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A Competency Framework for Para Professional Social Service Workers

Jim McCaffery's picture

by Jim McCaffery, Chair, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance Steering Committee

Welcome to Day Five of Social Service Workforce Week! This week, as you probably know, we have been celebrating the work of community level social ervice workers. Given the critical role these community workers play every day in providing care and support to children and families, it has been our premise that they form the backbone of a strong social service system.

We hope that through the various methods and communication channels this week – blogs, worker profiles, web visits, tweets, and so on – we have all gained a better understanding of what they do and how they do it. And that we would appreciate both the individual stories as well as the overall perspectives and tools that have been highlighted.

As we look at the bigger picture of community level social service workers, one cannot help but be impressed by the great diversity of roles and services that they provide. While this is a real strength in that community level work must fit different contexts, it also poses a challenge -- the functions and activities of these workers are not well described or delineated within or across countries. Training, credentialing, supervision and evaluation of para professional community social services vary as well based on local context, the existence or lack of formal social services or social welfare structures as well as the professional and local cultural stance on how vulnerable people are to be supported and helped.

Recognizing this, the Alliance formed the Interest Group on Para Professionals in the SSW (IGPP) in September 2013, which 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 Competency Framework for Para Professional Social Service Workers

The group developed a competency framework for para professionals that outlines the functions and competencies and can be used to provide program guidance, accountability and ultimately inform both training and supervision. 

Today, we are releasing the full document, including the guiding principles and competency framework. We hope that all of you will take a look, try it out and provide feedback to make the next edition even more robust.

You can find the competency framework here.

Let me say a few words about the three key sections of the document:

1) Guiding Principles

The purpose of this section is to provide a set of principles that will be a useful base from which to develop programs and activities related to how programs can work to better plan, develop and support para professional social service workers. (For additional information on the Guiding Principles, please see the day one blog.)

2) Core Functions and Competencies

The purpose of describing core functions and competencies is to more clearly define the range of work of para professional social service workers. The competency framework can be used toward the development of service and training programs for para professionals working as direct care workers in the social service sector. These functions and competencies should serve as a useful base to develop such programs; however, based on the type of services provided as well as the professional and regional context, they often will need to be supplemented by functional areas and competencies specific to the context or discipline related to those served by the para professional workers. 

The overall functions and competencies are generic in that they may apply to most para professional cadres, but at the same time not all para professionals are expected to need all of these competencies. Specific groups may have more specialized functions and competencies that can be combined with these generic functions and competencies in training and service programs

These functions may be viewed as a "menu" of competencies that may be helpful in developing service programs as well as training and supervising workers who do this work. They may be useful as well in developing credentialing or qualifying descriptions of these workers, including job descriptions, scopes of work or schemes of service. Potentially they may also be used to ensure ethical practice and enforce related laws and professional standards that relate to para professionals practicing in these fields.

The document presents eight overall functional areas as follows:

a)  Communication skills
b)  Direct work with children, youth and families
c)  Application of knowledge related to client needs
d)  Community work
e)  Collaboration skills
f)  Organization and leadership
g)  Monitoring and evaluation
h)  Developing self and others

Each functional area is divided into a series of competencies that provide more detail. Practice competencies are specific expected abilities that a worker may use in their work; these competencies can be used to develop or evaluate their skills and may be a part of a work description. Training competencies can be used to develop training objectives and activities as well as evaluate training success.

3) Specialized Functions and Competencies – Child and Youth Care Workers

Toward more specialized competencies, the current document also outlines functions and competencies associated with one specialized area of para professional social service work – Child and Youth Care Workers (CYCW). Child and youth care practice focuses on the infant, child, and adolescent, within the context of the family, the community and the life span. The developmental-ecological perspective emphasizes the interaction between persons and the physical and social environments, including cultural and political settings. This is an internationally recognized field with standardized competencies and training at the professional level that enables a career ladder for para professional child and youth care workers. The internationally accepted child and youth care competencies for professional CYCW can be found online. The IGPP document is a first effort to define specialized competencies for para professional CYCW.

It is hoped that future versions of the document will incorporate specialized functions and competencies for other types of cadres, including para social work and community development.

A major contribution…let us know what you think

Developing and publishing the guiding principles and competencies for community level social service workers is a major contribution to the field. The IGPP is congratulated for the hard work that went into the initiative and the document. I should add that validation exercises have been carried out in Kenya and Uganda with the specific aim of assessing the relevance of the framework’s functions and competencies to a specific group of para professional workers.

So, please read through the document – we hope you learn from it and, most important, if you have reactions and ideas and suggestions, please contribute them, as we want this to be a living document that grows and becomes more finely tuned based on broad input and experience. We request that as you use these tools you let us know how you do so, what groups you target and what are the results including needed modifications. Please email us with any and all comments and feedback. We look forward to hearing from you.

And thank you for joining us during this year’s social service workforce week. Take a look back through the week’s information here. If you haven’t become a member of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance yet, we invite you to do so.


Kolin Thumbadoo's picture

<p>How are these competencies graded eg certificate,diploma etc and is it recognised by local councils, provincial authorities.Are local Adult Education institutions if they exist provide recognition of these skills?At what level of literacy/numeracy do trainees need to possess?Is there a fascility for recognising "prior learning"?What mode is CBT delivered in and can an Oral approach be adopted?What is the average age of trainees?</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

Amy Bess's picture

Thank you for your questions!   The idea behind the competency framework is that it is a general tool for people to use and adapt in a way relevant to their context.  It isn’t intended to create global standards that would be challenging to apply across such a diversity of settings where para professionals work.  Program managers could use the framework as assistance in designing new programs, adjusting current programs or training, etc given the specifics of their program needs.  We do advocate for some standardization of training at a country level (with graded levels, as you note, along with recognition of prior learning, towards a recognized certificate or diploma) in order to help different cadres of para professionals be well-prepared, recognized and supported in their roles.  These resources may be of help to those working on such initiatives.

Bina's picture

it is very nice ideas have to share with us

simangele molefe's picture

This Is so intresting dweling deeper in the lives of infants,children and youth in adolecent stage Looking foward to read more.