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Social Service Workers Address Ebola’s Widespread Social Impacts

by Amy Bess, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance and Alex Collins, IntraHealth

Social Impacts of Ebola on West Africa becoming more evident

The number of confirmed cases of Ebola is quickly climbing past 6,200. On September 20, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the historic U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), underscoring how a comprehensive, multisectoral response will be ever more critical as Ebola’s far-reaching health, security, political, economic, and social impacts on West Africa become more evident.

For every person infected, many others are affected—family members lose loved ones, children lose their parents, students lose teachers, employers lose key staff and scores of responders have witnessed extreme suffering and work in exceedingly stressful environments.

Sierra Leone Social Workers Respond to Ebola

Who is addressing the social impacts of Ebola?

Fortunately, skilled social service workers are helping prevent the spread of the disease and addressing its wide-ranging social impacts.

Social service workers are those who contribute to the care, support, promotion of rights, and empowerment of vulnerable populations. All functional levels of this workforce have vital roles to play in West Africa’s Ebola response, including:

  • Those who provide direct care and services to children and families, such as social workers, para-social workers, community caregivers, child and youth care workers, and child protection committee members
  • Those who mobilize communities, organizations, or groups, and facilitate connections between government systems of care and community-based systems of care, such as community development officers, child protection officers, and district social welfare workers
  • Those who engage at a more macro level, setting policies, standards, and guidelines and carrying out research and evaluation. This includes positions such as directors of children’s affairs, ministers of social welfare, professional association leaders and university staff.

Importance of the social service workforce in awareness raising and child protection

Social service workers are trained community mobilizers and trusted community members. They help to build awareness and combat myths about Ebola in an intense environment of fear and stigma. They recognize that stigma further isolates people and blocks access to care and support, which in turn contributes to the continued spread of the disease.

For example, social workers from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and nongovernmental organization staff in Liberia have been trained by the International Committee of the Red Cross and are carrying out awareness-raising and sensitization campaigns in communities, marketplaces, and homes. Others are organizing educational dramas, carrying out home visits, and staffing hotlines with responders trained in psychosocial support.

In Sierra Leone, Social Workers Sierra Leone is working among homeless youth in Freetown, a population not included in the government’s home-to-home Ebola education campaign during the country’s three-day lockdown. They also visited other marginalized communities that would otherwise not receive basic care and information.

And in neighboring Guinea, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is working with the Red Cross Society of Guinea, the Ministry of Health, World Health Organization, and Medecins Sans Frontiers to manage the epidemic, raise community awareness, and provide psychosocial support to affected families.

Social service workers also help to ensure that children made vulnerable by Ebola are protected from further harm. According to UNICEF, when parents die of Ebola, their children are sometimes found roaming the streets without parental care, proper shelter, health care, or nutrition. This can be a result of stigma and rejection, as the children are seen in their communities as sources of infection. Typical systems of care are interrupted and those who would typically take children in refuse to care for them due to fear of contamination.

Social service workers are part of a rapid child protection response including identification of and care for separated and unaccompanied children, family tracing and reunification. UNICEF is also supporting alternative forms of care such as safe or half-way homes staffed by social service workers. Community mobilization and sensitization campaigns also serve an important role in preventing family separation.

Social service workers charged with addressing mental health and psychosocial support

Ebola brings with it not only physical suffering for those infected, but also feelings of panic, shock, loss, grief, shame, suspicion, and anger to both victims and survivors. Increased challenges and stressors faced during such an emergency--such as food insecurity, loss of family income, interruptions in schooling and access to health care—make matters worse.

Mental health and psychosocial support have long been key components of coordinated emergency response. For example, the Inter Agency Standing Committee Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) in Emergency Settings, were developed in 2007 to establish a set of minimum multisectoral responses to protect, support, and improve mental health and psychosocial wellbeing in the midst of emergencies.

To assist social service workers responding to the Ebola crisis, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ briefing note on Psychosocial support during an outbreak of Ebola virus disease provides targeted information on psychosocial issues related to Ebola, key messages, and recommendations for providing psychosocial support. And the World Health Organization has adapted a handbook on psychosocial first aid to focus on the Ebola crisis.

In Liberia, UNICEF is sending mental health specialists to Ebola treatment units and holding centers to provide psychosocial support to patients and their families.

Specially trained social service workers help Ebola responders—including health workers, body removal teams, volunteers, and government and NGO staff—manage stress, self-care, grief, and loss.

The unsung heroes of the Ebola epidemic

Social service workers are some of the unsung heroes of the Ebola epidemic. They work around the clock to help prevent the spread of the disease and address its widespread social consequences. As more and more countries commit the support of their trained health professionals to treat an increasing number of patients, so too must we recognize the importance of social service workers and the many roles they are playing—from raising community awareness to providing social support to patients and survivors—in the midst of this epidemic.

Amy Bess, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance and Alex Collins, IntraHealth
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Global Social Service Workforce Alliance Symposium: Experts discuss how to strengthen workforce

This article appeared in the June 2014 edition of the NASW News:

Global Social Service Workforce Alliance Symposium: Experts discuss how to strengthen workforce

By Rena Malai, News staff


The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance held a symposium in April that brought together experts to discuss the importance of strengthening the social service workforce worldwide.

The NASW Foundation was one of the co-hosts of the event, called “Supporting Families, Building a Better Tomorrow for Children: The Role of the Social Service Workforce.” NASW is also part of the alliance’s steering committee.

“The symposium brought forth many important issues, including the importance of building a stronger social service workforce to support the needs of children and families around the world,” said Susan Rubin, assistant director for the NASW Foundation.

Three panels presented at the symposium, with each addressing a different area on how to build a stronger social service workforce. The first panel — “How Social Service Workers Support Families to Promote Healthy Development and Well-Being of Children” — included NASW member Nathan Linsk, professor of social work in family medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago and founder of the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center.

Linsk spoke about developing training and a workforce for paraprofessionals in other countries who serve vulnerable families and children.  The term stands for those who are not necessarily trained social workers, but who carry out social services.

“Coordination is key,” Linsk said. “With Global Alliance as a resource for idea sharing and networking, advocating can happen to use paraprofessionals in suitable roles.”

Amy Bess, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance coordinator, said social workers comprise a key component of the social service workforce, and they are often called on to coordinate and collaborate with other disciplines in order to provide comprehensive social services. She said the symposium was an opportunity to highlight the importance of the social service workforce, which plays a critical role in promoting healthy social service systems and improving the lives of vulnerable children and families.

“The symposium, as well as the work of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance in general, offered an opportunity to bring people together to identify effective workforce strategies at the micro, mezzo and macro levels,” Bess said.  “At the end of the day, this will mean stronger support and services to children and families who need it most.”

The symposium had more than 100 attendees, and was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The NASW Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) provided funding for the event.

The mission of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance is to promote the knowledge of evidence, resources and tools, and political will and action needed to address key social service workforce challenges, especially within low- to middle-income countries. USAID partner CapacityPlus also helped implement the symposium.

The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance hosts a Social Service Workforce Webinar Series. The webinars are free, and NASW members are encouraged to attend, said Susan Rubin, assistant director for the NASW Foundation.

“I encourage anyone who is interested in getting involved in this kind of work to become a member of the Global Alliance network as it provides a great connection to an international network and shared information,” she said. “There is no cost to join. The Global Alliance sends out notices to its members and provides them access to a wealth of information.”

For more information on the Global Social Service Alliance, visit

For more information on the NASW Foundation, visit



National Association of Social Workers

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Jim McCaffery's picture

Useful Resources for Conducting Social Service Workforce Gap Analyses

In a sector with constrained resources, it is imperative to make sound, evidence-based decisions about social service workforce strengthening interventions.   In order to do this, good workforce data are needed to help inform those decisions and address questions like the following:  in a particular country, who are considered to be part of the social service workforce, what are they called, where are they, how many are there, how are they educated, trained and supported, what services are they providing, and what gaps are there with respect to any of these questions?  While the state of data availability can be best be described as ‘emerging’, it is encouraging to note that there has been progress in this area with an increasing number of workforce gap analyses being undertaken over the past three to five years.

While much work in this area remains to be done, the gap analyses already completed have produced at least two useful outcomes.  First, it has allowed the beginnings of meta-analyses by examining results in several countries.   A good example of this is a chapter that has been produced for an upcoming World Bank publication on the social service workforce as an under recognized cadre of the health workforce, with a special focus on sub-Saharan Africa.   This paper includes sections on workforce definitions and functions, stock and distribution, planning and strategy, education and training and career advancement, the state of professional associations and some recommendations about future workforce strengthening intervention areas.  While this focuses on sub-Saharan Africa and is based on a limited number of country-level gap analyses, it still provides useful beginning workforce descriptions and trends.

The second outcome of these country-level workforce gap analyses is that there is now available an increasing number of protocols that can be used or adapted or streamlined by practitioners in other countries who are interested in undertaking a similar gap analysis.  The following are a few examples:

  • Assessing the Human Resource Capacity for Implementation of the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children  This is a process description and a tool library that gives “…coordinators, stakeholders, and implementers a process, methodology, and tools…” to carry out a participatory social service HR gap analysis.  It is drawn from work done in Namibia and Malawi originally, and has a range of questionnaires, interview guides, meeting agenda descriptions and other tools. One of the strengths of this resource is that it describes well how to make the gap assessment more participatory in nature, which will make the results more accurate, the recommendations more realistic and increase the likelihood of ownership of the report and outcomes.
  • An Assessment of the Public Sector Social Service Workforce in Ethiopia  This is the final report of the Ethiopia SSW gap analysis completed in June of 2013.  In addition to some overall descriptions of orienting data collectors, sampling, data processing, and ethical considerations, it contains an extensive set of questionnaires, guidance for interviews, FGD protocols, and other tools.
  • Human Resource Assessment and Gap Analysis of the Zambian Social Welfare Workforce This document – finalized in November of 2013 – is a complete SSW gap analysis protocol.  While the background, context, goal and objectives and literature review are very Zambia specific, I am including it because it provides a good context for the a) overall HR assessment design and analysis, b) steps to be used in the gap analysis and c) the tools and data collection methods.  In terms of tool examples, there is an overall information sheet to be used when engaged in data collection, protocols for individual interviews, group interviews, a web based survey to collect quantitative data, and sample consent sheets.
  • Protocol Framework for Social Service Workforce Gap Analysis  This is a different type of document that is intended to provide a guide for an overall social service workforce gap analysis.  As such, it contains key questions broken into four key areas:  Identifying, planning, developing and supporting the workforce.  This aligns generally with the Framework for Strengthening the Social Service Workforce and would help practitioners by providing the kinds of questions they should be asking if they choose to look more in depth in particular areas.  This document should be viewed as a quasi-library and one can pick and choose questions based on what seems most important or compelling given the country or local context.  Then, once the overall guiding questions are chosen, it is likely that there will be tools from some of the other resources included in this blog that practitioners could use or adapt to provide data to address the questions.


I hope these examples are useful, and that leaders and practitioners can find material from one or more of the resources that could be adapted appropriately.   

For more information and resources on social service workforce gap analyses and mapping, please visit the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance resource library here.

I would also like to invite you to contribute additional examples of protocols or even a single tool that you might have used or seen applied. You can do so by completing this simple form here once you are signed in as an Alliance member.

This work of mapping the SSW and determining key gaps is critically important, and
making these tools widely available should make it easier for people to undertake an analysis as they do not have to start from scratch. 


by Jim McCaffery, Senior Advisor, CapacityPlus and Training Resources Group

Jim McCaffery
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Zeni Thumbadoo's picture

A Social Service Innovation: Planning, Developing and Supporting the Child and Youth Care Workforce

I am the Deputy Director of the National Association of Child Care Workers in South Africa, and recently led a session on social service innovation at our 19th Biennial Conference. I focused on planning, developing, and supporting the child and youth care workforce. Child and youth care workers constitute a distinct social service profession. They work in the lifespace of children, youth, and their families, wherever they may be, in residential care facilities, families, and communities, and use ordinary daily events to intervene developmentally and therapeutically.

What do we mean by planning?

We need to know the number of social service workers required to meet the welfare needs of our country. South Africa’s Children’s Act defines these workers as social workers, child and youth care workers, community development workers, and youth workers.

But how many of each type of worker do we need? And how are we going to bring them into the workforce in the numbers that are going to enable them to respond effectively to the services that are required in our country? Further, at what level do we need them? For example, how many auxiliary child and youth care workers and professional child and youth care workers do we need?

Another important consideration is where we need them. It is quite surprising sometimes to find that we have social workers who are unemployed and yet we know that social work is a scarce skill. We need more data-driven evidence that guides us to where the workforce needs to be situated. For example, we know that child and youth care workers respond to children’s needs, so we need to look at data that tells us the location of orphaned and vulnerable children. Do we need workers in rural areas, urban areas, in townships? Which provinces need them more than others?

Social service delivery requires all of us. How do we work effectively together? How do we work in multidisciplinary teams? And how do we work in intra-disciplinary teams, meaning different levels of social service workers working together? You may have a professional social worker and an auxiliary child and youth care worker. Or you might have a professional child and youth care worker and a social auxiliary worker. How do they combine themselves effectively in order to provide quality services to children?

Another issue in workforce planning links to the strategies that we use for the recruitment, hiring, and deployment of workers. For example, workforce realignment, task shifting, and task sharing are key. Task shifting means there may be some things that social workers used to do that can be handed over to child and youth care workers. But task sharing means that when there are few of us in a rural area, some of the things that a social worker would normally do in an urban area may have to be shared, otherwise clients will not be effectively serviced. 

After we have planned our workforce, it needs to be developed

When we plan for educating the workforce, we have to make sure training is aligned to education systems and standards. For example, we have to be aligned with what the Health and Welfare Sector Educational Training Authority says and also with the regulatory bodies and practices in higher education. Obviously there will be different training for social workers, for child and youth care workers, and for community development workers.

Another consideration in training and developing the workforce is ensuring content and curriculum is relevant to those we are servicing. It is so important to not import international literature on child and youth care or social work and believe that it is completely relevant to a South African context. We need to respect and include our indigenous training, models, and content in training.

We also we need to look at strengthening training methodology and acknowledging the value of technology. How do we utilize eLearning to reach workers in the most rural areas so that they can access education?

Finally, we must make sure there is in-service training in workplaces that builds capacity and leadership and helps people to take theory and translate it into practice.

The third part of the triangle: Supporting the workforce

Generally we find that people who stay in positions do so for more than only money. They don’t leave if they feel connected and satisfied with the place that they work.

We also need to have improved supervision systems. We need to ensure workers are properly supervised so that we can ensure they are providing quality services to the children and families that we service.

Licensing, accreditation, and quality assurance systems are also critical when talking about supporting a workforce. The South African Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP) regulates the workforce and registers workers at different levels. This is an important responsibility in bringing quality control to the people who service vulnerable families and communities. The SACSSP has posted draft regulations  relating to the registration of child and youth care workers for public coment.

For enhanced productivity of workers you need to supply them with the things they need. We know that people need files, stationery, vehicles and offices. If you don’t provide these basic things in the social service sector, workers can’t deliver quality services. Or, we may have a project in rural KwaZulu-Natal and we know that if we set up an office in this area it is inaccessible to most people because they have to walk over a couple of mountains to get to the office. So should we have an office or a mobile office? We need to think creatively about how we are going to provide for staff to enhance productivity.

Another important aspect of supporting the workforce links to the health of the workers. Some of us in the child and youth care field and in the social services field in general have lost some of our most experienced, qualified, and well-functioning workers who have not had their health needs taken care of at the workplace, particularly through HIV/AIDS.

We also need to look at the rights of workers. Trade unions will play a role in providing for the protection of worker rights.

A professional association like the National Association of Child Care Workers plays an important role in supporting workers. All professions need their professional associations to take responsibility for organising the workforce around its profession and creating and maintaining an identity.

It is our responsibility as a child and youth care sector to understand that you plan a workforce, you develop a workforce and you support a workforce. All the elements are important for delivering quality services that children deserve in our country. 

I say this in the context of the recent launch of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. Their aim is to improve the social service workforce globally—and thus improve lives. The Alliance’s website provides an opportunity to interact, to share resources, to learn about other social service professionals, and to make our presence felt.  One element on the website is a Social Service Workforce Strengthening Framework for planning, developing and supporting this workforce.

I am happy to serve as a representative of NACCW on the Steering Committee of the Global Alliance to help advance this important work. We can contribute our knowledge of the expression of child and youth care work rooted in the South Africa context. And by working with others, we can all achieve the effective globalisation of child and youth care work and the strengthening of the social service workforce. 

Zeni Thumbadoo
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