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

Zeni Thumbadoo's picture

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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