The October Signs of Safety Gathering in Kansas City will be even more international this year, with the first ever presentations from Cambodia.
Two years ago, social workers from the Cambodian Children’s Trust (CCT) and Children’s Future (CFI) in Battambang contacted Andrew Turnell to say they had started to use the Signs of Safety and asking for support to develop further. Since then, Andrew and Pene Turnell and Joke Wiggerink have been providing training and ongoing supervision and we have been learning together how the approach can be applied in Cambodia. The Signs of Safety practice of the Cambodian workers is inspiring and humbling, and continually teaches us what’s possible when practitioners work in genuine partnership with children, parents and their communities even in the poorest circumstances.
Both CCT and CFI workers have used the Signs of Safety as a vehicle to have honest, open conversations about hard issues that would often have been left unspoken, building this honesty by focusing first on strengths and success. An example we remember well involved a family where there were big worries about drinking and violence. As we explored the situation with the workers, they were surprised to recall that despite their poverty and problems the mother and father would always do whatever they needed to feed their children each day. The father repeatedly said he wanted his children to go to school and when the father was very drunk and threatening the mother would take the children to sleep at the village leader’s home. By focusing first in this way on what’s working, the workers reclaimed their capacity to respect families and gave them greater capacity to quickly build and strengthen natural support networks and create practical safety plans that make a difference for children.
Alongside their family work, both CCT and CFI are working with whole communities using the Signs of Safety to map out how the village can make their community safer for children and protect against child exploitation and trafficking. For many westerners, it comes as a shock to learn that orphanages are vehicles of this exploitation.
UNICEF tells us that over 80% of developing world children in orphanages aren’t orphans at all but have families they belong to. The Signs of Safety community is standing alongside CFI and CCT in fighting against the tide of exploitation orphanages bring by demonstrating a clear vision of how to holistically support the poorest children, families and communities. As part of the CCT presentation Tara Winkler will speak about the orphanage problem – and we have just launched a video announcing our international collaboration to address this issue.
Join us at Kansas and you’ll be inspired by the presentations of our Cambodian colleagues Pon Jedtha, Tara Winkler, Sokhors Hor and Giulia Ciucci as well as presentations from practitioners in Japan, Australia, England, Netherlands, Ireland, Canada and of course the USA.