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Navigating Speed Bumps Ahead: Principles and competencies that drive the para professional workforce

by Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Read blogs from other days during Social Service Workforce Week

There can be many bumps in the road if volunteer or paid workers and employers don’t have a clear set of guiding principles as well as a specific set of skills, knowledge and behaviors to move the work along. These skill sets, or competencies, may be adapted within social service programs to ensure that children and other vulnerable groups get the services and support they need.

Competency frameworks can provide a way to navigate the roadmap of a multi-faceted workforce comprised of many types of workers, including the important role of para professionals, and help to identify the smoothest potential path ahead. For each type of worker, the competency framework can provide a menu of options or a structure from which to both design and fine tune programs and worker training and development. Competency frameworks can:

  • provide a clearer picture of expected actions, behaviors and functions
  • aid recruitment by helping to define the skills and behaviors needed for the job
  • shape training and education programs
  • enhance performance management and development, providing a basis to monitor and evaluate work and form constructive feedback as part of supervision
  • highlight steps for career progression

After initially forming in September 2013, the Alliance Interest Group on Para Professionals identified the need for a competency framework for para professionals. These frameworks help to outline the functions and competencies of para professionals and can be used to provide program guidance, accountability and ultimately inform both training and supervision. They are aimed to be broad enough so that specific countries or programs could adapt them to be contextually and culturally relevant. 

After many drafts and wide input, development of the first full draft of guiding principles and two sets of competencies was developed in March 2015. The first is a set of generic competencies for para professional social service workers that may be useful in areas where specific professional groups are not present. In addition, a more specific set of competencies geared to Child and Youth Care Workers (CYCW) included competencies for both basic level and more advanced workers. These frameworks are a menu of competencies to be selected as appropriate to each program.

The group discussed how best to validate or test these two sets of competencies. The generic and CYCW competency frameworks were reviewed with local para professionals and supervisors in Kenya and Uganda in June and July of 2015. In addition, during their development, the competencies were discussed and reviewed by conference audiences in the Philippines through a session entitled Developing Community Social Service Workers: The Role of Para Professionals and the Work of the Alliance Interest Group on Para Professionals in partnership with the Philippines-based Child Protection Network and in South Africa through a live webcast entitled Development of the Child and Youth Care Work Profession and held in collaboration with the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW).

In September, the first edition of “Para Professionals in the Social Service Workforce: Guiding Principles, Functions and Competencies” was completed and circulated.

Since then, the group has been working on developing functions and competencies specific to two new groups of para professionals – para social workers (PSW) and para professional community development workers (CDW). It should be noted that the names used for these workers vary from country to country. Validation exercises will take place for each set.

  • Validation of PSW competencies took place last week in DRC, led by 4Children
  • Validation of CDW competencies will take place in Ethiopia with assistance from USAID and the Ethiopian Society of Sociologists, Social Workers and Anthropologists (ESSWA).

During the validation exercise in DRC, workers provided valuable feedback on how to apply the competency framework and improve training. One PSW said, “Ce serait bien d'avoir une formation holistique avant le recrutement et plusieurs autres formations en cours d’emploi. [It would be good to foresee a comprehensive pre-service training of PSWs, and then tailored on-the-job training to address any specific needs.]”training

The group has also been gathering stories of ways that the competency framework has been used so far.

One example is the Care and Courage: Using Isibindi to Strengthen Child Protection in Zambia project. UNHCR entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NACCWto replicate the Isibindi model in a custom-designed model for refugee children in Zambia at the Meheba Refugee Camp. This project was designed to train refugees in the Meheba camp as entry-level CYCWs to provide basic care and protection to children in the camps.

Other ways our network has used the principles and functions and competencies are listed below:

  • UNICEF West Africa Regional Office translated the document for a conference of 11 French-speaking West African countries in Benin, West Africa in April to use as a model to develop training guidelines for para professionals.
  • The Child and Youth Care Work competencies have been used to realign the Basic Qualification in Child Care (BQCC) training in South Africa, which is a training that is a part of the minimum standards of child care and required for all those working with children.
  • Due to their use in French-speaking countries in West Africa and the validation exercise in DRC, the full document has been translated into French, with support from Translators without Borders and International Social Services.
  • Since they were released in September, there have been 400 downloads of the Guidelines and Competencies documents from the Alliance website.

Send Your Feedback
How are you using the para professional guidelines or competency framework in your work? If you have had experience using the first edition document in any way, please let us know by posting your responses to our discussion board. The interest group also values your feedback on ways the framework can be strengthened, particularly before the final edition later this year. Add your feedback in the comment box below!

(Image courtesy of NACCW)

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Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Full speed ahead to a stronger social service workforce

by Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Read blogs from other days during Social Service Workforce Week

This week, during the third annual Social Service Workforce Week, we’ll review how the social service workforce is a vital component of making the social service system not only function but generate the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children and families. The social service workforce is the vital group of competent, caring workers who provide desperately needed services to the most vulnerable. They are the heart and the brains of a system responsible for supporting families and reducing violence against children.

To strengthen the social service workforce, it is necessary to look at the workforce within a systems context. The workforce is a micro-system nested within the larger system that requires its own set of interventions and support. At the same time, the workforce plays a key role at the macro, mezzo and micro levels and acts as the ever-important glue between the various components of the system, including legislative and policy environments, national institutions and structures, community and family support systems, financing and budgeting systems, programs and interventions. Their role in ensuring smooth linkages, collaboration and coordination between and among system components strengthens the system as a whole.

car without wheelsWhen Jini Roby spoke at the Alliance’s 2nd Annual Symposium in June 2015, she compared the workforce to the tires on a car. While you can have the fanciest, most expensive engine and make of car, if you don’t have wheels, you will go nowhere. You also need to have the right number of wheels, with the right tire requirements for the vehicle and the right amount of air and ensure that they are well-maintained. Yet, if the garage and the mechanics you rely on are not competent and well trained and supported, you can end up with tire problems that make it impossible to drive that wonderful car. Similarly, without investing in filling open positions, providing quality training and retaining workers by providing supportive supervision and high quality work environments, the social service system as a whole will be riding on deflated tires.

Within the social service workforce, there are many cadres that must work in synergy. Particularly at the national and global level, it is important to come together for a unified, coherent vision of strengthening the workforce in order to strengthen the entire social service system. Collaboration is vital. If the front tires want to go forward and the back tires want to go backward, we’ll be stuck in the same place. All four tires are dependent on each other, just as all cadres of the social service workforce rely on each other. By working together, our advocacy efforts and investments will help us to go full speed ahead. Our blog on Friday will highlight how and why we must be better self-advocates.

The car’s many other micro-systems must also be in good working order to move the car forward. Without making investments in routine maintenance, one part breaks and the whole car is no longer drivable.

Similarly, cars operate most effectively when in alignment with other dynamic components of transportation systems. The social service workforce operates within a social service system that consistently affects and is effected by developments in health, justice, education, gender, community development, immigration, labor and humanitarian sectors to name a few. With committed investments, however, we can grow and move forward, or to build on the analogy, ensure we have the sleekest design and newest technological advances that are maintained and work in coordination in all future year’s models.

When it comes to ensuring that our systems work for children and families, we must all commit to being drivers and not simply passengers in the car. When all parts work together, including the very important tires, we’ll reach our destination of strong, healthy families in a world truly supportive of children.

Discussion Question
Why do you think the social service workforce is a vital component of making the social service system function and generate the best outcomes for vulnerable children and families? I invite you to share promising practices as well as challenges you’ve faced on our discussion board.

Get Involved- Social Service Workforce Week 2016
Today kicks off the week’s celebration of social service workers. Each day will be launched with an e-mail to our members and mailing list and include a blog, links and sample tweets. Tomorrow, on Day Two, we will highlight the development of competency frameworks for community workers who help to prevent and address violence against children. On Day Three, we will feature the importance of data and evidence to build a strong case for workforce strengthening. Day Four will focus on case management approaches and ways groups are strengthening the workforce to better support families. Friday will focus on ways that we can all be better advocates for the workforce.

We encourage you to get involved through the following methods:

  • Become a member
  • Share promising practices as well as challenges you’ve faced on our discussion board
  • Join the conversation this week on Twitter! Use #SSWWeek, tweet the messages below or tweet us @SSWAlliance to tell us about your programs. 
  • Post a message on our Facebook page on your Facebook page using the message below.
  • Review the range of documents on the Alliance resource database
  • Email us your recent reports or documents with a short description to add them to the resource library and disseminate them to this network.
  • Share the daily blogs and emails with your network.

Drafted Social Media Posts
Below are some social media posts you can share on your Twitter and Facebook pages to help promote today’s blog and Social Service Workforce Week:

  • A strong #socialservices system requires a strong workforce. Join us & @SSWAlliance in celebrating #SSWWeek. /social-service-workforce-week
  • Social service workers are the intervention to #ENDViolence against children! #childprotection #SSWWeek /social-service-workforce-week
  • Today @SSWAlliance launches Social Service Workforce Week #SSWWeek. Social service workers are the tires that make the social service system go! These competent, caring workers provide desperately needed services to the most vulnerable people, including strengthening families & reducing violence against children. Read how in today’s blog:

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.

Denise Phelps's picture

Utilizing Mobile Technology to Strengthen Social Service Delivery

By Denise Phelps and the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Graphic depiction of % of social workers who think mobile technology would help them in their jobsAn estimated 90% of people around the globe own a mobile phone. Experts predict that there will begin to be a shift toward global smartphone ownership, and as a result, developing nations will invest less in landline infrastructure and instead focus on broadband internet access. Despite this shift, most social workers and others in the social service workforce still do not have access to data in the field. As most practitioners spend their time away from an office or computer, making visits, this is problematic. A recent study in the US found that an overwhelming majority of social workers surveyed thought that mobile technology would help them do their jobs better.

The high rates of mobile phone ownership combined with the predicted increase in smart phone ownership among people in emerging markets has contributed to an increase in projects utilizing mobiles for health (mhealth). Over the last several years, the health and development sectors have been using mobile phones as a tool to support patient well-being, such as helping to diagnose patients, providing remote education to community health workers, monitoring worker performance, and providing patients with important health information and reminders.

While many of these same tools can be utilized in the social services field, they are currently more predominantly used in the U.S. and Western countries and on a much smaller scale than in the health field. The growing importance of technology use within the field is exemplified by the U.S. National Association of Social Work’s creation of standards on ethical use. 

It is important to understand how new technology can improve services provided by the workforce as well as how it can make the job easier.

Framework for planning, developing and supporting the workforceThe mhealth movement has shown that there are a variety of ways that both the workforce and its constituents can benefit from the adoption of new mobile technologies. The Alliance’s State of the Social Service Workforce 2016 Report reviews progress over the last five years toward planning, developing and supporting the workforce.


Available, accurate data about both the workforce and the people you are trying to serve is a key part of planning. The lack of real-time data creates gaps in available evidence to make data-based decisions toward strengthening the workforce. The health sector has recently increased emphasis on developing and implementing human resource management systems and linking them to various tools for workers. Open Source Human Resource Information Solutions is one of the platforms being utilized, and some countries, including Malawi and Tanzania, are working on integrating information about the social service workforce into these platforms.


The University of Buffalo in New York, USA, developed an app for social workers that helps keep workers up-to-date on advancements in the field on everything from substance abuse to mental health services. They focus on evidence-based and promising practices that are most relevant in the field.

Ventura County, California, has developed a solution that uses a variety of software to provide child welfare workers with mobile technology to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of carrying out their tasks.


An SMS text-based data entry system was successfully piloted in Tanzania to help support para-social workers’ efforts to document their work with orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). Para-social workers were able to submit data via text that was automatically entered into the Department of Social Welfare’s OVC database.

Care Community Hub is an mHealth program in Ghana that combines virtual peer-to-peer support with improved connectedness in order to improve motivation and well-being for frontline health workers involved in maternal, newborn and child health service delivery.​ The program aims to increase data collection and reporting through additional support to workers.

Social service workers around the globe can benefit from mobile programs, which can also be an efficient way to reach currently underserved populations who typically reside in remote areas while increasing real-time data.

How are you using mobile technology to strengthen your work? Join the discussion to share your ideas and successful approaches.

Romola Thumbadoo's picture

Social Service Workers Celebrate International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous people are remarkably resilient and are claiming their rightful place on the global stage; further, they have much to offer workers and learners in the social services. 

On August 9, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples will be celebrated with a focus on the right to education. As the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) related to Education and Intergenerational Transmission states, “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.” The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was passed on September 13, 2007, by an overwhelming majority of the United Nations General Assembly. The UNDRIP ensures that indigenous peoples' rights to cultural integrity, education, health, and political participation are protected.

According to United Nations reports, indigenous peoples are recognized as being among the world’s most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalized peoples. Spread across the some 90 countries, they number roughly more than 370 million. While they constitute approximately five percent of the world’s population, indigenous peoples make up 15 percent of the world’s poor and one-third of the world’s extremely poor.

One example of a group promoting the rights of indigenous peoples is the Circle of All Nations, an informal, unfunded, global eco-community dedicated to supporting indigenous wisdom, respect of Mother Earth, racial harmony and peace building, and social justice. Circle of All Nations has explored the value of traditional Indigenous approaches to child care, racial harmony and justice issues, in order to facilitate reclamation, increasingly mindful that these strategies might not only be critically important to indigenous peoples, but also to others. Indigenous restorative practices such as talking, healing and sentencing circles, can also strengthen an increasingly dehumanized criminal justice system.

Indigenous Circle of Courage principles, conceptualized in the form of a Medicine Wheel grounded on the ideas of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity, inform multiple aspects of the Isibindi Safe Parks child and youth care work of the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) in South Africa.

Many now realize that it is critically important and mutually beneficial for meaningful bridges to be built with indigenous peoples. Education at multiple levels, particularly for social service workers, can contribute to such a process. Increasingly but still too infrequently, social service workforce training is being developed by and with indigenous peoples.

For more information please take a look at:

by Romola Thumbadoo, Circle of All Nations, Canada

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Atelier de réflexion régionale sur les compétences-clés et le renforcement de la ressource humaine pour la protection de l’enfance en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre (12-15 Avril 2016)

Image of group working in ContonuL’atelier de réflexion régionale sur les compétences-clés et le renforcement de la ressource humaine pour la protection de l’enfance en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre, organisé par UNICEF, Terre des Hommes, le Bureau International des Droits des Enfants et le Service Social International (SSI), s’est déroulé du 12 au 15 Avril 2016 à Cotonou. Ici est le ressource: Cadre Commun des Compétences des Para Professionnels.

L’atelier a réuni durant 4 jours 37 participant(e)s de 8 pays d’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre provenant d’institutions ministérielles, d’universités et d’écoles de formation au travail social, d’organisations de la société civile et des organisations partenaires au projet.

Suite aux recommandations de l’étude cartographique des offres de formation en travail social menée en 2014 par le CPC Learning Network. Ont convenu de porter au nom du Groupe Régional sur la Protection de l’Enfance (GRPE) une initiative inter-agence sur le renforcement du travail social dans la région.

Dans le cadre de ce projet conjoint entre SSI, Tdh, l’IBCR et l’UNICEF, une première rencontre s’est tenue à Dakar en décembre 2014 et a vu la participation de neuf écoles/universités de la région provenant de sept pays (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Bénin, Burkina Faso, Guinée-Bissau, Sénégal et Mauritanie).

Le deuxième atelier d’Avril 2016 s’inscrit dans la suite de cette dynamique régionale. Riche en discussion, échanges, débats et travaux de groupes qui ont ponctué la semaine, l’atelier de réflexion régionale a engagé une réflexion et des discussions sur la compréhension et la collaboration entre les différents acteurs sociaux et sur le développement de compétences-clés pour le renforcement de la ressource humaine pour la protection de l’enfance en Afrique de l’Ouest et du centre.

Dans un premier temps, l’atelier a permis, à l’échelle régionale, de partager les points essentiels issus des consultations nationales sur les rôles, les responsabilités et les compétences-clés des travailleurs sociaux professionnels de même que les para-professionnels, notamment celles et ceux œuvrant pour la protection de l’enfance, menées depuis décembre 2014 au Bénin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Mali, Mauritanie, Togo, Ghana, Tchad et République Démocratique du Congo.

Sur la base des résultats de ces consultations et en partant du constat qu’il existe une variété d’acteurs sociaux de protection de l’enfance. Les participant(e)s ont ensuite réfléchi à la définition des caractéristiques des différents groupes d’acteurs sociaux de la protection de l’enfance dans différents contextes d’intervention. Plus précisément, il s’est agi d’adopter un vocabulaire commun. Sur la base de ces réflexions, un premier document a été produit qui clarifie les différents groupes clés d’acteurs de la protection de l’enfance en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre.

Sur la base de ces exemples et en réfléchissant à leur pratique quotidienne et à ce qui peut fonctionner ou non en terme de collaboration, les participant(e)s ont établi des propositions de collaboration et de coordination entre les groupes clés d'acteurs du travail social pour la protection de l'enfant dans des contextes urbain et rural en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre. L’idée étant de travailler sur les court, moyen et long termes et d’établir des recommandations s’adressant à tous les acteurs, y compris les acteurs communautaires, pour renforcer leur collaboration et parvenir à une protection de l’enfance efficace, basée sur le rôle, l’expérience et les connaissances de chaque acteur.

Dans ce cadre, un document a été finalisé pour formuler des pistes de collaboration, coordination et synergie renforcées entre les groupes-clés d’acteurs du travail social pour la protection de l’enfance.    

L’atelier a également permis d’arriver à une première identification des grands domaines et du contenu d’un cadre de compétences-clés pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre applicable par chacun. En effet, le constat a été partagé par tous les participants qu’il y a un vide dans la région par rapport à l’existence d’un cadre commun de compétences-clés. Ainsi, l’existence d’un cadre commun de compétences-clés, qui pourra ensuite être contextualisé selon le pays, permettra le renforcement des capacités des acteurs sociaux de la protection de l’enfance.

Dans un premier temps les réflexions ont porté sur les définitions des notions de compétences-clés, de compétences et de cadre de compétences-clés. Pour exemple, l’ordre de Québec définit la notion de compétence-clé comme telle : « La capacité démontrée par un individu d’accomplir une activité, une tâche ou un acte professionnel. Deux catégories : professionnelle et personnelle » (L’Ordre de Quebec).

Après une lecture de deux exemples de cadre de compétences-clés dont celui pour les paras professionnels de la Social Service Workforce Alliance, les participants ont listé leurs activités et tâches quotidiennes pour ensuite déterminer et catégoriser les compétences nécessaires à ces activités.

Cette réflexion a permis d’établir une proposition d’un référentiel de compétences-clés fondamentales des acteurs sociaux de la protection de l’enfance en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre.

Enfin, le développement du plan d’action régional et, au niveau national, des plans d’actions par pays, fournit une direction à prendre pour les années à venir afin de prolonger la dynamique régionale initiée par les deux ateliers de réflexion régionale de Décembre 2014 et Avril 2016.

Anonymous's picture

Building the Evidence Base for Social Service Workforce Strengthening

by Jini Roby

There is a crisis of a shortage of social services workers around the globe. Pressing needs of child protection, social protection and family strengthening require a variety of trained workers; yet, many low- and middle-income countries are struggling to recruit, train and retain them in a sustainable way. Since the workforce serves as the critical bridge to services and resources for vulnerable children and families, strengthening the workforce has emerged as a global priority issue. How can we effectively plan, develop, deploy and maintain an effective social service workforce? What evidence is there that can support this effort? This was the topic of the first-ever social service workforce evidence review convened by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance Building Evidence for Social Service Workforce Strengthening Interest Group on June 3 in Washington, D.C. Download the full report and the evidence matrix.

The evidence forum included multi-disciplinary experts to review the draft report of the current state of evidence on social service workforce strengthening around the world. The goal of the report is to identify the most critical gaps in evidence and priority research needs pertinent to strengthening the workforce.

This process was initiated by creating an evidence matrix using key words and accessing multiple data libraries and search engines to explore academic and grey literature. Relevance was determined by the approximation of the work to the Framework for Strengthening the Social Service Workforce, adopted by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. The Framework envisages strengthening the workforce through coordinated and integrated processes of planning, developing, and supporting the workforce. Of the thousands of articles and books found, only those considered the most relevant were added to the matrix.

Although there is an increasing interest in best practice models in these areas, the evidence is scattered, and tends to be anecdotal, program-specific, or observational in nature. These pieces of information are helpful since in most development efforts, workforce building is location specific and measured at the program level. However, there is also a need to organize the current state of information to better understand what we know, as well as what we don’t know, about what workforce strengthening strategies work, what doesn’t work, and the impact of workforce strengthening on clients.

Overall, the available evidence on efforts to strengthen the social service workforce is weak. Yet of the pertinent studies, there are some methodologically robust studies coming out of high-income countries such as the U.S. and UK. Evidence from the low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is emerging, and tends to be limited to technical reports and situational analyses that are country- or region-specific. Still, these pieces of information provide a much needed sense for what is happening on the ground in some regions and suggest many helpful ideas for further exploration regarding the workforce. In addition, research in allied fields, such as health, suggests potential research methodologies and applications for the social service workforce as well as a foundation for anticipating some issues that have not yet emerged as discussion topics in the field.

The evidence review meeting brought together a large variety of experts to help analyze the preliminary findings. The participants were broken into three groups and were tasked with analyzing and determining the utility of the existing evidence base. They also identified high priority areas in need of further research and next steps needed to create a practical and useful research agenda. The full group then reconvened to discuss their findings and vote on what they saw as the most important areas to tackle first.

The summary of available information combined with the insights from experts at the working group meeting has been combined into an outcomes paper that provides some direction and suggestions for priority research areas to build the evidence base for social service workforce strengthening. We invite your input on these suggestions from the full report and on the evidence matrix by posting a comment here, initiating a discussion on the discussion board (note you must be a member to post comments or discussion topics) or emailing the Alliance.

Amy Bess's picture

Alliance Takes Steps toward Growth, Independence

The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance and IntraHealth International are proud to announce that the Tides Center will become the new host and fiscal sponsorImage of Glabal Alliance and Tides Merger of the Alliance effective July 15, 2016.

The Alliance is an influential and effective advocate for social service workers and systems around the world. It strives for a world where a well-planned, trained and supported social service workforce helps those in need improve their lives. The Alliance works with individuals and organizations at the local, regional and international levels to strengthen the social service workforce.

With participation and support from a broad range of participating organizations and a strong and diverse steering committee, the Alliance has grown to include more than 900 members representing 87 countries. IntraHealth has acted as host and fiscal sponsor to the Alliance since its launch three years ago. Both entities are committed to improving the health and well-being of vulnerable populations through stronger workforces.

The new host represents a shift toward greater independence for the Alliance. The Tides Center is specifically designed to act as a fiscal sponsor to networks and start-up groups similar to the Alliance. It has experience supporting global networks, works with a vast array of donors and has highly developed fiscal sponsorship support structures. The Tides Center is positioned to help the Alliance achieve its goals of continued growth and organizational independence. The Alliance looks forward to increased partnerships, new members and expanding projects.

The Alliance is thankful to its 900 members for their efforts to strengthen the provision of social services in their countries and to raise awareness of the important role social service workers play in their communities. Social service workers are critical to creating protective environments for healthy development and well-being by alleviating poverty; reducing discrimination; facilitating access to essential services; promoting social justice; and preventing and responding to violence, abuse, exploitation, neglect and family separation.

Collaboration with IntraHealth will remain important to the work of the Alliance. We will continue to work together to build the capacity of social service workers and systematically link social and health services. IntraHealth and the Alliance will continue to work together under the 4Children Project, led by Catholic Relief Services and funded by the United Stated Agency for International Development through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to improve the health and well-being of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV, AIDS and other adversities.

Please direct any queries to: Amy Bess, Director, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance,


Denise Phelps's picture

On the International Day of Families, Recognizing the Importance of Families in Zambia and Beyond

In 1993, a UN resolution created the International Day of Families “realizing that families, as basic units of social life, are major agents of sustainable development at all levels of society and that their contribution to that process is crucial for its success.”  International Day of Families was introduced as a way to celebrate the importance of the family to the international community.  The theme for 2016 is families, healthy lives and a sustainable future,” recognizing the way in which families contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Families serve a vital role in socializing, educating and caring for children, but in many places around the world families have experienced extreme hardships over the last century.  Problems ranging from civil wars to the rise of HIV/AIDS have overburdened family and community support structures.  Children are taken to residential care institutions, including orphanages and children’s homes, often because their parents do not have access to adequate social services to help them cope with the hardships facing them.  Evidence indicates that children outside of family care are at increased risk of being exposed to abuse, neglect and exploitation. 

Strengthening family-based care can help to prevent unnecessary separation of children from their families.  For children already in residential care, deinstitutionalization and a careful process of reintegration back into family-based care that includes community-based support will help children return to a safe and protective home environment.    

Many countries are undergoing care reform processes and are shifting away from institutionalization of childcare. For example, last week in Zambia, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance took part in organizing a national consultation on care reform led by the Government of Zambia along with many other partners including the Better Care Network, GHR Foundation, USAID, UNICEF, Save the Children and other NGOs. The consultation aimed to jointly identify national priorities for action in order to accelerate child care reform in Zambia. The main focus areas and questions of the consultation were:

  • What evidence do we have about child care reform? And how can we build and share the evidence base?  
  • How can we build capacity for family strengthening and alternative care?
  • How can we strengthen advocacy efforts to accelerate the child care reform process?

A day was set aside to focus on issues specific to the social service workforce, without whom child care reform cannot be achieved. Presentations about the workforce were provided by Janestic Twikirize, Makerere University, on behalf of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance; Barnabas Mwansa, Zambia Rising; Robert Sihubwa, Zambian Association of Childcare Workers; and Benson Chisanga, University of Zambia, Department of Social Development Studies. 

The consultation culminated in a Call to Action that recognized policies currently in place to support children and families, but also urged government, civil society and all stakeholders working with children to support the implementation of a set of strategic actions to accelerate child care reform in Zambia.

The International Day of Families offers the opportunity to pause and consider the central importance of families to the well-being of communities and society.  At the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, we also celebrate the many, many workers who have dedicated their lives to supporting and strengthening families.

Anonymous's picture

Recent Events Honor Social Work with Refugees and Migrants

by Amy Bess and Nicole Brown, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

The world’s attention has been focused on the tragedy unfolding for millions of Syrians, as they are forced to leave their homes and risk their lives in an effort to cross seas and borders to find safety. Also tragic is the total number of 60 million individuals who are currently forcibly displaced worldwide and live as refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons. This number has steadily increased over the past four years as a result of persecution, war and human rights violations. The length of time a person spends displaced averages 17 years worldwide. Displacement has immediate and long-lasting social, emotional and economic impacts.

At times like these, the social service sector plays an important role in helping individuals and families rebuild their lives. Several recent events featured the important work of social workers who work alongside refugees and migrants to affect policy, design programs and address the psychosocial effects of displacement.

Social Work Day at the UNSocial Work Day at the UN

On April 4 I had the opportunity to participate in the 33rd Annual Social Work Day at the UN under the theme of Refugees and Displaced Persons: Ensuring Dignity and Worth. Organized by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), the event brought together 700 social work practitioners, academics and students as well as representatives from NGOs and UN agencies.

The event recognized the important roles social workers play, both as policy advocates and direct service providers, when working with refugees and migrants. Guglielimo Schinina, Head of Mental Health, Psychosocial Response and Intercultural Communications for the International Organization for Migration, stated that social workers have a fundamental role in defining the underlying causes and the consequences of migration and need to focus on policy issues as well as provision of social services. Both he and Ninette Kelly, Director of the New York Office of the UN Office of the High Commissioner, also emphasized the importance of providing psychosocial support to those who have been displaced, using a strengths-based perspective that builds on resilience, is forward-looking and sees the person beyond the category they represent.

World Social Work Day

This year’s World Social Work Day also saw several events dedicated to the issue of refugees and migrants. Held on the third Tuesday of March, World Social Work Day is an opportunity for the profession to express international solidarity and bring messages to governments, regional bodies and our communities. On March 15, social workers and others in the social service workforce held events to celebrate the theme “Promoting the Dignity and Worth of Peoples.”

IFSW organized two high-level events to bring together professionals working in the social service sector to discuss and strengthen collaboration in responding to the refugee crisis that remains ongoing in Europe.

The Social Work Symposium in Vienna, “Responding to the Refugee Crisis,” was co-organized with the Austrian Association of Social Work, YOUNION and the Chamber of Labor, Austria. It brought together social workers from 25 countries of departure, transition and resettlement or asylum, from Syria to Sweden. The event was also webcast for others to view and participate.

The goals of the Symposium were to: 1) create an overall working plan for social workers in each of the affected countries to coordinate information that provides a better understanding and response to refugee needs; 2) develop a focused strategy on particular vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children and young people, older people, those with health issues and trafficked persons; 3) establish a comprehensive political advocacy strategy; 4) establish social work models that support refugees in isolated situations where other forms of assistance are not available; and 5) utilize the skills of social workers constructively to develop inclusive and cohesive societies.

Dunja Gharwal, a social worker in Austria, shared her experiences assisting families in the main train station in Vienna and at a nearby refugee camp. “We were allowed two days to conduct a survey to determine needed services. People asked for psychosocial support, but the most common question was where they could get water.” There were also 1,500+ unaccompanied children in need of a myriad of services. “Social work as a profession is based on human rights,” she said. By collaborating, we strengthen “our approach to human rights at the micro, mezzo and macro levels.”

Rory Truell, IFSW Secretary-General, announced that “This is a great example on World Social Work Day of the kind of work that we do. We’re going to strengthen our capacity to articulate a stronger social work voice that we hope the politicians will follow.”

Refugees await assistanceThe World Social Work Day event in Geneva covered the topic: “Refugees and Displaced Persons: The Role of Social Work.” Presentations focused on forced migration and the role of social work. Organized by IFSW in collaboration with IASSW, European Association of Schools of Social Work (EASSW) and University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HESSO), speakers included UNICEF, UNHCR, Swiss Red Cross and International Red Cross, FICE International, International Council of Social Welfare, International Social Service, IFSW, EASSW, IASSW and social work professors from universities in Europe.

The event concluded with the release of a Common Statement. “On this World Social Work Day, professional social workers (educators, practitioners, researchers, advocates) pledge to: Work to uphold the dignity of all those refugees and asylum seekers who have been forced to leave their homes…and integrate the learnings from practice in social work curricula across the globe so that the new social work workforce is oriented with adequate knowledge, skills and attitudes for working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in different contexts. We commit ourselves to: Work in partnership with all other agencies and professional groups to maximize results and we hope that this grass-roots/ ground- up initiative will act as a catalyst for governments to work with us.”

In timing with World Social Work Day, The Guardian also wrote on the developing role of social workers in responding to the refugee crisis. “As more people settle for the longer term, social work will be crucial in integrating communities and helping people come to terms with what they’ve been through.” Gabriele Stark-Angermeier, deputy chief executive of the Munich branch of the welfare organization Caritas, said, “The emotional trauma of change is something that social workers know a huge amount about. But I think there’s also a huge learning curve for social workers in understanding the massive journeys that people are making and the situation they have come from.”

Learn More

Many resources exist for social workers interested in learning more about work with refugees. The National Association of Social Workers US (NASW) Policy Statement on Immigrants and Refugees provides background on the situation as well as policy recommendations. The IFSW Policy Statement on Refugees includes information on the role of social workers. Resources on the UNHCR website provide data and updates on refugee situations around the globe. InterAction has compiled fact sheets and created a map and other resources specific to Syrian refugees. If you have more resources or information to add, please do so in the blog comments section below.

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Social Service Workforce Vital Component of Health Workforce

We’ve all heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.” This phrase rings true when applied in the context of comprehensive care – health workers and social service workers, community leaders, neighbors and parents coming together for the best interests of a child.

The social service workforce is a vital component of the global health workforce, working to improve lives by improving the wellbeing for vulnerable children and their families. This workforce helps to strengthen connections to health systems, enabling all parties to become better positioned to improve the health of vulnerable populations.Social Workers in Sierra Leone help in the fight against Ebola

The social service workforce represents a range of individuals working in different contexts; working at different levels - local, national, regional, and international; working as professionals and paraprofessionals; working to implement a range of different services; and working together to serve the best interests of families. They aim to strengthen the resilience of families to cope with their unique challenges in a changing and diverse global world

A multi-disciplinary team of social workers, child and youth care workers, youth development workers, child protection officers, community health workers and others comes together to put families at the center of integrated service delivery. Together, this united yet diverse social service workforce contributes to promoting the inherent strengths of families and their capacity for self-reliance.

Social service workers promote the inherent strengths in families through integrated, well-coordinated services that are child-centered, family-focused and community-based. Some examples include:

  • In South Africa, 10,000 child and youth care workers are being trained through the National Association of Child Care Workers to provide support in any area as needed in a child’s life, linking their families with other community services, such as improving household economic strengthening, grants for child and granny-headed households, help in obtaining birth certificates in order to enroll in school and connecting those affected by HIV with clinics for treatments.
  • In Zambia, through the STEPS OVC World Vision-supported project, a network of 52,000 caregivers has strengthened communities in rural Zambia to mitigate the impact of HIV on households living with HIV-positive individuals and orphans. Stigma has reduced and HIV prevalence continues to drop.
  • In Zimbabwe, through the Bantwana Initiative, 9,765 community-level child care workers have been trained to strengthen linkages and referral systems between community and government service providers, including developing an integrated pediatric HIV/AIDS care and treatment.
  • In Guinea, social service workers collaborated with the government and other NGOs, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, Red Cross Society of Guinea, the Ministry of Health, World Health Organization, and Medecins Sans Frontiers, to manage the spread of Ebola, raise community awareness and provide psychosocial support to affected families. They also helped ensure children made vulnerable by Ebola were protected from further harm.

The strength of a social service system is, in many ways, dependent on the strength of its workforce. Building the social service workforce entails strengthening cadres of workers to prevent and respond to crises, both personal and societal. The availability of qualified and trained social service workers improves communities’ levels of resilience to shock, as workers are prepared and available at times of crisis to assist vulnerable populations.

It does take a village to raise a child, and it does take a village of trained health workers, including social service workers, to protect, support and serve families to advance the well-being of those globally who are in greatest need of our support.

The Global Social Service Workforce 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. The mission of the Alliance is to promote the knowledge and evidence, resources and tools and political will and action needed to address key social service workforce challenges, especially within low- to middle-income countries. Members of the Alliance work in 80 countries around the world to form a network to advance this mission. The Alliance is hosted by IntraHealth International. Learn more at

(Originally posted on the Frontline Health Workers Coalition website.)