You are here

Blog

Alena Sherman's picture

Trabajador de servicio social destacado: Una sesión de preguntas y respuestas con Edgar Danilo López Ramírez, Especialista en Fortalecimiento Familiar y Comunitario con Iniciativa “Cambiando la Forma en que Cuidamos”

Edgar

Also available in English.

1. Cuéntenos un poco sobre su vida personal, por favor.

Resido en el municipio y departamento de Chiquimula, Guatemala, soy casado, tengo tres hijos hermosos, dos varones y una hembra; disfruto mucho compartir con mi familia, salir juntos en paseos, especialmente en áreas del campo, compartir con la naturaleza y compartir con amigos en común de la familia. Me encanta ver disfrutar a mi familia. Entre mis pasatiempos favoritos está leer literatura de crecimiento personal.

2. Cuéntenos sobre la comunidad o zona donde usted trabaja. ¿Cuáles son los principales problemas que enfrentan los habitantes de la comunidad o zona donde usted trabaja?

Actualmente trabajo en los municipios de Zacapa, Río Hondo y Usumatlán, del departamento de Zacapa, Guatemala, especialmente coordinando con gobiernos municipales y comunitarios, para establecer coordinaciones o alianzas enfocadas en lograr la creación de redes de apoyo para promover el cuidado familiar, proteger a la niñez y adolescencia y evitar la separación familiar innecesaria, especialmente tratando de involucrar a líderes, lideresas y autoridades comunitarias, dentro de sus mismas comunidades.

En el tiempo que tengo de ser parte de la iniciativa y con la experiencia previa en el área de trabajo, he notado la ausencia de diversos actores sociales que realicen acciones dirigidas a la protección de las familias, a pesar de las condiciones socioeconómicos vulnerables y alta exposición de los adolescentes a diferentes riesgos que afectan su desarrollo personal.

También creo que los gobiernos municipales y departamental pueden hacer mucho más para lograr el fortalecimiento de las familias a fin de mejorar sus condiciones de vida y con ello reducir los riesgos de las separaciones familiares innecesarias, especialmente facilitando el acceso a los servicios que las familias necesitan.

En el área de trabajo funcionan tres hogares de protección, con quienes la iniciativa mantiene estrecha coordinación para promover la reunificación de las niñas y niños para fortalecer su vinculación afectiva.  

3. ¿Hace cuánto tiempo trabaja en el área social y que es lo que le motivó a formarse como trabajador(a) social, psicólogo, u otra profesión que brinda atención social?

A partir de febrero de 2005 inicio a trabajar en temas sociales, brindando apoyo a familias vulnerables a la inseguridad alimentaria, brindando especial atención a las que entre sus miembros habían niñas y niños menores de cinco años.

Decidí estudiar trabajo social, al darme cuenta que es una carrera profesional que sirve como medio para contribuir al mejoramiento de la condiciones de vida de las familias, especialemente las que residen en el área rural, por medio de la articulación de esfuerzos con otros actores sociales.

4. ¿En qué consistió la formación profesional que usted recibió (título, diplomado, etc)?

A nivel técnico estudié en la Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala y me gradué en gerencia del desarrollo comunitario, recibiendo formación enfocada a gerenciar procesos de desarrollo comunitario integral, con énfasis en el desarrollo social.

A nivel de licenciatura estudié en la Universidad “Rafael Landívar”, graduándome de licenciado en trabajo social, con énfasis en gerencia del desarrollo. Aunque fueron diferentes casas de estudio el enfoque de estudio fue similar. Recibiendo formación profesional para dirigir, coordinar o liderear procesos de desarrollo de la población guatemalteca.

5. Favor de describir el trabajo que usted realiza actualmente y las principales funciones que ejerce.  ¿Qué tipo de atención o servicios brinda usted a niños, niñas, adolescentes y familias?

Entre las principales funciones de mi trabajo está realizar coordinaciones institucionales, para promover el fortalecimiento del sistema de protección de las familias y de las comunidades, para prevenir la separación familiar innecesaria. La creación de redes de apoyo para la niñez y adolescencia a nivel comunitario, municipal y departamental, involucrando y empoderando a las autoridades, lideresas y líderes comunitarios y municipales. También realizar gestiones que generen intervenciones para promover el desarrollo económico de las familias en riesgo de separación innecesaria.

 6. ¿Cuáles son los aspectos que más le gustan de su rol o trabajo actual?  

En general todo mi trabajo es interesante y me agrada cada actividad que realizo, porque van enfocadas a construir una mejor realidad para las familias y sociedad en general. Pero me genera mayor agrado realizar acciones, mantener comunicación y establecer acuerdos, para lograr que la población y las autoridades comunitarias y municipales sean parte del equipo que se esfuerza por ser parte del sistema de protección de la niñez y adolescencia.

 7. ¿Cuáles son los principales retos que usted enfrenta en su rol o trabajo actual y como los enfrenta o resuelve?

Creo que uno de los mayores desafíos es lograr la articulación de los diferentes actores sociales involucrados en el tema de protección de la niñez y adolescencia, porque sus antecedentes son de trabajo desarticulado;  pero es un reto que con el transcurso del proceso se va reduciendo la brecha y cada vez más se logra generar el interés por ser parte de ese equipo, por medio de la sensibilización y el empoderamiento sobre la importancia y los beneficios que ellos pueden generar y hacer historia en sus comunidades, municipios o departamentos.

 8. ¿Hay algo más que quisiera compartir con nosotros sobre su trabajo, su motivación, sus sueños, etc?

Mi trabajo es una bendición de Dios, porque hago lo me gusta y recibo beneficios salariales, es un medio para servir a las familias y crear mejores condiciones de vida para los NNA. Espero que en el corto y mediano plazo la iniciativa pueda ampliar su área de cobertura para incrementar el numero de familias beneficiarias e involucrar a otros actores sociales del departamento.

 

 

Alena Sherman's picture

Social Service Worker Spotlight: A Q&A with Edgar Danilo López Ramírez, Specialist in Family and Community Strengthening with Changing the Way We Care

Edgar

También disponible en español.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I live in Chiquimula, Guatemala. I am married and have three beautiful children, two boys and one girl. I really enjoy spending time with my family, going on walks in the countryside and spending time with friends. I also enjoy reading books to help me grow as a person.

2. Tell us about the community or area where you work. What are the main issues or problems the community faces?

I currently work in the municipalities of Zacapa, Río Hondo and Usumatlán in the Zacapa region of Guatemala. I coordinate with municipal and community authorities to establish support networks, involving community leaders and local authorities, focused on promoting family care and protecting children and adolescents from unnecessary family separation. 

In the time that I have been part of “Changing the Way We Care” and with my previous experience in this area of work, I have noticed an absence of social actors working to protect families, despite the noticeable socioeconomic conditions making them vulnerable and the exposure of adolescents to risk factors that may affect their personal development.

I believe that local authorities and governments can do much more to strengthen families by facilitating access to services and improving their living conditions, thus reducing the risk of unnecessary family separation.

Three children’s shelters (known as protection homes) operate in the area where I work, with whom we maintain close coordination in order to promote the reunification of the children from the shelters with their families.

3. How long have you been working in this profession and what motivated you to train as a social worker, psychologist, or another profession that provides social care?

In February 2005, I began to work on social issues, providing support to families vulnerable to food insecurity, paying special attention to families with children under five years of age.

I decided to study social work, realizing that it is a profession that contributes to the wellbeing of families, especially those that reside in rural areas.

4. What type of professional training did you receive? 

At a technical level, I received training at the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala in community development management. This included training on managing comprehensive community development processes, with an emphasis on social development.

At the undergraduate level, I studied at the Universidad de Rafael Landívar, graduating with a degree in social work with an emphasis on development management. Although my two areas of study were different, the approach was similar, both focusing on directing, coordinating and leading development processes for Guatemala

5. Please describe the work you currently do and the main functions of your role.

My main roles are to carry out institutional coordination, to promote the strengthening of the protection system for families and communities, and to prevent unnecessary family separation. I create support networks for children and adolescents at the community, municipal and departmental levels, involving and empowering authorities and community and municipal leaders. I also carry out procedures that promote the economic development of families at risk of unnecessary separation.

 6.  What aspects of your current job or role do you like the most?

In general, I find all of my work interesting, and I enjoy all aspects of it because it is all focused on building a better reality for families and for society in general. But I most enjoy my work that involves establishing agreements that ensure a better protection system for children and adolescents.

7.  What are the main challenges you face in your current role and how do you work to resolve them?

I believe that one of the greatest challenges is to achieve a common goal among the different actors involved in child protection, because everyone has different objectives in their roles. But by raising awareness about the importance and benefits of the work, a common goal can be achieved, and changes can be made in the different communities, municipalities and government departments.

8.  Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

My work is a blessing from God, because I do the work that I enjoy, and I receive a salary. My job is also a way to serve families and create better living conditions for children and adolescents. I hope that in the short and medium term the Changing the Way We Care program can expand its coverage area to increase the number of families who benefit from its services.

Alena Sherman's picture

A new start for children off the streets

UNICEF is working with the Congolese government to create a protective environment and to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable children.

Originally published on the UNICEF Democtratic Republic of Congo website. Also available in French. 

 

 

At an emergency center in Bandalungwa, around twenty children form a circle around their supervisor and discuss good practices for living in a community. These children have different stories and yet are very similar to one another because the majority of them lived on the streets of Kinshasa only a few days ago.

Ketia, 16 years old, lived in the street for a year with her mother before her mother passed away. The young girl thus found herself alone in the street, confronted on a daily basis by abuse and violence that led to pregnancy. It was children who were previously homeless, who had trained to be para social workers, who found her and guided her to health services.

At the center, children are provided shelter away from the streets and from mistreatment for a month. They are then either reunified with their families, placed in foster families, or lodged in accommodation centres for an indeterminate duration. According to their needs and ambitions, all the children are encouraged to undertake education or begin professional training.

Intending to help support the needs of his family, Richard left the city of Tshikapa at the age of 12 to find work in Kinshasa. Alone, the young boy was quickly subject to economic exploitation in the capital. Following a family tracing process, Richard will be reunited with his parents in Tshikapa and will continue to be accompanied by para social workers there.

UNICEF accompanies the Ministry of Social Affairs, Humanitarian Action and National Solidarity to establish child protection mechanisms. Last year, two welcome centers were set up in Kinshasa and more than 3,000 children were welcomed there thanks to the support of the Canadian government.

Alena Sherman's picture

Un nouveau départ pour les enfants sortis des rues

L’UNICEF travaille avec le Gouvernement congolais pour créer un environnement protecteur et assurer la sécurité des enfants les plus vulnérables.

Publié à l'origine sur le site Web de l'UNICEF République Démocratique du Congo. Aussi disponible en anglais.

Au Centre d’Accueil d’Urgence de Bandalungwa, une vingtaine d’enfants forment une ronde autour de leur encadreur et discutent des bonnes pratiques de vie en communauté. Ces enfants ont des parcours différents et pourtant très similaires puisqu’il y a quelques jours encore, la majorité d’entre eux vivaient dans les rues de la ville de Kinshasa.

Ketia, 16 ans, a vécu dans la rue durant un an avec sa mère avant que cette dernière ne décède. La jeune fille s’est alors retrouvée seule dans la rue et a été confrontée quotidiennement aux abus et à des violences qui ont conduit à sa grossesse précoce. Ce sont des anciens enfants des rues, formés pour devenir des travailleurs para-sociaux, qui ont identifié et orienté la jeune fille vers les services de santé. 

Au centre, les enfants sont mis à l’abri de la rue et de la maltraitance durant un mois avant d’être réunifiés avec leurs familles ou orientés vers des familles d’accueil ou des centres d’hébergement à durée indéterminée. Selon leurs envies et leurs projets d’avenir, tous les jeunes encouragés à poursuivre leur apprentissage ou commencer une formation professionnelle. 

Pensant pouvoir aider à subvenir aux besoins de sa famille, Richard a quitté la ville de Tshikapa à l’âge de 12 ans pour trouver du travail à Kinshasa. Isolé, le jeune garçon a rapidement été victime d'exploitation économique dans la capitale congolaise. Suite à un processus de recherche familiale, Richard sera réunifié avec ses parents à Tshikapa et continuera d’être accompagné par des travailleurs para-sociaux sur place.

L’UNICEF accompagne le Ministère des Affaires Sociales, Action Humanitaire et Solidarité Nationale dans la mise en place des mécanismes de protection des enfants. L’année passée, deux centres d’accueil ont été mis en place à Kinshasa et plus de 3.000 enfants y ont été accueillis grâce à l’appui du Gouvernement canadien.

Alena Sherman's picture

7 Reasons to Celebrate Frontline Street Social Workers

Produced by the Consortium for Street Children.

International Day for Street Children

12th of April is The International Day for Street Children. It is a day to raise awareness of street children’s realities and respect for their rights in all parts of the world. This year, we want the international day to acknowledge those who work directly on the street with them. 

Throughout the pandemic, frontline workers have had to take extraordinary measures to ensure that street-connected children did not see vital care and services interrupted. Mobility restrictions posed a challenge to the existing networks that street workers had established to facilitate the delivery of their activities and services.  

We are excited that so many organisations want to celebrate the valuable work that frontline workers carry out. Here are seven reasons why we think you’ll want to join us in celebrating them on International Day for Street Children.  

They build trust

Frontline workers know that street social work is about establishing trust and creating a safe environment for street children. They show compassion and friendliness, ensuring that their relationships with the children are based on mutual respect and admiration.

Street social workers know the field better than anyone else. They are the first point of reconnection with a community they have often lost faith in, are referral points for other services, and they are messengers needed to understand street-connected children’s situations fully. By supporting street social workers in this work, decision-makers can design more appropriate specialised interventions for children in street situations.

They listen

Because social work requires direct contact with many street-connected children and people, they become skilled at developing good interpersonal relationships and strengthening these connections. Frontline workers can handle situations that can be a source of tension by displaying friendliness and sympathy towards other people, good humour, the ability to know, to listen, the ability to express oneself and to convince, the ability to communicate, the ability to be welcoming, openness and availability.

They do not require professionalisation to be professional

Street workers can be formal and informal – both have the same merit and deserve the same respect. Often those who are close enough to work closely with street children do so without any prior degree or qualification. They learn on the ground in a blended process involving practice and training courses. However, regardless of their background, they are individuals who are fully committed to the best interests of the street children and are guided by high standards of care and protection towards them. Those who work with street-connected children are the first point of contact for delivering services to them.

They multitask

Street work requires many different skills which allow the street worker to adapt to the immediate scenario. They are not only service providers but also mentors, therapists, teachers, caregivers, legal champions, leaders, listeners, and more. They engage in multiple roles to break down boundaries so that street-connected children can rebuild trust in a world which has failed them.

Sometimes, the street workers themselves have experienced living on the streets, thus giving them a unique skillset and knowledge.

They provide essential services

The services provided by frontline workers blur the boundaries between mainstream society and marginalised groups such as street-connected children. They enable services to become more accessible in ways tailored to street children’s needs in terms of accessibility, methods, and settings. Therefore, their frontline work turns them into powerful actors to generate real social inclusion and remove the barriers between social policies and social change by opening spaces for the involvement of street-connected children. If it were not for frontline workers and their willingness to be with street children when they need them most, many would neither have access to essential services nor be able to learn about forms of exercising their rights.

They believe in street-connected children 

Street social workers know better than anyone that street children are not victims but active agents in writing a better future for themselves. They act with the conviction and confidence that children can play a leading role in their development.

They overcome obstacles

All social action work faces difficulties and obstacles, such as rejection, apathy, ingratitude, non-compliance with planned activities, among others. Despite the hardship, frontline workers persist.

 

People assume street work is a simple thing to do. But in practice, it is a 24/7 job that is demanding and intricate. 

It is a job that requires to a large extent, affection, and protection for all the street children and young people with whom they collaborate. Street workers have a common identity despite different contexts. Respecting child rights is a mindset.  

Therefore, we wish to highlight that their work does not go unnoticed, and we are confident that they are positive role models not only for the street-connected children but also for us. 

Find out more about International Day for Street Children.

Alena Sherman's picture

Addressing child protection concerns through the integration of social service workers in schools

Two children stand outside of a schoolA new technical note, developed by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance and UNICEF, finds that violence against children and other child protection concerns can be addressed more effectively when social service workers are integrated into school structures.

“Children spend a significant amount of time each day in school, making it a space where child protection concerns often present themselves, and giving school-based staff a vital frontline role in identification and response,” explains Stephen Blight, Senior Advisor for Child Protection at UNICEF.

“When appropriately capacitated, resourced and supported, social service workers located in or working with schools can play a major role in addressing concerns related to violence, abuse and neglect, mental health, and psychosocial well-being,” Blight continues.

The technical note, which included a review of evidence across the globe, finds that teachers and school administrators usually have primary responsibility for reporting child protection concerns, but in many countries, they do not have the training and support, or time, to recognize signs and symptoms of abuse or violence, to record concerns, or to make referrals. In fact, studies have shown that teachers in different contexts tend to under-report child abuse due to lack of knowledge about the signs and symptoms of abuse, unclear reporting procedures and fear of making inaccurate reports.

A social worker works with a child in GuatemalaWhile it is recommended that teacher and administrator training and support remain a central component of child protection within schools, child protection and well-being concerns can be addressed more effectively if the responsibility is shared with social service workers. Properly trained and supported social service workers can work with teachers and administrators to establish an overall protective climate and culture in schools that is safe, non-violent and inclusive. They can also provide intensive and specialized support for at-risk students. They can also connect interventions at school with the wider child protection system and effectively follow-up on child protection concerns when making external referrals and collaborating with other agencies.

Research for this technical note found that over 50 countries in different parts of the world have a designated role of school social worker, but they use very different models of school social work. In the United Arab Emirates, all public schools have assigned social workers, at two levels: a social worker handles promotive and preventative work and manages ‘low-risk’ issues, while ‘high-risk’ issues are referred to a child protection specialist who has the legal authority to visit homes and intervene to protect a child from imminent danger. In Ecuador, the “Departamentos de Consejeria Estudiantil”, or DECE, work within educational institutions to ensure the protection and well-being of students. DECEs are composed of interdisciplinary teams, which include social workers, and have the responsibility to provide referrals and follow-up for students affected by violence within the school and/or community. In Mongolia, a provision for school social work was included in the ‘Law on Child Protection’ when it was amended in 2003. The ministry of education produced a job description for school social workers, assigning them a range of duties that include policy development, provision of parenting education, assessment and referrals, counselling, response to domestic violence allegations and more general family welfare tasks.

In other contexts, the key source of support for students is the role of school-based counsellor. In many countries, this role has expanded from supporting students’ academic and career development, to incorporate supporting students’ mental health and well-being. For example, in Jordan, the role of school-based counsellor includes running mental health programs for children and providing follow-up for cases of children found to be particularly at risk. In Bhutan, the ministry of education builds the capacity of school counsellors by equipping them with the knowledge and skills to prevent, recognize and respond to violence against children. Efforts are also being made to integrate child protection in residential schools, monasteries and nunneries where children live and learn, to ensure that children who are particularly vulnerable, because they are living outside of parental care, are not overlooked.

Two children interact at a school in India

Unfortunately, a majority of low- and middle-income countries currently lack long-term programmes for involving the social service workforce in schools, whether that be as school social workers or school counsellors. In such countries, there is a need to advocate for the social service workforce to become integrated within schools, and for the key role that the social service workforce can play in schools to be recognized by ministries of education. Ministries of social welfare and ministries of education also need to work together to ensure the integration of the workforce within education. They should combine their efforts to ensure that social service workers’ role in schools is formalized and reinforced through   appropriate training, development of professional standards, and ensuring workers in these roles are licensed or certified. Legislation is also needed that defines and mandates the role of the social service workforce in schools.

Where there are few if any formal professional development programs for the social service workforce, and so a shortage of qualified social workers, social pedagogues of psychologists, staff or volunteers can be equipped to take on para professional social service roles in schools, through suitable on the job training and supervision. This can help build capacity for meeting students’ social and emotional needs and preventing violence in schools. The ‘barefoot social worker model’ introduced in China, is one such example, in which local community members with a basic level of education and knowledge of social work and child protection, are trained and supported to provide essential, community-based child welfare services.

 

Read the technical note for the full scope of services that the social service workforce, if sufficiently resourced and supported, can provide working in or with schools, and which school administrators and leaders need to support in order to more effectively address child protection concerns. 

Alena Sherman's picture

School social workers’ crucial role in protecting children and their right to education

A social worker speaks with children at a school

Written by Marion Huxtable, Coordinator of the International Network for School Social Work

As coordinator of the International Network for School Social Work I have been keeping track since 1992 of how school social workers protect schoolchildren and their rights. 

Global goals for education are captured in UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the 2030 agenda. The last decade saw accelerated progress especially in primary education and gender equity. However in many countries there are disadvantaged groups of children who lag behind. This has dramatically increased since 2020 through the impact of the pandemic. By April 2020, 188 countries had closed schools, affecting 91% of total enrolled learners. Many children could not participate in distance learning and so dropped out of school completely. As schools started to re-open, it is clear that some, especially girls, have not returned to school.

There are around 50 countries where social workers are part of the school system. In these contexts, terms equivalent to school social worker and education social worker are used in many languages as job titles. While school social work is well established in countries in Western Europe and the United States, plus a few Asian and African countries, the approach is now being applied in a wider range of Asian countries, and other countries in Africa, Central and South America have started to locate social workers in schools.

School social workers work as part of the school team to reach children and families and provide the help needed. Using basic social work methods, school social work adapts to the local culture. Examples include a social worker at a village school in Laos organizing construction of toilets and gardens along with many other programs, and, in Burundi, social service workers rescuing and providing education for the youngest and most neglected children. During the pandemic school social workers everywhere reached out to children and families in creative ways to support mental health and engagement with school.

Schools need help to deal with schoolchildren’s complex problems, including the ramifications of poverty, the impact of civil strife, family problems and disabilities that impede learning. Since the pandemic, emotional and behavioral problems in schools have increased and many children have dropped out. School social workers help address all these challenges.

It is time for a deeper look at the role schools could play in protecting children and their education, and reaching the SDG 4.  UNICEF, the World Bank and UNESCO, in their report Recovering Education in 2021, call for “tailored services needed to meet learning, health, psychosocial  wellbeing and other needs”. School social work is a crucial part of this. We must foster the political will in all sectors including government, international organizations, education ministries and universities to fund, determine needs, and develop national plans to train and place social workers in schools. This commitment is needed to help schools become the safe place where children want to learn and their families want them to be. 

Alena Sherman's picture

Three Ways to Care for Children Orphaned by COVID-19

This blog was written by Lanre Williams-Ayedun, Senior Vice-President of International Programs at World Relief, and originally published by Christianity Today’s The Better Samaritan.

A boy is held during COVID-19.

We are coming upon the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 to be a global pandemic. Since that time, over 415 million people have been infected and nearly 6 million have died from COVID-19. This does not include the untold numbers of people who have died from secondary factors caused by COVID-19 — extreme poverty, chronic food insecurity, an inability to flee violence and a lack of access to healthcare and other social services.

Countless millions of people have lost loved ones and are left grieving even as they fight to survive. In 2020, 1.2 million children lost a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19. That number has drastically increased. Every 6 seconds, a child loses a parent or caregiver as a direct result of COVID-19. According to the latest Lancet Report, from April 30 to October 31, 2021, 5.2 million children lost a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19.

Note the dates. What the research shows is a devastating trend: The number of children affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver death increased 90 percent in a 6-month timespan that came well over a year into when COVID-19 was declared a global emergency.

According to the Global COVID-19 Orphanhood Crisis report, it took 10 years for 5 million children to be orphaned due to AIDS, but it has taken just two years for 5 million children to be orphaned due to COVID-19. We begin to get a picture of the magnitude of this pandemic on our world’s most vulnerable.

Even as cases of COVID-19 and its variants begin to decrease in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, the impact on our world’s most vulnerable has hit record levels. The compounded effects of COVID-19 have had devastating consequences, and we need to turn to meet those most impacted. As we seek to pivot back to our daily lives, we must not leave behind those who are now burdened with extra layers of challenges that affect their ability to survive and thrive.

Empowering families and caregivers of orphaned children.

This begins with recognizing that most children who have lost a parent or caregiver often have other family members or support systems that can step in to help. This is almost always preferable to institutionalization and orphanages.

Unfortunately, many of those potential caregivers are stretched beyond their capabilities due to COVID-19-induced or exacerbated challenges that demand their attention. These include an increase in extreme poverty; environmental disasters and food insecurity due to climate change; interpersonal and social violence and mental health challenges and more.

The best way to care for these children is to empower their families and caregivers with economic, social, emotional and disease prevention support so they care for themselves and the children who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Let me suggest three ways churches and NGOs can do this:

First, tangibly set families and caregivers up for success.

One of the greatest needs many of these families have is economic stability. For many, COVID-19 has decimated their income and with the inclusion of children who have lost a caregiver, increased the number of mouths to feed. In fact, extreme poverty is a major concern in communities with many children who are orphaned. Globally, due to COVID, roughly 97 million more people are living on less than $1.90 a day, increasing the global poverty rate from 7.8 to 9.1 percent. Another 163 million more are living on less than $5.50 a day.

These families need an infusion of funds, financial literacy and savings support, and economic development training to build/rebuild livelihoods lost during the pandemic.

Second, care for the emotional and psychosocial needs of families, caregivers, and children dealing with grief, loss, and uncertainty.

The emotional strain that COVID-19 has caused will have reverberating effects years down the road. Long after financial stability has been achieved, the scars of these years will still be visible, and in some cases, the underlying wounds will still need to heal. Offering community and support services that promote wholeness are necessary in order for true hope to take root. This can be through trained community and faith leaders who can come alongside families to promote mental health and violence prevention services, parenting classes, school attendance and provide referrals for additional services as needed.

Just as Dr. Charles Nelson, Professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, describes the children orphaned by COVID-19 as a “hidden cost of the pandemic,” so, too, are there other hidden costs. One is the cost of emotional and mental wounds silenced by more visible, outward scars. As we seek to meet the needs of these more vulnerable children and families, we must take a whole-person approach toward healing.

Finally, passionately pursue life through vaccine equality.

Many of these children and caregivers have seen more death and sadness than any person ought to. We must, therefore, fight for life, and the first step in doing this is to advocate for global vaccine equality and prioritize vaccine education and access. Currently, however, many factors are stalling efforts to get the most vulnerable the preventative care they need: misinformation about the vaccine, general mistrust of healthcare workers/healthcare, fear of getting sick in crowded health centers, various lockdowns and hard-to-access vaccination sites.

Research shows that just 4.2 percent of people in low-income countries have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and across Africa, only 6.3 percent of people are fully vaccinated. Our first priority needs to be making it more likely that death due to COVID-19 will become less normative for these children and caregivers, and that, in turn, hope can begin to grow in each person’s heart individually and in the new family unit together.

Organizations like World Relief are coordinating with governments to make vaccines available to vulnerable populations and equipping faith leaders with accurate information that they are using to promote vaccine confidence and acceptance among their congregations.

The power of a loving and safe family is unmatched. As we support the children orphaned by COVID-19 and their remaining caregivers, we must do so with a whole-person, whole-family approach that affirms the critical role of the larger community in supporting these vulnerable families

Alena Sherman's picture

Advocates Build Support for the Social Service Workforce During Social Service Workforce Week

Social Service Workforce Week 2021 image

From 25-29 October, organizations and individuals across the globe brought attention to the essential role of the social service workforce in emergency preparedness and response during Social Service Workforce Week. Every year, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance hosts the week to bring attention to and build support for the social service workforce as well as to raise awareness about promising workforce strengthening efforts around the world.  With the world experiencing more protracted conflicts, more frequent climate-related disasters and more severe and widespread disease outbreaks, most notably the current COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s theme focused on the crucial, but often unrecognized, role social service workers play in helping people and communities prepare, adapt and respond to emergencies.  

Throughout the week, the Alliance and partners shared content and resources that explored how the role of the social service workforce has changed, and how social service workers have adapted, as emergencies have become more frequent and widespread. Heather Boetto, developer of the transformative ecosocial work model, discussed the important role of social workers in disaster preparedness. Heather noted the need for social workers to be trained in and to develop disaster preparedness and resilience in all aspects of their practice. She also emphasized the need to advocate for the role of social workers in climate issues. Specifically, she noted, “Preparing and responding to disasters alone isn’t going to resolve the underlying problems associated with human activities that cause climate change and subsequent increases in disaster events.”

Lavender Ondere furthered this notion in her blog focused on the role of the social service workforce in building resilience to climate-related shocks in northern KenyaShe highlighted that in communities in northern Kenya, which are largely pastoral and deal with climate change on a daily basis, the social service workforce has become the community’s voice for advocacy efforts focused on the development of resources to address climate-related risks and the development of climate-related policies at the local and national levels. 

Content also focused on the crucial role of community level social service workers, and volunteers, in humanitarian contexts and throughout the pandemic.  Glynis Clacherty, lead researcher on the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action's Community Engagement in Case Management project told the story of Nyarueni, a community volunteer working on child protection at a refugee camp in EthiopiaClacherty highlighted how volunteers such as Nyarueni serve a critical role in humanitarian settings but also experience great risks with limited support, noting a number of resources the project is working on to ensure the ethical engagement of such volunteers.  Lee Henley, Executive Director of Children’s Future International, aorganization in a rural region of Cambodia, discussed how their community level social workers have had to adapt their service delivery over the course of the pandemic. He noted how, when the collapse of tourism in the region caused food insecurity to become a major concern, workers shifted from delivering community-based training on effective handwashing and symptom recognition to providing emergency food and economic stimulus packages to generate income and promote self-sufficiency. Henley also highlighted the importance of preparing for unanticipated emergencies, which includes critically reviewing internet availability in the community to ensure effective communication during and immediately follow a disaster event.  

Throughout the week, profiles of social service workers dedicated to ensuring the well-being of families and communities across the globe were also shared by the Alliance and others. This included Orlando Monteiroa volunteer case worker in Mozambique, who identifies cases of vulnerable children, assesses their needs, develops case management plans, and provides basic psychosocial support. This also included Mónica Mariela Mayorga Ayala, a child protection and care systems strengthening coordinator in Guatemalawho works to advise government institutions on best practices aimed at sustainable and safe family reunification. 

Missed the weeklong campaignAll content can be found here. The Alliance also urges you to continue to advocate for the importance of the social service workforce to donors and policymakers, media and the general public, and other social service professionals using their key advocacy messages.  

Alena Sherman's picture

Building Resilience to Climate-Related Shocks in Northern Kenya

Women in Kenya carries waterBy Lavender Ondere, technical specialist on natural resource management for World Vision’s Integrated Management of Natural Resources for Resilience in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (IMARA) project

To some, climate change is just a theory, but working with the most vulnerable communities in the most fragile contexts in Kenya, I have come to acknowledge the reality of climate change and its associated risks.

Communities in northern Kenya, which are largely pastoral, deal with climate change on a daily basis. The pastoral systems face increasingly frequent and severe droughts and floods, erratic rainfall and higher than average temperatures, negatively impacting the resources that provide livelihoods to most households. This has led to high poverty rates and exacerbated violent conflict among the communities, with many women and children being killed, displaced and/or raped. Increased food insecurity has also caused many households to resort to retrogressive cultural practices—such as child marriage, child labor, child prostitution and female genital mutilation—as children have been left to adapt and fend for themselves. Loss of the indigenous biodiversity, which provides a natural support system for maintaining a multi-functional landscape, is also leaving the area move vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

This issue has called the social service workforce and the community to action, with climate adaptation and resilience becoming a top priority. This has been done by working on initiatives that support communities in developing resilience to climate change-related shocks. These initiatives focus on land and forest restoration, improved natural resource management, diversification of livelihoods through the adoption of alternative natural resources, and the development of community-based disaster risk reduction action plans.

Through the initiatives, communities have adopted regreening initiatives, such as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), which provides a win-win situation in restoration of livelihoods and landscapes. FMNR is a simple and low-cost nature-based solution that rapidly restores degraded land and ecosystems by unlocking the restorative potential of Kenya’s underground forests. FMNR has worked well especially for women providing them with basic ecosystem services such a firewood, medicine and feeds/pasture for their livestock. 

The adoption of alternative livelihoods away from pastoralism (such as bee keeping, chicken farming, and gum and resin harvesting), coupled with the development of value chains with linkages to the formal markets, has led to improved economic and social status for otherwise vulnerable community members. With multiple income streams, families can buy food and other basics for their children and families, irrespective of the weather patterns.

The role of the social service workforce has been critical in each of these initiatives. They have trained communities on innovative ways of coping with climate change and have helped communities develop disaster risk reduction plans. They have helped communities mobilize resources to allow them to build back better after the disasters. They have created community awareness of climate change issues and built the capacity of the local community to ensure the sustainability of the programs they run. Lastly, the social service workforce has become the community’s voice for advocacy efforts focused on the development of resources to address climate-related risks and the development of climate-related policies at the local and national levels.  

Through these initiatives, I have witnessed communities transform their mindsets on natural resource management and use as well as improve their resilience to climate-change-related shocks. This is the motivation I need to continue contributing to the fight against climate change and building community resilience.

Pages