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Advocacy that Moves the Social Service Workforce to the Fast Lane

Nicole Brown's picture

by Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Imagine a world where no child is subjected to violence, no child lives on the street, no child is forced into labor.  In 2010, many of us came together to imagine such a child-friendly and child-centered world. Our brainstorming about what it would take to make this world a reality led to the launch of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance.

Now with nearly 1,000 members, the Alliance allows individual voices to be amplified in calling for increased investment in the social service workforce. Instead of one small beeping horn in a massive traffic jam, we become a thunderous blast of sirens making everyone stop, take notice and give us the right of way. For optimum performance, this workforce needs routine maintenance, and upgrades, in the form of training, development and support.

You and I know that the social service workforce plays a key role in solving many of the problems our society faces. This workforce is essential for children and families to be healthy and supported, but to achieve a truly child-friendly world necessitates greater investment at all levels.

Securing that type of investment and political will requires strong advocacy. We need to make a strong case for why tight national budgets should be geared toward strengthening the social service workforce. In fact, we do not believe that the United Nations 2030 agenda or the SDGs can be accomplished without the social service workforce. Why not? That’s where building our case comes in.

Gary Newton, former US Government Special Advisor for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, spoke at the Alliance’s 3rd Annual Symposium in June 2016 about how we need to show a direct connection between a stronger workforce and better outcomes for children and families in order to win political support and increase resources. He suggested that advocacy for social service workforce strengthening should focus on preventing violence against children, and, conversely, advocacy for the prevention of violence against children should focus on strengthening the social service workforce. 

Social service workers are the intervention to end the epidemic of violence that 25% of the world’s children faced last year. They are also critical supports to children with disabilities, who are four times more likely to face physical violence and five times more likely to face sexual violence, according to the WHO. We need clear and compelling statements like this to build political will and global momentum for strengthening this workforce.

We must be more effective advocates. Our advocacy tactics must meet the same evidence-based standards applied to other interventions. This requires more and better data – both qualitative and quantitative.

Alliance Ambassadors Begin Their Role as Advocates

Ambassadors from Uganda develop their action plansIt also requires individuals and organizations becoming workforce strengthening champions. A group of dedicated advocates has been selected to be Ambassadors for the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. They are charged with advocating nationally, regionally and globally for a strengthened workforce. It’s a tall order and they can’t do it alone. This first cohort of Ambassadors from seven countries took part in a training and orientation earlier this month. They discussed advocacy strategies and promotional tactics and reviewed existing materials about the workforce. They are now developing action plans for advocacy and promotion through development of key messages and outreach to existing and potential collaborators across sectors.

Their work is already underway. A zero draft of Kenya’s Children’s Bill 2016 has just been released and neglects to include the workforce. Jennifer Kaberi, National Coordinator, Children Agenda Forum, Kenya, is gathering examples of how the workforce has been referenced in other country’s similar bills in order to effectively advocate for inclusion of workforce-specific language into Kenya’s bill.

They Ambassadors acknowledge that their task is not an easy or quick one, but they expect the relationships they form to have an increasing impact over time. As one example, Pat Maquina, Senior Mentor, National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW), South Africa said “I look forward to seeing that the strengthening of the social service workforce addresses the root causes of social injustice against children and families left vulnerable and destitute.”

“As part of the Global Partnership to End Violence against children, we are acutely aware of the level and extent of violence experienced by children. Governments, communities and families all have a role to play in preventing violence and its associated harm,” said Jane Calder, Regional Advisor for Child Protection in Asia, Save the Children, Thailand/Asia region. “As an Ambassador for the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, I’m excited to be a part of the call for more social workers and para professionals to be employed, trained, resourced and given the status and the tools in the form of legislation and policy that will enable them to do the job – the job of contributing significantly to the current and the future health and well-being of children, families and their communities, with the goal of ending violence against children.”

One suggestion raised by this new group of Ambassadors is the creation of an advocacy toolkit that anyone can use to rally support for social service workforce strengthening and the Alliance will be working on developing such a toolkit. If you have materials to share that could be included in the kit, please let us know. How have you effectively advocated for the social service workforce? We invite you to share promising practices as well as challenges you’ve faced on our discussion board.

It’s not necessary to be an Alliance Ambassador to be an effective advocate for strengthening the social service workforce. We can all be better advocates to cultivate greater support for this effort. Doing so will benefit all of us and in turn benefit our children, families and communities.

Get Involved and Learn More

Today is the final day of Social Service Workforce Week. You can read the blogs from each day this week, then join the discussion online. Amplify your voice by becoming a member of the Alliance and join in advocating for a stronger workforce, sharing resources and tools, exchanging promising practices and supporting greater investment in this workforce. With more than 1,000 members, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance works toward a world where a well-planned, well-trained and well-supported social service workforce effectively delivers promising practices that improve the lives of vulnerable populations.


Gary Newton's picture

Congratulations to the Alliance on a successful Social Service Workforce Week.Well done!A few quick thoughts on advocacy:To make the case that strengthening the social service workforce is vitally important is a formidable advocacy challenge.  In too many countries, this is a workforce that shares the same politically weak and neglected status as the constituency it serves.While advocacy strategies will necessarily be geared to specific country contexts with their unique array of opportunities and constraints, it may be generally relevant -- and also obvious -- that the rationale on which we base the assertion that strengthening the social service workforce (SSW) is important can facilitate or impede the effectiveness of advocacy.   Relative to other “service” workforces -- notably teachers and health workers -- it’s more difficult to communicate the role and importance of the SSW, yet, it’s particularly important to do so because awareness of what the workforce does and why it’s important is generally low. Social service is a broad term which we need to give specific meaning.  Strengthening the workforce is, of course, not an end in itself.  It’s a means to an end, an input to an output, an intervention to an outcome, a cause with an effect, a public policy with a public purpose.  In advocacy for this workforce, we need to permanently weld a purpose to any and all calls for its strengthening.    A challenge for initial advocacy efforts will be to choose a single, modest, programmatically sound, politically feasible purpose and sell its importance, for example: “With 25 more social service workers in the northern district, by the end of 2017, we can reintegrate #X unaccompanied and separated children; or, reunify #X children living on the street; or, place #X children in residential care in family-based care; or, reduce cases of violence against children from X to Y; or, enroll #X caregivers to receive monthly cash grants for OVC; or, enroll #X children in ECD programs.” Advocacy will be aided by any and all evidence – anecdotal and otherwise – of a correlation between a strengthened workforce and specific results.  There isn’t much. And, for policy makers for whom the results themselves are an insufficient rationale for action (and there are such people!), any and all evidence of the economic and societal benefits of taking action – and the costs and consequences of inaction – must be marshaled.