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Community Workers are the Backbone of a Strong Social Service Workforce

Amy Bess's picture

Welcome to Day One of Social Service Workforce Week! This week, we are celebrating the work of community level social service workers.

Building support for community level workers

When the Alliance was first launched, the most common area of interest expressed among our first few hundred members was to better understand and support community level workers. Many recognized that community level workers are the backbone of a strong social service system. Indeed, when we asked for voices of support during the launch in June 2013, a social welfare officer from Lesotho said,

“When we have an efficient, skilled and motivated social service workforce in our communities and its functioning well, children and their families have access to an array of quality services that promote their well-being and protection from harm, abuse and exploitation.”

Children’s well-being is dependent on the care provided to them by those around them. Immediate care providers such as families can find themselves facing challenges that can overwhelm their resources. When families are not fully able to cope on their own, the community can be a key source of support. Neighbors, friends, elders, teachers and community leaders working together and linking with government can form an all-encompassing care and support network that can promote the healthy development of children, strong families and safe communities. 

However, the importance of this type of work often goes unrecognized. The role of those such as child protection workers, child welfare committee members, volunteer children’s officers, para social workers and child and youth care workers is often unclear, misunderstood, taken for granted and/or underfunded. Training programs can be brief and disconnected to a broader strategy of career development within a given country. Supervision and support is often lacking.

Recognizing the important roles of para professionals in the community

The Alliance members recognized these challenges and came together to form an interest group to advance knowledge and discuss solutions. Initially, the group focused on community level workers, and over time, due to both the Technical Brief on the Composition of the Social Service Workforce supported by the Alliance and ongoing conversations within the interest group, terminology has shifted to “para professionals.”   

The Interest Group on Para Professionals in the SSW (IGPP) was announced in September 2013 and has been open to all members of the Alliance. Zeni Thumbadoo, National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers in South Africa, and Nathan Linsk, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago, co-facilitate the group. Currently there are more than 30 member participants who represent seven countries from North America, Europe and Africa.

The group developed a set of guiding principles for working with para professionals to form a base from which to develop programs and activities related to how social service para professionals can be trained, developed, deployed and supported. The group also decided that an important contribution to this area of work would be the development of a competency framework for para professionals that would outline the functions and competencies of para professionals and could be used to provide program guidance, accountability and ultimately inform both training and supervision. 

These two tools have benefited from input from many more people over the past year, including through presentations and discussions at conferences in the Philippines and South Africa and through two validation exercises in Kenya and Uganda with four groups of para professional social service workers and their supervisors.

The work of the IGPP and the Alliance aims to bring about more recognition of the important roles community level workers play in providing care and support to children and families. They raise awareness about child protection issues and mobilize communities to prevent and respond to child protection risks within the community. They assess the needs of vulnerable children and households and link them to appropriate services. They work together with health teams to promote healthy development and well-being of children. They support care reform efforts by supporting family tracing and reintegration for children outside of protective family care.  

Social Service Workforce Week 2015: Celebrating community level workers

Therefore, for this year’s Social Service Workforce Week, we decided to focus each day on a particular area of work that would not be achieved without the dedication of community level workers. On Day Two, we will highlight the role of community workers in preventing and addressing violence against children. On Day Three, we will feature ways in which community level social service workers promote better health outcomes. Day Four will focus on ways in which these workers help to promote family based care and care reform. 

On Friday, the full document including the competency framework will be made public and we hope that all of you will take a look, try it out and provide feedback to make the next edition even more robust.

In line with today’s general introduction, we are publicizing the Guiding Principles. Please take a look and let us know what you think.

Meet a colleague working in social services

Each day, we will also be featuring profiles of different workers. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Intan and Simon:

Advance global learning and share your expertise with others

Since our launch, the Alliance has attracted nearly 800 members from more than 70 countries. Each of you who has joined us has valuable knowledge and expertise to share with colleagues from around the world. We encourage you to do so through the following methods:

  • Take a look around our website and the many resources it contains
  • Check out our recent webinar on the guiding principles and competency framework that was live webcast from the Philippines 
  • Review the range of documents on the Alliance resource database that highlight the role of community workers.
  • Our hope is that you will share your documents or insights about your own initiatives in this area so that others might profit as result of your work. You can send documents via email with a short description to disseminate them to this network.
  • Join the conversation this week on Twitter! Do you think community level workers are the backbone of a strong social service workforce? Use #SSWWeek or tweet us @SSWAlliance to explain why or tell us about your programs or post a message on our Facebook page.

Thank you for joining us this week as we celebrate the work of those who have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others. We look forward to continuing to exchange promising practices and innovative ideas in the shared spirit of strengthening the social service workforce.


lucky's picture

For the first as cycw is south Africa we have proud to celebrate as a new profession in the social services world. Halala 

Ar condicionado automotivo's picture

Great blog.Thanks for you published great article. ar condicionado automotivo

Lisa Langhaug's picture

Thank you for this focus on the those on the ground who make things happen.  REPSSI has is also committed to the long term profeesional growth of community level workers throught is Certificate Course on Community Based Work with Children and Youth which focuses on how to include psychosocial support into their work. We use a supported situated distance learning model that allows for community based workers to learn while continuing their work in the field. 6 modules over 18 months. After 3 cycles, we have over 3000 alumni across 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  What keeps me excited, is the transformative changes we see in the students.  18 months after graduation, 1/4 of those who started off as volunteers, were now in paid positions (and 74% of them attributed this change to their being on the Cert Course).  Following the course, they are asked to lead discussions on PSS. And the investment seems worthwhile: as more than 75% of students remain in their communities 2 years after the course. 

Jabulile's picture

The work force will increase  awarenes on the work that the  community care workers do, the good work that they do. The knowledge that is provided allows better understand of the work that is done. We are proud to be CYCWs.Thank you!

Jeffrey Steen's picture

 Hello colleagues!  These discussions and the week’s schedule of activities are very engaging.  In particular, thanks for sharing the many websites exploring the experiences of members of the social service workforce from around the globe.    To gather information about the workplace experiences of social workers and the wellness of the workforce, we recently conducted an online study.  In total, 6,112 social workers licensed in all 50 states completed the survey.  Over 1,000 of these respondents have primarily worked in child welfare services.  We're presently analyzing all the data-- our colleagues contributed a great deal of interesting information!-- and we've created a website with preliminary findings.  Feel free to check it out to learn more about our study and some initial results:   Also, please don't hesitate to send us an email, as we're eager to learn about your interests in workforce development and to share information about our research:  It's great to participate in this week's activities through Social Service Workforce Week-- an innovative and important idea!   Best-- Lala, Evan, Jeff, Taylor, and Josey