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Nation Building: The role of child and youth care workers in child protection and violence prevention

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The Alliance sponsored a live webcast of a panel plenary session at the National Association of Child Care Workers bi-annual conference in Durban, South Africa, on July 3, 2019. Webcast attendees were able to join the 1500 registrants from 28 countries to learn about “Nation Building: The role of child and youth care workers in child protection and violence prevention.”

Betsy Sherwood, Director of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, welcomed attendees and viewers to the session and provided background on the role of the Alliance. As a network of 2,400 members across 136 countries, members collaborate to build stronger systems of care for children. She provided statistics demonstrating the magnitude of the problem of violence against children, and also how child and youth care workers are on the frontline of providing holistic support, prevention and treatment. She also shared background on the INSPIRE package of tools for ending violence against children and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. The Alliance is a member of the INSPIRE Implementation Technical Working Group.

Ms. Langi Malamba was then introduced as the registrar of the South African Council on Social Service Professionals. Under her leadership, the council has grown by 25,000 practitioners over a two-year period. She provided the vision and mission of the Council to bring together social workers and child and youth care workers (CYCWs). Registration is required within the country, and membership dues are the sole source of revenue to support regulation and licensing of the professions. Their code of ethics recognizes the importance of inter-sectorial collaboration. She highlighted the work of the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) to develop the Isibindi program as one key means for violence prevention. The Safe Parks provide children safe spaces for play while child and youth care workers are able to work in the life space of children to recognize and address risk factors. She provided several recommendations for strengthening the professions to be best positioned to prevent violence against children through relevant training and increased advocacy and lobbying.

Kiaras Gharabaghi is Director of the School of Child and Youth Care at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. He has expertise in residential care and treatment and international child care practices. He has been involved in care reforms in Canada. He has been published more than 2000 times on issues related to this work. He started by sharing that the profession has typically approached child protection and violence prevention as an intervention instead as a condition. He stressed that every member of the community has a shared responsibility for addressing violence. Child and youth care is among those best positioned to connect people within the communities for stronger systems of care and support. CYCWs have oversight into community interactions and are present figures whom children can trust and confide in. These workers can also encourage and enable communities to mobilize resources for breaking cycles of violence.

Dr. Amanda Melville is currently a Senior Protection Officer at the UNHCR Regional Office in Geneva, where she support child protection programming in humanitarian conflict situations. She has previously led child protection programs with Save the Children and UNICEF South Africa. She highlighted the role of CYCWs in supporting and responding to displaced children in refugee and migration situations. With more than 21 million refugees currently, 52% are children. Working at the community level, child and youth care workers can play an integral role in ensuring these individuals and families are integrated into the community through ensuring proper identification, education and health all are accessible. Those with less opportunities to access services and who continue to be marginalized are at greater risk for violence. Proper planning, training and availability of workers is vital to increasing access to these services and strengthening protective systems of care.

Cornelius Williams is the Associate Director and Global Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF Headquarters in New York. He leads coordination of UNICEF’s engagement globally on child protection systems strengthening, with expertise particularly on the African continent from previous posts across the continent. He began by highlighting some of the growing child protection concerns and the significant needs for addressing this issues. UNICEF has established strengthening the social service workforce as one of its goals within their strategic plan through 2021. They recognize these workers as the backbone of a strong child protection system and an important investment for UNICEF’s efforts. He shared UNICEF’s new Guidelines to Strengthen the Social Service Workforce for Child Protection, which the Alliance helped to develop, that seek to strengthen the workforce at national levels. Working closely with government and other partners, planning, development and support to the social service workforce is necessary for prevention, promotion and response services. Mr. Williams then shared some recommendations related to training, funding and regulation of the social service workforce, including CYCWs, toward strengthening child protection systems and reiterated UNICEF’s commitment to strengthening this workforce to ensure the best care and support to children and families.

Ms. Sherwood then posed some of the questions entered online from in-person and remote viewers. With more than 40 questions and comments, there was robust engagement related to this topic. Individuals were encouraged to become members of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance to continue to converse with global colleagues and support efforts to strengthen the social service workforce.