Issues of violence, abuse and exploitation—including domestic violence, child marriage, child trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence, child labour, corporal punishment, peer to peer violence, online abuse and mental distress—continue to plague millions of children in India. COVID-19 has further exacerbated such issues, as thousands of children have lost either one or both parents to the virus and the environments in which children grow and develop have been disrupted, increasing their vulnerability and making the effective delivery of child protection services even more critical. Yet, India continues to lack adequate human resource capacity to effectively ensure that children and their families receive quality age sensitive and gender responsive services critical for effectively responding to and preventing issues of violence, abuse and exploitation against/of children.
“The child protection workforce is not new to India, but traditionally it has been perceived as a charitable work where helping poor and vulnerable is considered to be a good karma and which does not need any training. To deliver child protection services, there is a need for a professionally trained workforce with required skills and competencies which involves paid work, this concept is still evolving, and it is relatively new,” explains Sunil Jha, National Coordinator for the Child Protection Workforce Mapping and Capacity Gap Assessment Project being implemented by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance with support from UNICEF India.
The project aims to map the existing workforce delivering child protection services to suggest concrete measures to enhance their capacity by identifying the gaps and challenges. “One of the foremost challenges is that the proportion of workers hired is quite low compared to the magnitude and scale of the problem which our children face.” Jha continues, “…children and families need long term intervention, consistent personnel support, and a trained workforce.”
In addition to challenges in ensuring a consistent, well-trained workforce, India also faces issues related to a lack of uniformity across states in defining the criteria for appointing a social worker or member of a child protection workforce, inadequate regulation of training institutions and high staff turnover. The high turnover of staff results from the low level of pay and lack of job security, combined with the high risk inherent in the role. Risks include child protection workers facing violence or even death threats when attempting to intervene in issues of human trafficking, child marriage, child labour and domestic abuse. The workforce is often unprotected and poorly supported by the system to face such risks and endure the associated stress.
To address such issues and strengthen the capacity and resilience of the workforce to better protect children, UNICEF India has engaged the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance to map and assess the human resource capacity of the child protection workforce in five states in India—Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam and West Bengal. The mapping and gap assessment will determine 1) the number of workers in child protection positions in each district as well as their specific qualifications and experience levels, 2) gaps that exist due to human resource concerns, such as salaries, benefits and protection concerns, and 3) gaps that exist in terms of staff competencies, skills and capacity.
Working in conjunction with a Technical Advisory Group at the national level and State Steering Committees at the state level, with representation from the national and state governments, law enforcement officers, staff of one stop centers, members of civil society organizations and others, the results will be used to build consensus on the strengths and weaknesses of the workforce and priorities upon which to act. This will then translate into an agreed upon framework for strengthening the workforce, with special emphasis on case management, along with training modules on case management for key child protection actors.
While capacity assessments have been undertaken in India in the past, they have historically evaluated child protection systems from the perspective of laws, finances and processes, without taking the human resource component into account.
“This is something new. This is the first time we’re looking at human resources,” Jha explains. “[Previously] we have not assessed social service professionals, who are the important link between provision and the child. We have not assessed the workers’ capacity extensively, specifically around challenges, risks and the benefits and remunerations that they receive in return. We have not asked about motivational factors and the reasons for lack of motivation. So far, we have left [social service professionals] out from the child protection framework which, more often than not, is oriented to address specific issues, rather than to build an entire system that can protect any child at risk or in need. This is the first time we are directly consulting the child protection workforce, and hearing their voices and experiences will be critical to ultimately helping children.”
The project was delayed initially as COVID-19 interventions took priority, but Jha and his team are now in the process of developing assessment/mapping tools starting with an online survey covering all 250 districts across the five states. This will help deepen understanding of the workforce and how it could be strengthened. COVID-19 has worsened issues around child protection and placed a great burden on the child protection workforce, as they have dealt with increased safety concerns and increased caseloads.
Jha emphasizes, “It is now more important than ever that the issues facing the child protection workforce are recognized. Their views need to be heard and considered if we really want to bring about lasting change in the lives of children.”
The team will roll out the mapping and assessment in the coming months as the first steps towards developing a framework for a more strengthened child protection workforce in India.
Stay tuned for more updates as this work advances and results are received.