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Equipping the Social Service Workforce to Meet the Needs of Children with Disabilities

Alena Sherman's picture

by Lucy Marie Richardson*

Image of a boy and crutches

Compared to their peers without disabilities, children with disabilities are more than twice as likely as to experience violence, are 32 per cent more likely to experience severe physical punishment at home, and are overrepresented in institutional care. They also face barriers to fully accessing and benefiting from child protection services. These barriers may be tangible, such as buildings without ramps or videos without captions, or they may be related to attitudes, beliefs, and unconscious bias.

UNICEF and the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance (the Alliance) recognize that a well-planned, trained and supported social service workforce is essential to ensuring that every child is protected from violence, exploitation, abuse, neglect and harmful practices. Therefore, to address these barriers, meet the needs of children with disabilities, and uphold their rights, the social service workforce must be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills that will enable them to deliver their child protection functions in an inclusive and equitable manner – such as knowing what disability discrimination is and being able to communicate in a disability-sensitive way.

Image of cover of Disability Inclusion Framework

With this in mind, UNICEF has developed a new practical tool to empower the social service workforce to deliver their child protection functions in a disability inclusive way. The Disability Inclusive Child Protection Competency Framework for the Social Service Workforce builds on the “Guidelines to Strengthen the Social Service Workforce for Child Protection”, developed by UNICEF and the Alliance and on UNICEF’s broader work in supporting governments to strengthen the social service workforce and build inclusive and effective child protection systems. It is a practical and action-oriented tool centred around a comprehensive examination of functional social service workforce competencies and actions for disability inclusion. The tool can be used in a variety of manners, such as creating training workshops, mapping the social service workforce, developing inclusive child protection policies, and creating disability-informed child protection job descriptions. The full spectrum of the social service workforce for child protection can use and benefit from this resource. This includes those working in diverse contexts, ranging from humanitarian situations, to both low-resource and high-income countries. It also includes those working with different groups of children such as those in alternative care, displaced children, and children experiencing violence. 


“I wish I had had this resource 20 years ago when I first started working in UNICEF, trying to get children with disabilities out of institutions, and providing services at community centres… we could only find medical information, we couldn’t find anything on how to support the social service workers.”

- Kirsten di Martino, Senior Adviser, Child Protection, UNICEF


This critical new tool will be exclusively launched during a webinar cohosted with the Alliance on 7 November 2023. Webinar participants will be the first to see an overview of the tool and how it can be used in practice:



* Lucy is a disability inclusive child protection expert, previous staff member and current consultant with UNICEF Headquarters. She is the lead author of the DICP Competency Framework.