Protecting Children Against Violence: Gao Jing's Story

Monday 29 June 2015

Gao Jing, 23, is a full-time social worker at the "Fenghuang Community Neighbour Centre" in Gulou District, Nanjing City. The "Neighbour Centre" is designed to provide services to the elderly, children and migrant women by professional social workers. After joining the centre, Gao Jing started to take charge of children’s programs and child protection independently. Although she possessed the social work qualification and some practical experience, she had never engaged in child protection before. She hoped to learn the knowledge and skills by doing her job.

In early 2014, Save the Children supported the Ministry of Civil Affairs to develop a model child protection system in four pilot sites including Nanjing’s Gulou district where Gao Jing works. The purpose of this model is to prevent, respond and protect children against all forms of abuse and violence. Capacity building for frontline social workers, community mobilization and multi-sectoral cooperation are key components of this model.

After the launch of the project, Save the Children conducted a series of training workshops for frontline social workers like Gao Jing on child protection. Among other things, the training covered the international principles standards of children’s rights and child protection, approaches to develop community-based child protection networks and what to be done to respond to child abuse and violence cases. Gao Jing participated in these training workshops and found them beneficial for her work, by enriching her knowledge and offering protection services to local children and families.

 "The training workshops enabled me to have in-depth understanding of the importance of child protection. We conducted community activities to help more residents be aware of the child protection centre in our community. We built closer relations with the community and expanded our scope of services. The centre also expanded its services to local schools who referred cases of abuse to our centre."

Gao Jing recalled one of these cases allocated to her in 2014. Xiao Hua (alias), a 10 years old 4 grader, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and social anxiety disorder. Born in a middle-class family, his parents often hit or scolded him when he was in trouble. "I can't help hitting him once my temper is out of control."- said his mother. Once his mother hit him with a clothes-hanger that resulted in numerous wounds on his head and body. The parents further disclosed that they would hit the boy for being disobedient and troublesome in school. Although they knew it was not the right thing to do, they believed it was the fastest and most effective method. Moreover, his parents believed that the head teacher discriminated and unfairly treated Xiao Hua at school, and have been blaming the teacher a lot, leading to a tense relationship between parents and teacher.

Gao Jing was tasked to help Xiao Hua. After meeting him a couple of times, Xiao Hua gradually trusted Gao Jing enough to tell her how things were at home, including him getting hit and showed her his wounds. After an adequate assessment, Gao Jing developed the case plan to address parental corporal punishment by working with parents. Gao Jing started by sharing Xiao Hua’s wishes with his parents. He hoped his parents would be more patient with him and stop hitting him. Xiao Hua also expressed that he did not intentionally cause trouble in school, he just did not know how to communicate with others and that it was out of his control. Gao Jing however discussed with Xiao Hua’s parents over the things he could actually control himself - things that he liked (such as observing insects and reading books). 

Next, Gao Jing helped Xiao Hua’s parents develop a work plan where Xiao Hua was commissioned to monitor the progress. This work plan aimed at gradual reduction of physical and verbal punishment inflicted at home. Small but realistic goals were identified including no physical abuse for two weeks and parental violation would result in a fine at Hua’s wish. Moreover, the ground rules were re-developed to reduce his misconduct by half with rewards such as new books.

Finally, Gao Jing offered Xiao Hua’s parents "respite care" so that his parents could have some relief and break away from him. Xiao Hua was invited to participate in the centre’s activities once every two weeks. Gao Jing also opted to give Xiao Hua’s parents some guidance on positive parenting skills to change their beliefs in addition to recognising their son’s conditions. She also recommended them to spend more quality time with him to help them positively focus on his behavioral issues rather than just his academic achievements.

Upon Save the Children staff’s suggestion, Gao Jing also helped Xiao Hua’s parents to improve their relationship with school teachers. Gao Jing facilitated the meeting between Xiao Hua’s parents and his teacher to help ease their tension. Meanwhile, she also met the teacher to request for increased care and attention to avoid adverse language stimulation and encourage Xiao Hua more frequently. The parental change and the teacher’s new approach contributed to the reduction of Xiao Hua’s misconducts (e.g. hitting his peers) at school. The teacher did not treat Xiao Hua unfairly anymore and Xiao Hua’s schooling immensely improved.  

After three months of intervention, Xiao Hua’s parents communicated better with him. Xiao Hua happily reported that his parents became more patient with him and that they would discuss the reasons with him first in addition to the rewards in place. Although Xiao Hua had greater social difficulty than other children, his parents were satisfied with his positive change. They reported that they stopped beating or scolding him and talked about a more harmonious family environment since positive discipline was applied.

Gao Jing was very happy with the outcome and that her approaches worked. She believed her success was largely due to the guidance and support from the pilot project. "The project helped us build relations with schools and staff who turned to be more supportive to the child with subsequent positive outcome." said Gao Jing.

Additionally, she learned the importance of building trust with children and family as a critical mean in engaging them. "Xiao Hua was unwilling to talk with strangers at first and became very angry if strangers touched him. After I gained his trust, he was open up and talked with me for one hour. This is the best reward for my work and also the biggest harvest from the training."

As a frontline social worker, Gao Jing is confident in her future work. "I hope to learn more about practical skills for social work, such as building trust and communication with children. I also hope to learn about successful experiences and good practices in other areas and other countries."