You are here

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

Grace  wong 's picture

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.