By Qixiang @ MSF
Qixiang is a Senior Child Protection Officer at MSF. He works to protect and safeguard the interests of vulnerable children, to help them seek a safe and nurturing environment to grow up in. These children are assessed to be at risk of abuse or neglect – or are already victims of abuse.
One of the hardest things for anyone to do, would be to let someone into their life when they are at their lowest. Someone they can turn to, confide in and rely upon. Someone that they can trust.
And this is exactly what Qixiang was to the family.
As a Child Protection Officer (CPO), Qixiang works with families to protect vulnerable children and provide them with the best possible environment to grow up in. CPOs usually step in when there are very clear safety concerns – when children are reported or assessed to be at high risk of abuse or neglect, and external intervention is required to assist the family in looking out for the children.
Qixiang recalls a family that he worked with who had been struggling with issues of violence and alcohol abuse.
Not spared from their abusive son and worried for the safety of their three young grandchildren; the pair of elderly grandparents were frightened and initially resistant to letting in people into their lives – let alone a stranger like Qixiang.
Earning their trust to understand the situation and offer assistance was an uphill battle.
“I tried for a long time to get them to open up to me. And each time, I always made sure to be honest and sincere – and act more like a confidant rather than a position of ‘authority’.”
Eventually Qixiang’s earnest pleas got through the family, and his usually calm and composed demeanor breaks into a warm smile as he recalls the moment of ‘breakthrough’.
Gaining the clients’ trust is important as officers need to know that the families would turn to them in times of need. At the same time, relationships built on trust would allow the officers to have confidence that safety plans would be met, in the case when help is not available.
Giving credit to the revised Partnering for Safety Framework for his success; Qixiang elaborates on how a combination of the collaborative nature of the revised framework, being empathetic and very transparent with the family worked in unison.
However, there might be times when cases do not seem to be progressing, or mistakes seem to be recurring – and this can potentially be very frustrating. With how heavily dependent the job is on CPOs’ emotional and mental strength, work can take toll on its officers.
“If I know that I am not in the best position to deal with a case, I take some time off to exercise, meet with friends; self-care is very important. Taking care of your own mental health and emotional well-being before you meet with clients is key,” Qixiang shares.
Deep-seated issues within the families are also often a common factor in many of these cases. As such, working with the families can be highly challenging. Many may not be welcoming or receptive – and some may even be hostile to CPOs’ assistance.
“I try my best to calm down and reassure the clients; and then explain the rationale behind all our plans,” Qixiang says, on the way he manages the situation.
“I also always keep it at the back of my mind that nothing the clients say or do is personal. It is also very easy to judge in this line of work. I think it is important not to see them as they are – but what they could be.”
“Many of the perpetrators could also be grappling with a range of issues themselves as well that could have stemmed from when they were young. Child Protection is about giving children a better beginning, and rectifying everything right from the start”
“And this is the very role of CPOs – to see the good in the people and help them achieve it. That is what I try to do in my everyday work.”
Reaching his second year as a CPO officer in MSF in the coming month, Qixiang is full of optimism for the future.
Commenting on how the pair of elderly grandparents wrote in to thank him for looking after their three grandchildren and stated that they “confide in him 100%”, Qixiang says bashfully:
“I felt really proud when the family was eventually able to empower themselves and break out of the cycle. And also to make better decisions, not just for the children, but also for themselves.”