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Improving Children’s Lives in Indonesia through a Trained Social Workforce

Tata Sudrajat's picture

Guest blog submitted by Tata Sudrajat, Director of Families First Signature Program, Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik - partner of Save the Children; member and Ambassador of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Febi, age 11A hospital without doctors would leave children without medical care. A school without teachers would leave children without education. What about a community without social workers? Where would that leave children?

We were able to see firsthand in Indonesia when we started our program, Families First, in 2005, a year after being hit by the largest tsunami in decades. This emergency shed a harsh light on the nearly non-existent social service system in the country at the time.

A staggering 500,000 children were living in orphanages and religious schools across the country, the largest number in the world. But out of these half a million children, 90% had living parents.* The majority of institutions were privately owned and completely unregulated. We found that children were living in poor conditions and at high risk of suffering neglect and abuse (physical and sexual).

While social work was taught in universities and accepted as a profession, the social work practices didn’t meet professional standards. The few social workers that existed were institution-based (working in orphanages) rather than part of a broader child protection system in local communities.

In fact, the overall child welfare system almost entirely focused on providing support through institutions. For families who were not able to provide for appropriate care, shelter or education, putting their children in institutional care was the only way to receive help.

This worrying situation for children was the start of our program Families First. Since the tsunami, together with the Indonesian Government and other partners, Save the Children has been working to create a whole new system of childcare, professional social work and support from scratch.

Together with universities, social work organizations and the Government, we have established a system for licensing of social workers to get social work recognized as a profession. By 2015, 485 social workers had been certified.

Through a new Standard of Care Act, a paradigm shift has been achieved, changing the focus from institution-based to family-based care. This shift has allowed the social workforce to start working directly with families to help them develop parenting skills and access services, without sending their children to orphanages. It has also led to the Government redirecting 35% of social assistance funds to be delivered to children in families instead of to children in institutions.

We are now seeing results at scale. In 2016, close to 52,000 children were kept from being put into orphanages unnecessarily. It is our goal to scale up the program to keep increasing the number of trained social workers along with the number of children being cared for in their family or community where we know they will be better protected from violence and receive better overall care than in institutions.

Gilang Susalit, social workerComing back to my question about what happens to children in a community without trained social workers, the answer is simple. It leaves children unprotected by their communities and by the state, without appropriate care. Children are potentially exposed to more violence, neglect, abuse and unnecessary institutionalization.

But our program in Indonesia shows that change is possible. When governments start promoting and prioritizing the social service workforce by shifting program and finance to the families, investing in their training, establishing legislation-backed standards, social workers become empowered to do their job – playing a key role in protecting the well-being of children, families and their communities. We know children’s lives improve as a result. Dedicated, motivated and trained social workers and para professionals will help every last child thrive and live free from violence.

Learn more about Families First through this video and this immersive website with figures, facts and stories from children, social workers, orphanage owners and others. Blog originally published online by Save the Children.

*Survey by Save the Children, Government of Indonesia and UNICEF in 2007

Photos courtesy of C J Clarke/Save the Children. Photo captions:

Febi, 11, and her brother Ahmad were sent to an orphanage in Bandung Province, Indonesia, when their parents lost their income and couldn't afford to send them to school any more. Febi misses her family and friends. Gilang, a social worker, is working with the family trying to improve their situation so that Febi and Ahmad can return home.

Social worker Gilang Susalit talks with Febi, 11, and her mother