In 2023, Lifeline/Childline Namibia, a child wellbeing organization that operates the only child-centered crisis helpline in Namibia, developed a costed National Strategy for Parents and Caregivers for the Government of Namibia.
"People are not automatically born ready to be parents," said Zelnadia de Waal, a consultant with Childline/Lifeline Namibia and a social worker based in Windhoek. "The National Strategy for Parents and Caregivers understands that caregivers need support. We all need to be open to learning on our parenting journeys, and our strategy focuses on empowering caregivers to break cycles of violence in their families and communities."
The strategy was developed in response to the 2019 Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) in Namibia, which showed that girls and boys experienced high rates of physical, emotional, and sexual violence. Based on the data, and through the post-survey Data-to-Action process, the Government of Namibia focused on positive parenting as a key tactic to address the violence. Given Lifeline/Childline Namibia's experience in running gender-related positive parenting programs, they tapped the organization to create a technical working group to develop the nation's first violence-prevention National Strategy for Parents and Caregivers. The USAID Health Evaluation and Applied Research Development (HEARD) Project, Implementation Science Collective and University Research Co., LLC (URC) supported the strategy development.
The strategy focuses on empowering communities of caregivers, not just the nuclear or biological family, taking into account the diverse range of care providers for children and youth in Namibia. Each resource kit includes a National Parenting and Caregivers Handbook, topical brochures on alternative discipline, parenting support, communication, gender norms, social media safety, and child protection. It also includes a flash drive with the campaign radio jingles, infomercials on topics such as parenting styles, grief, and forms of violence; and short presentations and films on child development and milestones, communication within a family, and parental rights and responsibilities.
"If I had to summarize what we're trying to achieve through this initiative, I'd say it comes down to two things," said Elize Prins, manager of the gender department and parenting program implementer at Lifeline/Childline Namibia.
"First, I would tell all caregivers that they are not alone. There are a whole bunch of people standing ready to help you and guide you to become a 'good enough' parent. You have support."
"Second, I want to make clear that this strategy is about how all stakeholders and service providers have an equal responsibility to ensure caregivers are equipped with the necessary skills, information, and education to do the best parenting job. It is our shared responsibility to help create a safer future for children."
The strategy's monitoring and evaluation framework is currently with the Namibian Ministry of Health and Social Services for final approval and nationwide implementation. Read on to learn more from the Lifeline/Childline Namibia team about why shifting caregiving norms is central to ending violence against children.
Together for Girls: Did anything surprise you about working on the parenting initiatives?
Marcelle: Something that stuck out to me during the pilot period of the parenting handbook was that participants were not shy about expressing their gratitude for the information. We had many caregivers talk about how the handbook and course material made them recall their childhoods, remember the games they played, and what was enjoyable for them. They were able to bring that back into their parenting. They were able to try to allow more expression and conversation with their children, strengthening the parent-child relationship.
Zelnadia: Even though Namibia has many different cultures and types of communities, one thing that is similar throughout the regions is that in general, children are still raised to not speak openly or freely express themselves. This is a cultural norm.
Marcelle: It got pretty emotional. We had a participant who had two children, and through the training, she realized the harm her mother had done in her upbringing and the approaches she just took for granted with her firstborn that she wanted to try to rectify with her younger child. She even was reevaluating the relationship she wanted to allow her mother to have with her children.
How did gender impact your approach to designing the strategy?
Elize: Gender played a significant role. We took what I believe is a groundbreaking approach for this activity because even in our technical working groups, we try to have a relatively equal gender distribution of participants. We all know that socially constructed roles determine that mothers are the primary caregivers of the children and that is part of the culture and traditions that we grew up with. But studies have indicated if men are actively involved in child rearing and take parental responsibility it contributes tremendously to violence prevention among children because of the powerful role fathers play in their children's lives. We cannot separate gender and parenting.
Zelnadia: The work of this strategy is a long, long journey. Changing norms, and changing people’s minds takes a long time because it takes a whole behavioral change, not just about individual people but entire communities. There are deeply ingrained cultural norms around gender and parenting.
What have been the most successful dissemination strategies in terms of reach? I know there are jingles, infomercials, training programs, manuals, handbooks, and comics. What do you think has been the most successful so far?
Elize: We designed the suite of resources to give a wide range of different audiences what they need. For parents and caregivers, we broke the ice a little bit with the jingles and comics to help them build interest and not lose focus. There are different resources for social workers and policymakers.
Zelnadia: For parents, as much as we would like to facilitate a five-day session on every portion of the manual, we don’t have the funding or time to do so. That’s why we designed it so that it is easy to pick up and read and you don’t have to go in a particular order. It is written in a very accessible language. Caregivers can find the information that is most needed for them quickly and without having read the previous sections.
What do you hope will be the future of this initiative?
Marcelle: A key challenge of this initiative has been sustainability and limited resources. I've seen the value of this training. It's creating generational change in families and communities, and we need sustained, deliberate efforts in formal training who can execute this strategy on an ongoing basis.
Elize: Yes, I agree with what my colleague says. We have made significant progress. We cannot stop now. Ideally, we would want to have the training implemented in all 14 regions of Namibia. That requires a lot of additional financial and human resources!
For more information about Lifeline/Childline Namibia, visit lifeline childline.org.na. Learn more about the data-to-action movement to end violence against children in Namibia by visiting the Together for Girls Namibia country page.
Health Evaluation and Applied Research Development (HEARD) is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under cooperative agreement number AID-OAA-A-17-00002. The project team includes prime recipient, University Research Co., LLC (URC) and sub-recipient organizations. This product is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this product are the sole responsibility of Together for Girls and Lifeline Childline and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.