

Frellsen says one of the key components of Maternity Foundation’s “backbone” support for its partners will be disseminating learning around the SDA and mobile health in general. “We are looking at how we can publish some of the learning for sharing with others who would like to use the app, but also more broadly as a case for how to scale up an mHealth [mobile health] tool,” she says.

In western Ethiopia’s Gimbi rural district, the midwife who saved Mitike’s life says the Safe Delivery App has already made her better at her job. “I am confident that from what I have learned from the app, I can stop [a mother] bleeding,” says Yane Ababaw. “I can save her life.”

Crucial questions for journalists during the refugee crisis

Credit: Nando Sigona

Credit: Nando Sigona

This article first appeared on the 19 Million Project website

“We need to humanize the refugee crisis,” UK-based migration specialist Nando Sigona told the 19 Million Project audience in Rome during a Skype interview on Wednesday.

Sigona, senior lecturer in migration and citizenship at the University of Birmingham in England, challenged journalists to look at the stories behind the stats, rather than treating people as “generic refugees”.

What is it like to spend four years in a refugee camp? What are the issues facing the generation of children born in camps? These are some of the questions that journalists should be asking, said Sigona. “Attempts to humanize are very important.”

Sigona urged journalists to remain inclusive about their coverage of migration stories, given the inter-sectionality of refugees: “There is a risk in the representation of ‘good’ refugees versus ‘bad’ ones,” he said. “Who does deserve our protection? Syrians are not the only ones who do.”

And while data can be a powerful tool, Sigona cautioned users to keep an eye on the bigger picture. “Numbers have power but we need to pay much more attention to how numbers are used,” he said, citing the “complete conflation” of immigration with figures on arrivals by the sea.

Measures to promote integration of refugees in their host countries vary wildly. But Sigona says he is encouraged by positive actions emerging from the Mediterranean crisis, such as Germany translating its constitution into Arabic and offering English as well as German language courses, to assist incoming refugees.

A key issue for journalists to consider over the coming months, says Sigona, is the “economy of the crisis” and its beneficiaries – such as security contractors employed by EU border management agency, Frontex. “Who is making money out of it?”

Doing the funny business: why Red Nose Day USA paid off

RED NOSE DAY -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Seth Meyers onstage at NBC's

Red Nose Day host Seth Meyers onstage at the NBC telethon (Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

This article originally appeared in The Guardian

Launching a national fundraising event in a country of 320 million people and multiple time zones may seem like an ambitious gamble. But UK charity Comic Relief hopes the first Red Nose Day USA, which culminated on 21 May with a telethon raising over $21m (£13.6m), will prove to be worth the risk.

Red Nose Day USA builds on the success of its UK namesake which, since its launch in 1988, has raised more than £1bn to help 50 million people in the poorest communities at home and abroad.

The biennial Red Nose Day UK fundraiser encourages people to “do something funny for money” in their school, community or workplace. It concludes with a live TV show and telethon on BBC1, which in March 2015 raised over £78m and attracted 8.5 million viewers.

Around 3.2 million viewers watched the inaugural Red Nose Day USA’s slick, three-hour broadcast from New York featuring live comedy sketches, musical performances and pre-recorded acts.

The US show also included pre-recorded celebrity reports from the field (Jack Black in Uganda and Michelle Rodriguez in Peru) and household name hosts (Seth Meyers, David Duchovny and Jane Krakowski) to urge viewers to donate during the show.

Twelve non-profit organisations in the US and worldwide will benefit from the first Red Nose Day USA, from Boys & Girls Clubs of America to international vaccination organisation, Gavi.

Red Nose Day USA is run by Comic Relief Inc as an independent sister organisation of Comic Relief UK – the charity set up in 1985 by screenwriter Richard Curtis in response to famine in Ethiopia.

Comic Relief innovation director, Amanda Horton-Mastin says the idea of a US Red Nose Day had been percolating for some time: “We share the same language, the US is an amazingly generous population and we have a lot of shared comedy.”

Campaign challenges

Given the scale of the US, it was essential to have an effective network partner so the team was delighted to secure NBC, which worked with its affiliates to promote the event locally. “With the BBC and two or three media partners you can reach everyone in the UK,” Horton-Mastin explained. “The fragmentation of the media [in the US] is a massive challenge.”

Another challenge was building brand awareness in a country where red noses mean Rudolph, not raising money: “Nobody knew us – we were starting from zero awareness.”

Walgreens – the pharmacy chain with 8,232 outlets across the US – was chosen as exclusive retailer of the campaign’s trademark red noses and other select products from vendor partners such as Mars, Kraft and Coca-Cola. Sales of these items, combined with fundraising by Walgreens’ employees and customers, raised over $8m while embedding the campaign at community level.

Bringing a new fundraising brand to market within just a few months meant that social media was a crucial element of the campaign. NBC created a dedicated app which enabled users to add a red nose image to a new or existing photo, then share on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Building on this, Red Nose Day USA partner M&M’s asked people to make someone laugh then share their story with the hashtag #MakeMLaugh, in return for a $1 M&M’s donation to Red Nose Day. The campaign hit its $250,000 target and raised $1.25m from M&M’s.

Additionally, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $25 for each photo posted on Twitter or Instagram by 1 June with the hashtag #RedNose25, up to a total $1m.

RED NOSE DAY -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Gwyneth Paltrow onstage at NBC's

Gwyneth Paltrow makes an entrance at the Red Nose Day telethon (Photo: David Giesbrecht/NBC)

Content is king

Creating a rich source of newsworthy content that could go viral was another priority. “Content is king so we wanted to make the entertainment really strong,” Horton-Mastin added.

Telethon night highlights included a Game of Thrones mock musical by Coldplay that has attracted over 7m hits on YouTube, The Voice winner Sawyer Fredericks’ rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine and an acoustic duet by Ed Sheeran and Kermit the Frog of the Muppet Movie song, Rainbow Connection.

The strategy appears to have paid off. According to Nielsen’s Twitter TV ratings – which map the social conversation around a telecast three hours before and after the event – four million people across the US saw 149,000 Red Nose Day tweets, making it the third most social TV event of the week, behind only the NBA Draft Lottery and David Letterman’s final Late Show.

Other countries including Iceland, Finland, Germany and South Africa have hosted their own events based on Red Nose Day or Sport Relief, usually run under licence from Comic Relief. In Australia, a Red Nose Day has existed since 1987 as the main annual fundraiser for SIDS and Kids, a national charity supporting families affected by infant death. Horton-Mastin said Comic Relief will continue to look at opportunities to expand the brand where there is a giving culture and a TV culture.

In the meantime, Horton-Mastin hopes Red Nose Day USA will become an annual event: “We’ve been very optimistic and have huge aspirations, because our mission is about driving positive change using the power of entertainment.”

Feeding the spirit

Between Meals 1 (not in final)

As featured in The Guardian’s Pick of the blogs

As newly-arrived refugees and immigrants navigate the myriad challenges in their new environments, it is often food and its important cultural traditions that are the mainstay in this journey.

Between Meals collects stories and recipes from California’s refugee women to paint a picture of their lives, past and present. The cookbook chronicles the experiences of women leaving their homes in Afghanistan, Burma, Somalia, Sri Lanka and beyond, and the vital role that traditional cooking plays at every stage of the process.

From the malawah flatbread that Somali refugee Halimo cooked each day in the Dadaab refugee camp, to Afghan newcomer Arezo’s celebratory jalebi sweet, every recipe tells a story.

Between Meals 5

Memory box

Cookbook author Lauren Markham sees Between Meals as both a preservation project – a recipe “memory box” from the US diaspora communities – as well as a reflection on the creative process by which refugee and immigrant women put down roots in their new homes.

It highlights the challenges that women face when adapting their food to new communities, from locating a goat farm an hour’s drive away, to tracking down galangal root at a Chinatown market.

Between Meals is a project of San Francisco Bay Area non-profit agency, Refugee Transitions, which supports newly-arrived refugees and immigrants into their new communities through education, family engagement and community leadership programs.

Funded by Cal Humanities, the cookbook was developed from Refugee Transition’s home-based tutoring program, where shared meals are often core to the student-tutor relationship.

Between Meals 3

Making connections

Executive director Laura Vaudreuil says that, for those who have had to leave all behind, sharing a meal means more than just sharing food: “When all that is left are memories of home, the smells, tastes and experience of a meal recreated can take people back to friends and family.”

Arezo enjoys making her mantu Afghan dumplings for family and new friends. “Mantu is special to me because my mother made it for me the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child.

“I make mantu in California, especially when I miss Kabul and my family in Afghanistan.”

Between Meals is available to order here Profits from the book will be distributed among the cookbook contributors.