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

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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)