“Engaging Children and Youth as Partners in Preventing Violence against Children” was a regional project funded by the European Commission. It aimed at contributing to the eradication of all sorts of violence against children and youth in three border-sharing post-conflict countries of West Africa: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The external evaluation focused the effectiveness of the project and the quality of young people’s participation. It included a mixed methodology approach, with emphasis on qualitative methods. In each country, it included document review, surveys, semi-structured focus group discussions, and key informant interviews.
Youth were involved as researchers in the project and successfully conducted research which identified the worst forms of violence in the three countries and well as current approaches addressing them. Conclusions and recommendations were intended to be used broadly to influence country level programmatic and policy actions, and to mainstream findings at a societal level to enable communities to better prevent worst forms of violence. It was considered effective and useful but took place on a relatively smaller scale than planned. Unfortunately, was little to no evidence of changes of programmatic or policy actions in any of the countries, though there were evidence of project activities catalyzing significant community action projects to prevent violence against children.
A key success of the project was the active involvement of youth researchers (YRs) which ensured the implementation of activities, as well as a strong impact on the YRs themselves who grew personally and professionally. There was an adequate gender balance, and the participation was deeply meaningful to them and to the project. Many children and youth felt their voice was valued for the first time in their lives, and the project’s youth-led and participatory innovation drew attention from many stakeholders. The YRs provided credibility, commitment, and creativity that helped the project succeed despite many obstacles, including the worst Ebola Crisis in history. However, poor communication and coordination hindered the project’s success. Further, cases of vicarious trauma among the YRs was identified by the evaluation consultant who had a background in child phycology, and SFCG identified adequate actions to respond to this serious issue.
In terms of recommendations, the YRs should be well prepared emotionally and psychologically before going to the field, while in the field, and after returning from the field.
The potential risks of vicarious trauma should be assessed, identified, and addressed during the project design phase, and future proposals related to child and youth participation should be reviewed by qualified professionals with contextually relevant child and youth participation experience. Further, SFCG and primary stakeholders should increase the usage and distribution of project outputs in order to optimize the effectiveness of similar projects.