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Recognizing the Key Role of Social Service Workers in Emergency Preparedness and Response

Alena Sherman's picture

Workers deliver food supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Hugh Salmon, Director of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Escalating conflicts leading to internal displacement and migration, the increasing frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters and a global pandemic have led to rapid increases in the numbers of people and communities in need of emergency social assistance and social work support over the past few years. These crises have compounded existing problems of persistent poverty, socio-economic inequality and social injustice, and have disproportionately impacted women and children.

Social service workers play a crucial, but often unrecognized role, in helping people and communities prepare, adapt and respond to such emergencies and crises. Social service workers have the skills, knowledge and commitment to identify, reach, assess and engage with the most marginalized members of society. These include not only those facing social, economic or health disadvantages, but also those experiencing or fleeing ethnic or racial discrimination and oppression, homelessness, war or civil conflict, natural disasters or the effects of climate change.

To address these challenges, the social service workers are well placed and equipped to assess needs and coordinate the necessary services from different sectors. They work to promote healthy coping and recovery after trauma, displacement or loss of livelihood as well as directly provide support and interventions to respond to the social impacts of emergencies. As shown during COVID-19, and summarized in our State of the Social Service Workforce Report, these impacts can be wide ranging, including escalating  family poverty, violence against children, neglect and abuse of children and other vulnerable individuals, gender-based violence, child labour and child marriage.

Social service workers not only help individuals, families and communities to recover from crises and disasters, they also help them build their resilience to withstand future shocks, building on their strengths and resources to prepare and adapt so as to reduce their risk of exposure and the potential impact of future adverse events.

So, this year, for Social Service Workforce Week, in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and growing awareness of the wide-ranging impacts of climate change, we are seeking to recognize and advocate for the essential role of the social service workforce in disaster and emergency preparedness and response.

We invite you to join us in this weeklong campaign. On day 2, we will be examining the role of social service workers within disaster and emergency preparedness, particularly in developing resilience and capacity to cope with future crises. On day 3, we will look at the role of community level social service workers, and volunteers in particular, in humanitarian contexts. On day 4, we will hear about the vital role social service workers have played in responding and adapting to COVID-19 and what can be learned for future emergencies. Finally, on day 5 we will share examples of how the workforce can play a critical role in helping communities mitigate the impacts of climate change.