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Barefoot Social Workers Reach Remote Areas of China with Child Protection Services

by Save the Children China Country Office

Save the Children China Country Office offers special thanks for contributions and support from: Wenhui and his colleagues, Cangyuan County Civil Affairs Bureau, Cangyuan Women’s Federation, Danjia Township in Cangyuan and Yongwu village in Danjia Towship

Wei Wenhui is the first barefoot social worker for Save the Children's child protection project in China. He is known in the Cangyuan Wa Autonomous County in Lincang City, situated within the Yunnan Province, for the unique way he connects with the community members. 

The story of Wenhui and Save the Children began in 2014. The project started as a pilot project in a neighboring township in partnership with the local village committee and the township government. On the recommendation of the village committee, Wenhui became the first child protection barefoot social worker in Cangyuan County. As social work is a relatively new but increasingly recognized profession within China, there is a growing need for community-level workers. 

The title of barefoot social worker is similar to a community-level para professional worker who conducts home visits within remote communities. The title of barefoot doctor is already known within the community for health-related para professional support. 

This community is near the border of Myanmar and so remote that it is not easily accessed to those who don’t live in the immediate area. The social service workforce is under-developed in this province, compared to elsewhere in China, because of its remoteness and scarcity of resources. Child trafficking, children without adult supervision and children left behind when their parents move to larger cities for jobs have created many child protection concerns. Save the Children saw a need for creating a program to recruit and train people living within the immediate community, to make access to child protection services easier as well as ensure trust of the community. 

Wenhui singing to children

In order to promote key messages on child protection in the local area and overcome language barriers, Wenhei created songs and organized dance and drama performances about child protection in both Mandarin Chinese and the local language of Wa. This is because when Save the Children visited the villages within Cangyuan County, the children would naturally sing many different songs as a way to learn and express emotions. Children could easily recall these songs’ messages to know their rights and how to participate in their own protection. Wenhui shared that when he first started this job, the difficulties far exceeded his expectations. The parents were reluctant to provide information when he went to the house to understand the situation of the case. "At that time, no one understood what the child protection was going to do? Everyone would only think that it was their own family affair." Wenhui was often turned away. 

This method is working to build the trust of the community and also children. He said, "I share my personal experiences and anecdotes with the children. On weekdays, I will organize various activities and evening shows. This is a way for me to have more contact and build natural connections with the children.” 

In the summer of 2016, Wei Wenhui planned a three-day event related to the theme of child protection. It included a story exchange for the children and learning activities and lectures for community members. It was well-attended and well-received by the villagers. "It was at this time that I realized the significance of this job-I have helped many parents and children.” 

The concept of protecting children and ending violence is becoming more understood and common practice within the village and Cangyuan County. Many families previously used beatings as punishment but more parents are now using the effective parenting approaches Wei has taught them. 

Wenhui’s sense of mission has also brought changes to his own life. “As a child protection worker, I hope that I can take the lead and be a role model for other parents. I will communicate with my 6-year-old daughter by using some of the parenting approaches I have taught others.”

Wenhui presenting to parentsHis daily work also includes training and supervising the child protection liaisons of various village groups. He supports them in knowing what information needs to be collected and how to effectively communicate with children and their families. They conduct home visits to families on a regular basis to understand the needs of children and the status of child protection. They provide support and assistance to children and families in special difficulties in the village. After the home visit, he holds meetings with the child protection liaisons or village heads to discuss the issues identified and how to follow up. 

Wenhui said: "I like my job very much and I am very happy to make a contribution to child protection. I am the first person in the county to do this job. I think my work has saved many children." 

Due to the success of the program, it continues to grow. There are now five barefoot social workers in the county, and the program offers a career ladder for those involved. As more resources on case management supervision are being mobilized, quality assurance measures continue to increase. And most importantly, the results are visible in the local community as more children and families benefit from increased child protection services and decreased violence. 

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Advocacy and innovation in social service provision in Eastern and Southern Africa

Advocacy and innovation in social service provision in Eastern and Southern Africa - 
‘I am because we are’ - Strengthening social solidarity and global connectedness
*reposted with permission from UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa

By Mohamed M. Malick Fall

Child Helpline staff in Uganda take calls and follow up on reports of violenceToday, as we mark World Social Work Day, we celebrate the important impacts of social service workers on the lives of individuals, families and communities. This year’s theme of World Social Work Day is Ubuntu: ‘I am because we are’ – Strengthening Social Solidarity and Global Connectedness. The sentiment of Ubuntu, originating in South Africa, is one that resonates regionally.

Since the onset of the pandemic, containment measures have led to increased threats to children and women’s safety and well-being including gender-based violence, exploitation, abuse, neglect, and social exclusion. Children have been confined to their homes due to school closures and hidden from public sight. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing have cut children off from the support systems they need, especially when in distress, including school, extended family, community and social services. In this context, we rely on social service workers more than ever.

Despite significant challenges during COVID-19, social service workers for child protection have swiftly adapted how they provide essential services to ensure continuity of quality care. They have committed to maintaining social solidarity and connectedness in the communities where they work during this challenging time.

UNICEF, together with the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, the International Federation of Social Workers, the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, and national associations and other groups, has supported efforts to strengthen the social service workforce for child protection. We have collectively advocated to governments, policy makers and other groups in Eastern and Southern Africa to ensure these workers are considered essential service providers during COVID-19, so they can be allowed to continue their work. To assess vulnerability, identify risks, carry out case management and deliver preventative services to protect all children, these workers frequently need to be able to conduct home and school visits.

In response to an August 2020 survey, 94 per cent of countries in Eastern and Southern Africa indicated that their countries had deemed social service workers as essential service providers, enabling them to continue in-person service delivery when necessary. Some examples of these in-person services included child protection, gender-based violence, mental health and psychosocial support, family re-integration or other home visiting programmes as part of case management and assessment for at-risk or highly vulnerable circumstances.

In Malawi, the National Association of Social Workers and UNICEF worked closely with the Ministry of Population Planning and Social Welfare, related ministries and partner organizations to ensure continuity of social services to vulnerable population groups. In Lesotho among many others in the region, social workers, probation officers and community development officers were among the workers deemed essential. The South African government showed remarkable readiness for social workers, child youth care workers and other social service professionals that were assigned as essential workers under the disaster management legal framework prior to the pandemic. The Council for Social Service Professions with support from UNICEF ensured they were immediately operational and equipped with necessary skills including psychosocial support. Successful advocacy efforts by UNICEF Uganda, the National Association of Social Workers in Uganda and other partners resulted in the reopening of the national Child Helpline and official recognition of social service workers as essential in the early days of the pandemic. As a result, these workers will be prioritized as the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out in Uganda.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted gaps in social service provision in countries all around the world. In many countries throughout Eastern and Southern Africa, the social service workforce already faced budget and staffing constraints that were stretched even further with increasing reports of child protection risks, family separation, gender-based violence, and mental health and psychosocial support needs.

With the support of UNICEF at all levels, progress was made at national and regional level to recognize the essential role of the social service workforce. UNICEF stepped in to assist in service continuity and adaptation of tools to support the workforce in meeting both existing and emerging community needs.

In some countries, this support and advocacy enabled additional funding for hiring more workers, training volunteers or task-shifting workers’ responsibilities to ensure continuity of social services.

For example, in Kenya, with UNICEF support, more than 450 child protection workers from all 47 counties were trained on various topics related to child protection with a lens of COVID-19. The 12 series of webinars provided knowledge on emerging child protection risks and skills required to provide protection and case management services remotely.

The UNICEF Ethiopia Country Office, working with the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth, facilitated the review of the National Case Management Framework tools in response to COVID-19, adding remote case management and remote child protection services provision. Additionally, the Ministry, with financial and technical support from UNICEF, has been facilitating on-the-job training of more than 1,400 ministry officials and deployment of an additional 1,226 social service workers. These workers have been deployed to support case management including family tracing and reunification of returning migrant children and to facilitate COVID-19 prevention messages and the dissemination of mental health and psychosocial support messages at community level.

The Social Workers’ Association of Zambia worked in partnership with UNICEF and the government Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare to implement a community-based case management system that relies on para-social work volunteers and was implemented across 17 districts. A packet of minimum standards was developed with UNICEF and the Ministry is assisting NGOs to implement them as they support community-based case management systems in the districts in which they operate.

Also in Zambia, UNICEF provided support to the Ministry to establish real-time data management platforms for remote case management for children living in alternative care and children in households affected by multiple vulnerabilities. UNICEF also supported the national Child Helpline to recruit 17 additional phone counsellors to provide psychosocial support to children, including those in a refugee settlement.

Education campaign on COVID-19 in SomaliaIn Somalia, a UNICEF survey conducted in July of child protection partners suggested that many children were not following physical distancing rules, there had been a rise in child protection violations and gender-based violence incidents, and the economic consequences of the lockdown were causing increased stress, anxiety and compounding high levels of vulnerability. Partners also reported a decreased ability to implement and monitor critical services and programmes. To respond to these new challenges, UNICEF supported the rapid training and deployment of 235 student social workers for a three-month period to work within government, district and civil society structures to provide a range of services to vulnerable women and children. These students have two-year bachelor-level social work training and received a short, one-week training on activities they were to undertake during their secondment period, to supplement the two years of bachelor-level work they had completed.

In Eswatini, UNICEF supported the training of 70 social workers on child protection during COVID-19; the adaptation of response protocols; and the strengthening of child-related data. UNICEF also procured and distributed 70 tablets for social workers to strengthen social services during the pandemic. These were used to support the continuity of services, virtual trainings on case management during COVID-19, rapid assessments, and the broader social work mandate.

UNICEF supported the Department of Social Welfare in Eswatini to train and place 40 social work interns in quarantine facilities and to deploy additional case management officers to support district social welfare offices. Workers were provided with mobile data and voice bundles to ensure continuity of remote services. An awareness package was developed on the adaptation of Eswatini case management protocols during COVID-19.

In Malawi, police and social welfare officers have been at the forefront of handling gender- based violence, which has increased during the pandemic. Through increased collaboration, they have been providing a range of services and interventions to support those affected.

A number of countries in the region, including Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia have begun drafting legislation to recognize social work as a profession.

Our early advocacy efforts are now also resulting in this workforce being prioritized in many countries to receive a vaccine when they arrive in the region through COVAX. The COVAX Facility’s role is to continually watch the development of COVID-19 vaccines to identify the most suitable vaccine candidates. In Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia they are being considered essential workers to receive the vaccination either alongside or immediately following frontline health workers. In doing so, governments are recognizing the essential role of these workers while helping to keep them and the individuals and communities they serve safe.

What we have learned from COVID-19 and prior health emergencies is that we cannot wait for the next epidemic to plan, develop and support the social service workforce. Increases in gender-based violence, children’s rights violations and mental health needs, among so many other social justice and equity issues resulting from COVID-19, will not go away on their own. We need the right numbers of workers with the right training in the right place at the right time to protect children, families and communities.

On World Social Work Day, we urgently call on all governments and partners to act now to strengthen this workforce to be best positioned and prepared both to tackle today’s needs and to mitigate future emergencies.

Juan Barco's picture

Transitioning Colombia’s National Positive Parenting Program, Mi Familia, to Virtual Delivery During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Submitted by Juan S. Barco, HRH2030 Colombia Project Director, Chemonics International; Juan P. Angulo, Technical Director, ICBF Families and Communities Directorate; Kattya De Oro, Deputy Technical Director, ICBF Family and Community Directorate; Sonia Moreno, HRH2030 Colombia Social Services Specialist, Chemonics International; Kelley Bunkers, Senior Associate, Maestral International; Sian Long, Senior Associate, Maestral International[1]

Social service worker interacts with a child in ColombiaIn Colombia, four out of every 10 children under the age of 18 have experienced some form of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse in their childhood.[2] Colombia’s National Development Plan 2018-2022 states the importance of designing services to strengthen parental relationships, promote child development and decrease violence against children, calling for the promotion of family-based care. It prioritizes families with children and adolescents already in the protection system, to reduce secondary separation rates and increase successful family reunification processes.

The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) is the country’s main entity responsible for strengthening services for children, adolescents and families. In 2019, ICBF’s Families and Communities Directorate (FCD), the department charged with overseeing programs and services targeting vulnerable families, with support from USAID’s Human Resources for Health (HRH2030) program and Maestral International, designed a comprehensive parenting program called Mi Familia. The program is apsychosocial-based family support program that seeks to strengthen parents’ and caregivers’ ability to parent in positive, developmentally appropriate ways with the end goal of preventing violence and unnecessary separation. Mi Familia is a home-visiting program in which trained Family Support Professionals (or PAFs as per the Spanish acronym) conduct weekly home visits over 9 or 13 weeks, supplemented by four group sessions. Mi Familia is implemented by 40 approved agencies. The goal for 2020 was to reach 64,000 families in all regions of Colombia.

The implementation of Mi Familia began in early 2020. However, in March of 2020, ICBF had to rapidly adapt to a remote delivery method due to the national lockdown caused by COVID-19. ICBF FCD, with support from HRH2030, adapted the in-person curriculum to simple protocols that the PAFs could use to support families over the telephone. PAFs spoke with each family during 20-minute calls, three times a week. PAFs were provided with data for their phones to ensure that the additional work via phones could happen in a timely manner. Mi Familia’s operational structures remained the same, maintaining the same number of PAFs in order to ensure high quality services and personalized attention. In fact, the program’s savings in transportation costs were invested in greater technological resources.

The shift to virtual happened quickly, yet PAFs reported feeling supported and prepared to deliver the virtual model.  Technical Assistance Professionals helped to review the virtual guides that were adapted from the in-person manuals. Their input was instrumental in ensuring that implementation would be feasible. There were virtual training sessions provided by the Technical Assistance Professionals, and ongoing discussion groups where PAFs could share their concerns or challenges. These were then communicated to ICBF. Most agreed that the flexibility shown by ICBF and the trust shown in the ability of PAFs to deliver content was an empowering element that contributed to overall success as was mentioned in a focus group discussion. As one PAF noted, "The Technical Assistance Professionals support us, listen to us, and that has helped us a lot to lower the stress not only of work but about ourselves as human beings."

The virtual delivery of Mi Familia formally began in May 2020. At the same time, a monitoring plan was designed to assess the virtual implementation process, using three monitoring tools. The first, a Family Satisfaction Survey, included 10 simple questions on overall levels of satisfaction with the program and specific questions related to content and delivery. ICBF’s call center staff surveyed 282 families between August and October 2020. The second tool was a more detailed questionnaire to selected PAFs regarding content and delivery, focusing on their perceptions of families’ satisfaction and engagement to the program and their successes and challenges. The third tool was a series of six focus group discussions with PAFs and technical support unit staff, focusing on qualitative aspects of the successes and challenges in the transition to virtual delivery.

Findings illustrated that ICBF FCD had transitioned from in-person to virtual delivery of Mi Familia rapidly and effectively. Both families and PAFs felt the information and topics were relevant for parenting roles and helpful for children and adolescents. Indeed, 95.6% of the families surveyed felt satisfied with the program. Additionally, 98.3% of the PAFs surveyed responded that they always or almost always achieved session objectives, and 90.6% reported that families always or almost always understood key lessons and information in the session. A total of 99% of the PAFs felt prepared to answer the family’s questions, and 96.1% of the households confirmed this by reporting that they considered the PAFs able to clarify questions. PAFs proved to be innovative and creative in how they engaged with families and delivered the program.

The research was able to identify a number of important successes, which have been incorporated into ongoing developments of Mi Familia. These include validation of the benefits of evidence-based positive parenting approaches and the recognition of a flexible approach that enabled skilled facilitators to continue to adapt the program needs to individual families.

The virtual delivery clearly illustrated that a blended implementation is possible for a positive parenting program. As such, this would allow government entities to deliver these kinds of programs to regions and populations that historically were not targeted, specifically because they were determined as being hard to reach.  

The research also identified a number of important challenges that are being addressed currently in the adaptation of Mi Familia moving forward. These include three core issue: 1)the need to focus further on how to promote children’s and adolescents’ participation in the program; 2)to better understand and address the barriers to male participation; and 3)to develop a greater focus on promoting referrals to other care providers through awareness-raising with PAFs and improved coordination with other ICBF departments and external service providers.

Moving forward, Mi Familia aims to serve 280,000 families throughout the country by the end of 2022. ICBF FCD is confident that a blended model can build on the positive experiences from the virtual program. To do so, it is necessary to strengthen training and supervision, and strengthen the relationship between the PAFs and those professionals engaged in and responsible for making care decisions, such as children’s placement in alternative care or reintegration. Finding ways to strengthen these linkages will be an important step in future implementation. 

This blog summarizes a presentation given by Juan S. Barco, Juan-Pablo Angulo, and Kelley Bunkers at the CORE Group’s January 2021 Conference, Unlocking Potential: Prioritizing Child & Adolescent Health in the New Decade.


[1] The authors thank Diego Villamizar, Mayra Pacheco, and Ana Carrero, ICBF team, for their support with information for the development of this blog.

[2] Government of Colombia, Ministry of Health and Social Protection, Violence Against Children and Adolescents in Colombia Survey, 2018.

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Recognizing the essential role of the social service workforce for child protection - In March and everyday

Reposted from UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa with permission. View the original.

Social service workers in Somalia conduct community sensitization campaignsThroughout the month of March and on World Social Work Day on March 16, social service workers around the world are celebrated and recognized for their essential role in the daily lives of individuals, families and communities.

As we raise our voices in appreciation, now is also an opportune time to call for increased recognition and support for the crucial frontline role played by these workers during and prior to COVID-19.

The social service workforce for child protection plays a central role in promoting social justice; reducing discrimination and root causes of inequality; challenging harmful behaviours and social norms; preventing and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation; tackling harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation; and addressing family separations especially among migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.

They also support poverty reduction initiatives, including social protection and cash transfer programs, and respond to humanitarian crisis situations.

This year’s theme of World Social Work Day is Ubuntu: ‘I am because we are’ – Strengthening Social Solidarity and Global Connectedness. Ubuntu originates from the indigenous peoples of South Africa and was popularized across the world by Nelson Mandela.

Nurturing relationships are central to social service professionals in all aspects of work. The promotion of indigenous knowledge remains critical to informing approaches to delivery of social service interventions.

As we reflect on the challenges of the past year, we also must recognize the unsung heroes who continued carrying out essential services during this time. COVID-19 has had a significant impact on how the social service workforce delivers services and interventions.

At a time when individuals and communities, as well as workers themselves, face heightened challenges, the social service workforce has remained at the heart of building connections and linkages and ensuring the continuity of promotive, preventative and responsive services.

Social service workers ensure healthy development and well-being for children, youth, adults, older persons, families and communities. During COVID-19 they have carried out many essential services.

Social service workers are essential

New safety concerns and the resulting need for technology to connect with people remotely have impacted how the social service workforce have reached the most vulnerable children and their families.

Child Helpline staff in Uganda take calls and follow up on reports of violence

UNICEF has provided funding, technology, training and advocacy to support social service workers in being adaptive, creative and flexible in innovating new ways of making their services effective, while still upholding their professional values and standards of service.

In many communities, social service workers also provide health education and link with education, justice and health services for a continuum of care and services.

This transformation in social services has helped them transform lives under the most difficult circumstances.

In an online survey conducted by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance in April 2020 to determine the types of services the social service workforce is providing during COVID-19, 54 per cent of respondents indicated they are providing mental health and psychosocial support services.

Mental health and psychosocial support needs have been exacerbated during this period of heightened stress.

Workers also shared that they are providing a range of child protection and gender-based violence services, ensuring children affected by COVID-19 have access to adequate alternative care arrangements and delivering protection services for children left without a care provider.

In a recent blog, Cornelius Williams, Associate Director and Global Chief of Child Protection for UNICEF Programme Division, highlighted the important role of the social service workforce for child protection and UNICEF’s continued commitment to ensuring they have the necessary tools to carry out this important work.

“The pandemic has brought social service workers who are often invisible – working “behind the scenes” – to the forefront and helped [UNICEF] highlight the critical role they play in children’s lives…Now is their time to take centre stage in this decade of action and beyond.”

As UNICEF continues to join with practitioners, organizations and other groups in celebrating the many ways this workforce has provided essential services during COVID-19, we must also act now to ensure they are properly equipped to address the many new and increased inequities individuals and communities will face long after the pandemic itself ends. 

We call on all governments to invest now in this frontline workforce and develop supportive policies to ensure that the proper number of trained workers is available to meet immediate and ongoing needs. By doing so, everyone in the community will benefit.

Molly Cannon's picture

How Digital Data Can Help Safeguard the World’s Most Vulnerable Children

Blog by Molly Cannon, Stuardo Herrera, and Ismael Ddumba-Nyanzi, Palladium
This blog originally appeared on Palladium Catalyze and is reposted with permission.

Members of the Data for Impact team reflect on how data and a case management information system can help social services, case managers, guardianship authorities, service providers and ministries manage data on children-at-risk and safeguard their welfare.

Members of the data impact team meet in UgandaMeet Elias, 13-year-old boy living in Mbale District, Uganda. His father died when he was just two years old. He had a learning disability and received support at the local school, but six years later, struggling to meet his most basic needs, his mother placed him in a residential care institution or ‘orphanage’ in a different district. This was a devastating and difficult decision for both mother and son, and Elias struggled for the next three years with an untreated learning disability that led to behavioural issues.

When the orphanage closed down, Elias immediately returned home. His mother had remarried and Elias’ behavioural problems became more severe. His new stepfather was abusive, pushing Elias to run away from home, and was eventually picked up by a local organisation that provides support to children living on the street and helps them return to family members. But unfortunately for Elias, caseworkers’ efforts to trace his family have so far proved futile and he remains in the system.

A Common Problem Across the World

Elias’ situation isn’t an unusual one, but with the right system in place, it could be avoided altogether. There are approximately 50,000 children living in an estimated 500 residential institutions in Uganda. Many of these institutions are unregistered and operate with little to no government oversight. Perhaps more startling is the fact that more than two-thirds of the children living in institutional homes in Uganda have a living parent. With the right support, they could return to their birth parents.

According to the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children, the removal of a child from the family must be a measure of last resort, and whenever possible, be temporary and for the shortest possible duration. The guideline adds that poverty should never be the only justification for the removal of a child, and if a child is separated, the ultimate goal should be to reunify the child with family.

To protect the child’s best interests, the reunification process needs to be carefully planned and managed, with effective and sustained family preparation, strengthening, monitoring, and other support to ensure the child isn’t left in a more vulnerable situation than where they started.

How Data Could Have Helped

The UN Guidelines also explicitly indicate that the State is responsible for developing, implementing, and coordinating policies on care for all children without parental care, and those policies should be based on sound information and statistical data. This data, when properly implemented in a larger system, can be crucial for helping caseworkers and others to better support children like Elias and his family.

Many countries rely on paper-based or aggregated data for reporting purposes and don’t have ways to address some of the urgent issues children face. A well-designed, digitised, web-based platform can help social services, case managers, guardianship authorities, service providers and ministries manage data on children-at-risk, with tools that facilitate case management and longitudinal tracking, and integrating information from different agencies that manage child protection data.

Data, when properly implemented, can be crucial for helping caseworkers to better support children like Elias.

Ideally, this digitised case management information system (CMIS) would streamline and integrate vertical data from the community up to the district and national levels and facilitate horizontal integration of data across services. It could have provided valuable information to caseworkers to help Elias and his mother at various points in time, through having: 

  • Prevented Elias’ separation in the first place. If the community or district had a way to identify families in need, they could have ensured more financial support through vouchers, support finding a job, etc. to his mother so she could keep him at home.
  • Ensured Elias fared well at the residential care institution. Even if Elias ended up in the institution, a case management information system with information about his medical and educational background could have ensured that information about his learning disability was available to the social workers so they could have ensured he had the right services and support.
  • Shortened Elias’ stay in residential care. If the state had a way to monitor the length of time Elias and other children were in residential care, they could have intervened earlier to provide support to his family for the reunification.
  • Ensured Elias’ return home was successful and prevented his running away. The process of reunification could take up to a year if done properly. If the state had a way to monitor how prepared. the child and the family was for his return, they could have provided the necessary counseling services to promote proper reunification. If they could have monitored how Elias was faring upon his return home, they could have identified the problem earlier and intervened.
  • Use of CMIS could support many other children in a similar situation. If national and international agencies had data and indicators to monitor the children’s situations, they could have set policies and tailored interventions to improve not only Elias’ life, but the lives of many children in Uganda. 

Current Status of Alternative Care for Children Data 

Ministries of Gender, Labour and Social Protection typically have the primary responsibility to care for and report on vulnerable children. Few countries have achieved a useful CMIS at scale, but there is a keen interest from service providers, governments, implementing partners and donors in achieving this. 

What would it take to implement this type of system successfully? Some of the key factors include: 

  • Common indicators, definitions and standard operating procedures for data collection to help children like Elias and their caseworkers. The system needs to track the right information and measure it consistently.
  • Routine data review. In some countries, data are reported only on an annual basis, meaning they are not actively using the data to improve efforts at addressing children’s needs. In Elias’ case, had the district had a monthly report on struggling children, they could have caught Elias’ unaddressed learning disability.
  • Complete reporting from all service providers, including unregistered residential institutions. In some countries like Uganda, many residential institutions operated by non-governmental organisations bypass registration processes and data for those children are not reported. In the case of Elias, if he were at a residential institution operated by an unregistered entity, the state would not have the ability to know anything about Elias.
  • Responsible data approaches. Safeguarding children and families’ private information is crucial and responsible approaches ensure that data is managed in a secure and ethical way, ensuring privacy and consent.
  • Country governance of the CMIS, including mechanisms for ownership and accountability, including intersectoral coordination and selection of the most appropriate digital platform given the country’s conditions.
  • The successful implementation and deployment of a CMIS depends on understanding the children’s true needs, working with case managers to understand their pains and incentives, and understanding of the local technology and capabilities. 

But when it’s in place, a functioning CMIS has the potential to generate data to monitor and address the needs of at-risk children and families, to avoid unnecessary separation, and to ensure appropriate placement in temporary alternative care and successful reunification of children with families.

Anonymous's picture

A Child-rights Based Approach to the Pandemic

Gemma Cavaliere
Outreach and Development Officer, Defence for Children International (DCI)

Social Workers in Palestine at DCI project site

Children face many direct and indirect long-term social and economic consequences from the global pandemic. As a recent UN study has found, the coronavirus pandemic has pushed an additional 150 million children into multidimensional poverty – deprived of education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water. Similarly, disruption of health services affects the ability to protect life-saving maternal, newborn and child health services.

Learning from Past Experiences

The stage of the outbreak can vary by country as well as different factors of vulnerability. This has complicated the protection of children’s rights at a global level and instead required national and regional approaches. For instance, the low level of hygiene in detention facilities worsens the impact of the pandemic for children deprived of liberty, while the overcrowding of temporary settlements facilitates the spread of the virus among children and their families on the move. One of the indirect consequences of the containment measures is the increase of violence against children, as living in a confined space increases the risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse. 

Defence For Children International (DCI) is a leading child rights focused and membership-based grassroots movement that is applying lessons learned from Ebola to this current pandemic. DCI has been promoting and protecting children’s rights on a global, regional, national, and local level for 40 years. DCI is represented through its National Sections and Associated Members in 39 countries located in Africa, Asia, Europe, Americas, the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Their experience shows that health crises can trigger additional exclusion, discrimination, violence and abuse against children. Looking at the recent past, it turned out, for example, that school closings during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra-Leone had led, among other things, to more cases of violence and sexual abuse. Already in April 2020, DCI-Jordan needed to rent additional locations as shelters for women and girl victims of rape in order not to put at risk the health of the current residents.

The Global DCI Survey 

Defence for Children International (DCI) conducted a survey in April 2020 on the impact of the pandemic on children and local communities where DCI is present. Through these responses, they compiled a report for experts, practitioners, youth representatives, governments and donors aimed at leveraging DCI first-hand experience to protect and promote a child-rights based approach to the pandemic. 

Preparedness and Good Practices

In some countries, DCI stepped in to ask States to uphold the rights of children as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to ensure their protection and guarantee equal access to education and health care. In other circumstances, DCI called on States to do more in terms of prevention and tracing, or to subsidize more targeted programs from the bottom-up, thus involving more civil society organizations in the decision-making process through social dialogue. 

Some examples of this include:

In Palestine, DCI social workers had to divert calls from the hotlines to their personal numbers to cope with an unprecedented number of emergency assistance requests. DCI-Palestine also reported “…lawyers and field workers can’t collect the necessary evidence of child rights violations: monitoring visits and social services in detention centres are forbidden, whether to collect affidavits from detained children on the forms of torture and ill treatment during their arrest, or to provide prior-interrogation consultations.”

In Latin America, an alliance was formed to tackle the specific impact on children deprived of liberty. The Alliance is composed by DCI-Americas, the NGO Justicia Juvenil International (JJI), ILANUD and Fair Trials and it collects quality information from the region on emergency action and / or protocols for the prevention and mitigation of contagions inside the detention centres.

In Sierra Leone, the thematic area of Justice for Children has been particularly highlighted “… with regards to Family Tracing and Reunification and Reintegration for children who have come into contact and into conflict with the law. This is largely because of the need to observe government regulations on limited movements and the need for social distancing.” DCI - Sierra Leone. 

In the Netherlands, there is a Child Help Line and a specific crisis fund established within two weeks’ time to support vulnerable children. 

The Coronavirus Impact on Children on the Move

With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of children on the move have become even more acute. DCI supports children on the move in various contexts and countries. 

DCI-Morocco urged the international community for support as children are now roaming the streets without resources or protection. Children on the move require not only physical, but also psychological support. DCI-Lebanon affirmed that the situation is worrisome, particularly for refugee children who do not have access to regular psychological support. Only one week after a coronavirus outbreak was detected in a camp in Lesvos, there was a huge fire. Greek authorities halted the registration of new asylum cases in April 2020.

Ensuring Online Child Participation

One area of work deeply touched by the crisis was child participation, due to the many cancellations of events. Based on this evidence, DCI organized more child-led events, including an on-line child conversation held in July, to hear from children about their personal experience of the crisis and which issues global leaders should prioritize to ensure a gender-based approach during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. 

Participants highlighted for the future the importance of the creation of a common platform to share and update documents regarding the pandemic and children rights; the participation in video-conference debates and Webinars on issues related to children rights; the translation of summaries of important documents from other sections; and the sharing of national experiences and ways forward.

Overall, DCI remained a watchdog on child rights violations, and, even though immediate and equitably distributed resources are always limited, we hope throughout our work to inspire individual and collective change during the COVID19 period and beyond. 

This blog was originally written for the COVID 4P Log website and posted by Inspiring Children’s Futures at the University of Strathclyde. It has been adapted and reposted with permission from Inspiring Children’s Futures and DCI. DCI, like the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, was a key partner in the development and promotion of the COVID 4P Log.

Nicole Brown's picture

Eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls: Social service workers play a key role

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, on November 25, is an annual day aimed at increasing awareness and hastening progress to end all gender-based violence. It is the launch of 16 Days of Activism to increase advocacy and actions to end violence, concluding on December 10, Human Rights Day.

The numbers of women and girls subjected to violence are staggering and represent a grave violation of human rights. As many countries faced lock down during 2020 due to COVID-19, these numbers are increasing. UN Women shares some alarming statistics:

Orange the WorldThis year's campaign calls for "global action to bridge funding gaps, ensure essential services for survivors of violence during the COVID-19 crisis, focus on prevention, and collect data that can improve life-saving services for women and girls." 

The United Nations defines violence against women as any act that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. Violence occurs in many forms-physical, sexual and psychosocial- having a long-lasting emotional and mental impact that affects overall well-being. 

The UN Sustainable Development Goals call for specific actions to address violence against women and girls by the year 2030. Goal #5 aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” including target 5.2 that calls for “eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.” SDG target 16.2 aims to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.” 

A well planned, developed and supported social service workforce is a key component of a strong system needed to address this issue. Social service workers are trained to analyze and understand the complex and varied reasons that violence is perpetrated against women and can support communities in changing societal behaviors and preventing violence. Social service workers also play a key role in providing counseling and referral services for care and treatment of physical, mental and psychosocial health. Creating an environment where women and girls are comfortable sharing that they have been a victim of violence is an essential first step to providing care and treatment. Social service workers can also be advocates to the government and for victims, and oftentimes have a leading role in obtaining justice by working closely with law enforcement.

“Child protection workers and violence against women advocates are now finding new ways to work together,” said Dr. Bernadette J. Madrid, MD, Executive Director of the Child Protection Network Foundation, Inc. in the Philippines. “Studies show that interventions to prevent domestic violence can also reduce the exposure of children to domestic violence leading to synergistic effects. These results are very exciting to professionals working in the Women and Child Protection Units in the Philippines. While there are different issues that separate violence against women and violence against children, there are also intersections for cooperative efforts.”

Get Involved
Show your support and help raise awareness by joining in 16 days of activism.

  • The United Nations is mark 16 days of activism now through December 10, Human Rights Day. In support of The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, individuals are encouraged to wear orange as a demonstration of a bright future, free from violence
  • Join the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence Against Women by organizing “Orange Events” between 25 November and 10 December. 
  • Share photos, messages and videos showing how you orange your world at facebook.com/SayNO.UNiTE and twitter.com/SayNO_UNiTE using #orangetheworld.

Tweet Your Support

Below are some drafted tweets we encourage you to share on Twitter. The Alliance will also be tweeting throughout the 16 days and we invite you to follow us, share and comment.

  • The social service workforce plays a vital role in helping to #ENDViolence against women. #GBV http://bit.ly/1MBWFgj
  • The social service workforce plays a key role in spotting signs of abuse & providing care/treatment. #orangetheworld
  • Social service workers are committed to #ENDViolence but we need to support this workforce to achieve #SDG16. http://bit.ly/1MBWFgj
Nicole Brown's picture

Delivering Mental Health and Psychosocial Support - The essential role of the social service workforce in supporting refugees and migrants

Blog by Nicole Brown, Communications and Advocacy Manager, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

MHPSS trainingOver the past eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people facing lockdowns and drastic changes in interactions outside the home, the mental health impact across all ages and groups of people has become more apparent and alarming. For asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, who already face distressing and unknown situations, there are additional risks and uncertainties that are exacerbating stressors and anxiety. Many countries rushed to send asylum seekers or migrant workers back to their home countries. This vulnerable group of children and families has extra reason to fear COVID-19 as a result of being on the move and lacking permanent shelter and residency, preventing them from being able to comfortably shelter in place, maintain social distance, receive preventative treatments or access other health services. These fears, combined with so many others, are creating longer-term negative impacts on the mental health and psychosocial well-being of these children and families.

Estimates based on research in 2019 shows that more than one in five people (22·1%) in post-conflict settings has depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.[1] COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate these already high rates of mental health disorders among this particularly vulnerable population.

The first director of the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that, “without mental health, there is no health.”[2] Mental well-being is closely connected to overall well-being. There is also increasing acknowledgement of the important role mental health plays in achieving global development goals, as illustrated by the inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Goals. With an estimated 271.6 million migrants worldwide, meeting these mental health needs is a significant challenge.

Yet, despite these worrying statistics and downward trends in mental health, there is reason for hope. Social service workers are on the frontlines of assessing needs and delivering services to hard-to-reach and vulnerable groups. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they haven’t shied away from this challenging role, rather they have shown that, now more than ever, they should be considered an essential workforce.

Social service workers are trained and qualified to meet mental health and psychosocial support needs in development and humanitarian settings. During this pandemic, they have drawn on their training and experience in responding to other disasters, outbreaks and crises. In a survey conducted by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance on social service workforce response during COVID-19, 54% of respondents indicated they are providing MHPSS services.[3]

In addition to directly addressing MHPSS needs, social service workers address a myriad of other stressors in order to prevent mental health problems. In refugee settings, they play an essential role in a range of activities including: reunification and family tracing; fostering community acceptance, social integration and social inclusion; making referrals to other services and health providers; ensuring access to social protection; distribution of necessary supplies and materials, and so much more. They are also the connectors and facilitators who unite and coordinate input from other sectors, disciplines and borders. Examples of the essential coordinating roles they perform include:

  • In Tanzania a team of government social workers were trained by REPSSI, prior to COVID-19, on responding to emergencies and delivery of psychosocial support (PSS) services. These workers were then in place at the onset of COVID-19 to provide counselling services to those affected by PSS issues as a result of losing loved ones to COVID-19 or supporting those who were in quarantine centers.
  • With 170,263 children affected by COVID-19 school closures in Bhutan, the Ministry of Education activated the Education Emergency Operation Centre under which a mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) sub desk was created. To ensure the provision of MHPSS to children, parents and caregivers in need, UNICEF supported 147 school counsellors from 20 districts to be trained on how to provide psychosocial support remotely to parents and caregivers and face to face structured psychosocial support to children once the schools reopen.
  • In Ireland, social workers were rapidly devising new services and ways to support individuals and families. They developed liaison services for families where loved ones living in mental health residential settings may be separated from other family members and used telehealth platforms as one way of continuing services, as reported by the Irish Association of Social Workers to the International Federation of Social Workers. 
  • In Madagascar, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Population, developed a technical guidance note in Malagasy on how social service workforce volunteers could assist in providing psychosocial support for people affected or in contact with COVID-19. It included detailed guidance on the provision of psychosocial support in health care, institutional and home settings. The guidance has been shared across all 22 regions of Madagascar in hard copy. An audio training based on the guidance is being developed and dispatched across solar reusable radio, to overcome the limited internet and smartphone access.

Social service workers have long been advocates and champions for the prevention, promotion and provision of mental health and psychosocial support services (MHPSS). Recognizing and advocating for the essential role that the social service workforce plays in developing and providing these services, in the current pandemic and beyond, will enable the workforce to continue and expand its work. This will enable a wider range of children, families and vulnerable individuals to benefit from the unique range of services the workforce can provide.


[1] The Lancet. (2019). New WHO Prevalence Estimates of Mental Disorders in Conflict Settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)30934-1/fulltext

[2] Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), was a psychiatrist and shepherded the notion that mental and physical health were intimately linked. He famously stated that “without mental health there can be no true physical health.”

[3] An online survey was conducted in April 2020, with 215 responses from 33 countries. These findings helped to inform the technical note on Safety and Wellbeing for the Social Service Workforce during COVID-19 Response: Recommended Actions.

Anonymous's picture

Rising to Tomorrow’s Challenges: The Power of the Social Service Workforce on the Frontlines to Protect Children

blog by Cornelius WilliamsAssociate Director & Global Chief of Child Protection, Programme Division, UNICEF

A strong social service workforce demonstrates not only the power of individuals to impact peoples’ lives, but their collective power to challenge norms and drive change on the ground. In the 1990s, during the armed conflict in my home country Sierra Leone, I witnessed firsthand how our decrepit, post-colonial era social service workforce came under stress amid the civil war but then transformed itself to rise to the challenges faced by children on the frontlines. Rather than following previous pressures to acculturate families to maintain economic, social, and political stability, the workforce defied colonial norms and instead championed the rights and equality of thousands of children through sustained support and rehabilitation.

Social service worker in Bangladesh supports two children

This transformative power has been witnessed globally where we have seen first responders and frontline workers forced to fast-track lessons learned and adapt to populations’ needs by developing new, or reformed, systems and rules that challenge patriarchal hierarchy and social injustice. Undeniably the most important element of child protection systems, a strong social service workforce is a lynchpin that cuts across actors and across sectors to protect children from harm and social injustice. The multifaceted roles of these workers are vital, ranging from service delivery to policy development at various levels.

Governments and organizations have traditionally invested in some aspects of strengthening the social service workforce, particularly in training its workers. However, the focus of these initiatives has largely been on those already in a specific job or assigned to perform certain job functions. Little attention was paid to strengthening the workforce more comprehensively by: 1) identifying and planning its requirements; 2) institutionalizing the role of its workers through national legislation or programmes; and 3) developing education and training programmes based on real-life contexts, with long-term opportunities for career growth and development. The absence of these measures has contributed to further minimizing the already poor level of recognition of the essential roles social service workers play.  

UNICEF has long engaged in efforts to amplify and support this issue, including our close association with the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance since its launch in 2013. More recently, we identified social service workforce strengthening as an organizational priority for our work on child protection embedded in our Strategic Plan (2018 -2021). Now that we have reached the midway point of implementation, I would like to take a moment to reflect on how far we have come, and how much further we need to go.

At the global level, we prioritized the development of public goods to support our work at the country level. In 2019, UNICEF, in consultation with the Alliance, issued its first-ever global Guidelines to Strengthen the Social Service Workforce for Child Protection, followed by a mapping toolkit for social service workforce, and other resources. Earlier this year, UNICEF launched its online course on social service workforce strengthening – in just three months we saw more than 3,400 participants (and counting) complete the course, demonstrating why the importance of this topic.

On the ground, our work translated into supporting governments with various actions to better plan, develop, and support their respective workforce. In 2019, UNICEF supported 137 countries to strengthen the social service workforce globally. From conducting mappings and assessments; to helping plan the workforce in the Middle East and North Africa region; to advocacy in East Asia and the Pacific (with ASEAN), and in Europe and Central Asia, respectively; to developing policies and legislation in Malaysia; to setting up academic programmes in Bhutan and supervision systems in the Gambia – this work has been both challenging and rewarding.

While we have seen progress globally, we must also recognize some sombre reflections as we implement the latter half UNICEF’s Strategic Plan – including that prioritizing investments to systematically strengthen the social service workforce is not as straightforward as it sounds. In countries that face economic challenges, social sectors are the first to be hit by cutbacks in spending – a harsh reality likely to be further exacerbated during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges are further amplified by the ripple effects of the pandemic which have also increased child protection risks – such as violence, child labour, child marriage –, leading to more children in need of child protection services.

However, new challenges also bring new opportunities. The pandemic has brought social service workers who are often invisible – working “behind the scenes” – to the forefront and helped us highlight the critical role they play in children’s lives. Their inspiring stories have resonated with leaders and policymakers alike, giving us hope that we are on the right path. Using remote case management and virtual case conferencing as the new normal would have been almost unthinkable until recently. As a sector, child protection adapted quickly to the new reality – and a host of tools and guidance were made available in a matter of days. On the ground, however, workers continue to face challenges – both in terms of access to technology, and the lack of face-to-face interaction that has for long been a hallmark of child protection.

At UNICEF, we are committed to advocating for and supporting governments to plan, develop, and support the next generation of the social service workforce. While there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solution, we do know key elements of a strong workforce are to be informed by a robust evidence-base, responsive to today’s changing realities, and able to anticipate tomorrow’s challenges. These individuals are on the frontlines every day – whether in a war zone or deprived local neighborhood. They are social justice warriors driving the major transformation we are seeing unfold in the Global South – from South Africa to India –, and now is their time to take centre stage in this decade of action and beyond.

Cornelius Williams is Associate Director and Global Chief of Child Protection for UNICEF Programme Division. He has over 25 years of experience in managing child protection programmes in Western, Eastern and Southern Africa with UNICEF and Save the Children. As a child rights advocate, he has been involved in advocacy that led to improved protection of children from sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian settings, reduced recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups, and increased access of children to identity documents/ birth certificate and social assistance and other services. Mr. Williams has played a leading role in coordinating UNICEF’s engagement with governments and other partners in the development of programmes for the prevention and response to violence against children in countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. He is a national of Sierra Leone and holds a Master of Arts in International Child Welfare from the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

SULLY SANTOS's picture

A Lifetime of Lessons: What being a member of the essential workforce transforming care for children has taught me

Blog by Sully Santos de Ucles, Maestral International and Changing the Way We Care
Toda una vida de lecciones: ¿Qué me ha enseñado ser miembro del recurso humano necesario que transforma el cuidado de los niños, niñas y adolescentes?

Being a member of the social service workforce dedicated to children's care and protection has been one of my life’s greatest privileges. Throughout my professional and educational training, I have learned that it is absolutely crucial to have the skills, knowledge and attitude, what we refer to as core competencies, which enable me to serve children and families in a manner that is strengths-based and works towards achieving their wellbeing and potential.

“I am convinced that one of the most important ways to support children to reach their potential is through their parents or caregivers. It is absolutely critical to provide adults with information, skills, and knowledge to empower and enable them in their parenting role. We must be understanding and empathetic and support them so that they can overcome their own fears and frustrations and care for children in a manner that respects their rights and allows them to thrive.”

My own career path has taken a winding road and allowed me various vantage points from which to understand, participate and contribute to child protection and care; it has included everything from providing direct services to managing specific projects to serving in government leadership roles designing policy and strategic priorities. I have also taught child-focused social work in an academic setting, and, currently serve as a technical advisor to different initiatives and work with the new generation of members of this important workforce. My professional journey has opened doors that I never expected and taught me lessons I carry with me. 

As my professional journey continued, I accepted a leadership position with the Secretariat for Social Welfare in Guatemala, the government institution mandated with providing services to vulnerable children, including residential care. I was given the opportunity to influence policy, strategic planning and programming to ensure that it served children’s best interests. It was not something that I took lightly as I realized that with the opportunity of this leadership position came immense responsibility.My educational background is in education and psychology. I spent my early years as a teacher where I was able to engage with children and adolescents in a unique way within a school environment. I had children in my classroom who came from highly vulnerable communities; socially, economically and even geographically. It quickly taught me that providing a safe and stimulating environment for children often made the difference between those who could progress and those who could not. Schools often serve as safe spaces for children who don’t have safety or stability at home. I then started working with children with visual challenges. This experience illustrated the inequity and limited access to services faced by children and adults with disabilities. These children and their parents taught me about resilience and unconditional love. It also showed me great strengths where people often assume weakness. 

Sully conducting a training

After several years in a government position, I left to take up work within the NGO sector. My first role was with an organization that served some of the most forgotten and vulnerable children in Guatemala - those who survive by living and working in the city dump. This jump taught me to value life, resiliency and daily survival in a new way; one which I had not previously understood. I learned a great deal about the commitment made by families to their children, despite living in some of the world's worst conditions. I later worked for an NGO specializing in deinstitutionalization, which means reducing the reliance on large institutions to care for children who cannot be cared for by their own families. We specifically focused on reintegrating children under three years from institutions back to their families, given the critical importance of that stage in a child’s development. The research shows how important the child’s attachment to a caring adult is during this phase. This work solidified my belief that all efforts must be made to provide children with a safe and nurturing family. I was reminded numerous times how most parents want to do well for their children. However, many need extra support, guidance or resources to do so.

“Having to quarantine during COVID-19, to watch life happening outside from where I sit without being able to engage, provided me with a new perspective of what a child living in residential care must feel like. It gave me a renewed drive to work towards a world where children are not in that position; a passion to secure family-based care for all children.”

More than a year ago, I moved from an operational role to a technical role. Building on my experience over the past two decades, I have been able to collaborate with important initiatives and organizations like Changing the Way We Care and UNICEF. I have directed my focus on creating innovative and evidence-based tools and approaches that help guide the workforce to better serve children and support families. I have worked with and mentored dedicated professionals committed to doing their part to promote care reform and family-based systems of care. I have led workforce mapping exercises where I was privileged to learn about the skills and passions that drive social workers, psychologists and others, across countries and contexts, to fulfill children’s rights to care and protection. In this, I found solidarity with a larger workforce! 

And like everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted my own family and my work. It has taught me patience and made me think more innovatively, while also being more flexible, with colleagues and myself. It has also shown me again and again, how essential the social service workforce is in adapting and moving forward despite the challenges put in front of them. COVID-19 has renewed my pride in this community that is the social service workforce. It has also reminded me in more ways than I can count, that to care for others we must take care of ourselves. As members of the workforce dedicated to children’s care and protection, we carry heavy burdens. We see suffering and try to make it better. We see rights violated and do everything in our power to reinstate those rights and to inspire social justice. We support others in their caregiving abilities, even whilst caring for our own. And yet, we often don’t pay the same attention to our own situation and our own needs. As we celebrate how important the workforce is not only during emergencies like COVID-19 but each and every day, I urge all of us to remember to take care of ourselves. We must be healthy, emotionally as well as physically, to successfully serve others. 

Changing The Way We Care (CTWWC) is an initiative designed to promote safe, nurturing family care for children from institutions or children at risk of child-family separation. This includes strengthening families and reforming national systems of care for children, including family reunification and reintegration, development of alternative family-based care (in keeping with the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children). CTWWC is a consortium of three partners (Catholic Relief Services, Lumos and Maestral International), joined through a Global Development Alliance by three donors (MacArthur Foundation, USAID and GHR Foundation). CTWWC operates in a context of growing interest in care reform, and as a result of a growing global understanding that institutional care of children is a significant problem that will be best addressed through collaboration between national, regional and global stakeholders to develop alternative care systems supportive of family care. 

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Toda una vida de lecciones: ¿Qué me ha enseñado ser miembro del recurso humano necesario que transforma el cuidado de los niños, niñas y adolescentes?
Por Sully Santos de Uclés, Maestral International y Changing the Way We Care

Ser miembro del recurso humano de los servicios sociales dedicados al cuidado y protección de los niños, niñas y adolecentes, ha sido uno de los mayores privilegios de mi vida. A lo largo de mi formación profesional y educativa, he aprendido que es decisivo contar con las habilidades, conocimientos y actitudes necesarias, a las que llamamos competencias básicas, para poder servir a los niños, niñas, adolescentes y las familias basándonos en sus fortalezas para alcanzar su bienestar y potencial. 

"Estoy convencida que la mejor manera y más importante de apoyar a la niñez y adolescencia para que alcancen su potencial es a través de fortalecer las capacidades de sus padres o cuidadores. Es absolutamente clave proporcionar a los adultos: información, desarrollar sus habilidades y conocimientos para empoderarlos y sensibilizarlos en su función de crianza. Debemos ser comprensivos y empáticos, apoyarlos para que puedan superar sus propios temores y frustraciones y cuidar a los niños, niñas o adolecentes de una manera que respeten sus derechos y les permitan prosperar."

Durante mi trayectoria profesional he recorrido un camino privilegiado, aunque a veces escabroso, que me ha permitido conocer varios puntos de vista y enfoques: entendiendo, participando y contribuyendo a la protección y el cuidado de la infancia. Este recorrido ha incluido desde la prestación de servicios directos y la gestión de proyectos específicos hasta el servicio en funciones de liderazgo gubernamental diseñando prioridades políticas y estratégicas. También desde la enseñanza en un entorno académico de trabajo social centrado en NNA. Actualmente soy asesor técnico de diferentes iniciativas y trabajo con la nueva  generación de miembros de esta importante fuerza de trabajo. 

Durante mi viaje profesional en educación y psicología, se han abierto puertas que nunca esperé y me han enseñado las lecciones que llevo conmigo. Pasé mis primeros años como maestra de preescolar, donde pude relacionarme con niños y niñas de manera única dentro de un entorno escolar. Tenía a cargo niños y niñas en mi salón de clase que provenían de comunidades muy vulnerables; social, económica e incluso geográficamente. Esto rápidamente me enseñó que proporcionar un ambiente seguro y estimulante para ellos a menudo marcaba la diferencia entre los que podrían progresar y los que probablemente no; comprendí que las escuelas a menudo sirven como espacios seguros para los niños y niñas que no tienen esa seguridad o estabilidad en el hogar. Posteriormente empecé a trabajar con niños, niñas, adolecentes y adultos en situación de discapacidad visual; esta experiencia me ilustraba la inequidad y el acceso limitado a los servicios que enfrenta esta población vulnerable; aprendí de estos niños, niñas, adolescentes y sus padres acerca de la resiliencia y el amor incondicional; también me mostró grandes fortalezas donde a menudo se asume debilidad. 

A medida que mi viaje profesional continuó, acepté un puesto de liderazgo con la Secretaría de Bienestar Social en Guatemala, la institución gubernamental encargada de brindar servicios de protección especial a niñez y adolescencia vulnerable, conocí de cerca la atención residencial y sus consecuencias. No fue algo que tomara a la ligera porque esta posición de liderazgo también traía una inmensa responsabilidad, sin embargo, tuve la oportunidad de influir desde las políticas, la planificación estratégica y la programación que permitía responder con determinación al interés superior de los niños, niñas y adolescentes de mi país.  

Después de varios años en una posición de gobierno, me trasladé al sector de las ONG, siendo mi primer contacto, una organización que atiende a la niñez y adolescencia más vulnerable, estigmatizada y olvidada de Guatemala; al ser parte de las familias que sobreviven trabajando en el relleno sanitario de la ciudad. Esta oportunidad me enseñó a valorar la vida, la capacidad de resiliencia y la supervivencia diaria de una manera inesperada, que no había entendido previamente;  aprendí mucho sobre el compromiso de las familias por sus hijos, a pesar de vivir en algunas de las peores condiciones de vida del mundo. Más tarde trabajé para una ONG enfocada en la desinstitucionalización de niños y niñas, conociendo lo que significa reducir la dependencia de grandes instituciones para cuidar a los niños y niñas que no pueden ser atendidos por sus propias familias. Nos centramos específicamente en reintegrar a sus familias, a los menores de tres años que estaban en cuidado residencial, dada la importancia crítica de esa etapa en el desarrollo de un niña o niño; y de la importancia del apego del niño a un adulto que cuida durante esta fase. En el ejercicio de este rol se solidificó mi entendimiento en relación a que, se deben hacer todos los esfuerzos necesarios, para que los niños, niñas o adolescentes no sean separados de forma innecesaria de su familia. Para ello se requiere potencializar a las familias en sus capacidades y fortalezas, porque muchas veces la mayoría de los padres quieren lo mejor para sus hijos e hijas, pero regularmente no saben cómo, por lo que con la orientación y el apoyo necesario, pueden desarrollar capacidades que no aprendieron de sus padres y que tampoco imaginaron podrían hacer.

"Cuando me tocó que estar en cuarentena durante COVID-19, y ver la vida de adentro hacia afuera, limitada en mi interacción social con los demás, ayudó a proporcionarme una nueva perspectiva de lo que siente y vive un niño, niña o adolescente en el cuidado residencial. proporcionándome un renovado impulso para trabajar hacia un mundo donde la niñez y adolescencia no debe ver a través de una ventana lo que pasa afuera, sin que ellos hayan sido responsables de estar recluidos donde están; la cuarentena y el COVID-19 me motivó a continuar con la pasión y convicción de que el cuidado familiar seguro y estable es lo mejor para todos los niños, niñas y adolescentes en cualquier parte del mundo."

Hace más de un año, pasé de un rol operativo y de campo a un rol de asesoría y orientación técnica, siendo éste otro salto inesperado, sin embargo, con la construcción de mi experiencia en las últimas dos décadas, he podido colaborar con importantes iniciativas y organizaciones como Changing the Way We Care y UNICEF. He dirigido mis habilidades en la creación de herramientas y enfoques innovadores y basados en la evidencia, que ayudan a guiar al recurso humano especializado para brindar un mejor servicio a la niñez, adolescencia y las familias. También he trabajado y asesorado a profesionales comprometidos a promover reformas en el cuidado y los sistemas de protección basados en la familia. Recientemente dirigí ejercicios de mapeo del recurso humano dedicado a la protección, donde tuve el privilegio de aprender en diferentes países y contextos, sobre las habilidades y las pasiones que impulsan a los trabajadores sociales, psicólogos, sociólogos, pedagogos, abogados en el cumplimiento de los derechos de la niñez y adolescencia respecto a prevención y respuesta. En esto, ¡encontré una fuerza laboral grande y solidaria!

La pandemia COVID-19 ha impactado a mi propia familia y  mi trabajo. Sin embargo, me ha enseñado a ser mas paciente, me ha hecho reflexionar, ser innovadora y creativa, a la vez más flexible, con colegas y conmigo misma. También me ha mostrado una y otra vez lo esencial que es la fuerza de trabajo de los servicios sociales para adaptarse y avanzar a pesar de los retos que se plantean. COVID-19, ha renovado mi orgullo en esta comunidad que es la fuerza de trabajo de servicio social, también me ha recordado que hay muchas y mejores maneras de cuidar a los demás, sin dejar de cuidar de uno mismo. Como miembros de la fuerza de trabajo dedicada al cuidado y protección de los niños, niñas y adolecentes, estoy consciente que la carga emocional es pesada y fuerte, particularmente cuando observamos el sufrimiento de la víctima, su tristeza, frustración, tratando  de abordarlo y disminuirlo. Vemos como los derechos son violados y hacemos todo lo que está a nuestro alcance para restablecerlos e inspirar la justicia social. Apoyamos a los demás en sus habilidades de cuidado, incluso mientras  cuidamos de los nuestros. Y sin embargo, a menudo no prestamos la misma atención a nuestra propia situación y a nuestras propias necesidades. Al celebrar lo importante que es la fuerza de trabajo no sólo durante emergencias como COVID-19, sino todos los días, insto a todos mis colegas a recordar cuidar de nosotros mismos; debemos estar sanos, tanto emocional como físicamente, para servir con éxito y pasión a los demás. 

Changing The Way We Care (CTWWC) es una iniciativa diseñada para promover el cuidado familiar seguro para los niños, niñas y adolescentes viviendo en instituciones o en riesgo de separación de sus familias. Esto incluye el fortalecimiento de las familias y la reforma de los sistemas nacionales de atención a los niños, incluida la reunificación y reintegración familiar, el desarrollo de atención alternativa basada en la familia (de conformidad con las Directrices de las Naciones Unidas para la Atención Alternativa de los Niños). CTWWC es un consorcio de tres socios (Catholic Relief Services, Lumos y Maestral International), unidos a través de una Alianza Global de Desarrollo por tres donantes (Fundación MacArthur, USAID y GHR Foundation). CTWWC opera en un contexto de creciente interés en la reforma del cuidado, y como resultado de un creciente entendimiento mundial de que la atención institucional de la niñez y adolescencia es un problema significativo que se abordará mejor mediante la colaboración entre las partes interesadas nacionales, regionales y mundiales para desarrollar sistemas de atención alternativos basados en la atención familiar.

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