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

Denise Phelps's picture

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.