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Moldova’s Voices of Care Reform

by Changing the Way We Care

Changing the Way We Care (CTWWC) Moldova works in partnership with leaders in the care reform sector to support the Moldova social service system to ensure it has the capacity, infrastructure and services at the local level to serve all children and families.

Recently, CTWWC released a video series titled Voices of Care Reform to detail the work of CTWWC’s partners engaged in family care initiatives—from supporting members of the social service workforce working with vulnerable families to working with governments, civil society and faith-based communities in Moldova to promote and support safe and nurturing family-based care for all children.

 Video 1: Changing the Way We Care: Refugee Work in Moldova 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to Moldova. Often the first people refugees meet are social workers like Natalia who works with CTWWC partner, Partnership for Every Child, and is featured in the video below. When refugee families started entering Moldova, Natalia rushed to the front line to help. CTWWC Moldova trained social workers on psychological first aid (PFA) and safe responses in emergencies to support front-line members of the social service workforce and their vital work.

Video 2: On the Frontlines: Impact of Psychological First Aid in Ukraine Response in Moldova 

Changing the Way We Care’s reach extends far beyond training members of the social service workforce. The initiative also supports ways to provide family-based alternative care for children who cannot live with their immediate families, including the care of children by extended family members or foster families. In this video, Ala Nosatii, a pioneer in the foster care system in Moldova, relates the story of new foster care parents being introduced to three siblings that will be in their care. Ala works for CCF Moldova, one of Changing the Way We Care’s partners in the effort to transform the care system to ensure all children live in safe and nurturing family environments.

Video 3: Voices of Care Reform: “I’m going to call you Mom.” 

Changing the Way We Care also works with Moldovan partners that champion the acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities, such as Keystone Moldova. In this video, Dr. Ludmila Malcoci, a tireless advocate for people with disabilities, recounts the changes she has witnessed over past 20 years in Moldova that will have a positive impact on an entire generation of young people with disabilities.

Video 4: Voices of Care Reform: Dr. Ludmila Malcoci

This Global Social Service Workforce week, we celebrate all members of the social service workforce. May their work be recognized for its critical importance and improvement of the lives of children and families.  

To learn more about CTWWC’s work in Moldova go to

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Critical Role of Social Workers in Somalia’s Drought Response

By the Action of Somali Social Workers (ACSOS)

Somali case workerSomalia is currently suffering from its worst drought in decades. The drought has resulted in crop failure, livestock deaths and the loss of assets. As a result, it has caused widespread displacement, hunger and malnutrition. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a total of 1 million people have been internally displaced in Somalia since the drought began in January 2021.

The Action of Somali social workers (ACSOS), a non-profit social work institution, is working to address the impact of the current drought by aiding those most affected. Social workers associated with the organization are helping provide individuals and families with basic necessities, such as food and water, in areas most affected by the drought. In the cities of Garbaharey, Dollow, and Luuq, ACSOS social workers are delivering food and water aid to over 1,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). In the Kahda and Dayniile districts, social workers are providing aid and other services to over 10,000 IDPs. This includes providing guidance and counseling for parents and children and making referrals to hospitals for those with critical health conditions.

Somali case worker

Since the drought began nearly two years ago, social workers have been at the frontlines of the drought response, helping to save the lives of millions of children and families. According to Child Protection Coordinator for ACSOS, Sumaya Abdi, “case workers are playing an essential role [in response efforts]. Our case workers have registered more than 430 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), 371 of whom are now in very good condition. In addition, they have helped create a child-friendly space so that children can recover from the stress and trauma they have experienced and get an emergency education.”

As the drought continues, so does the work of the social workers. However, they are often met by challenges and limitations such as the lack of capacity building and a resource shortage. The organization will have to surpass these challenges in order to speed up the services provided by the social workers.

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Social work intervention in South African schools

Written by Marissa Jordaan with contributions from Mollie Kemp, Rochshana Kemp, Marelize Vergottini and Edmarie Pretorius on behalf of South Africa's National Committee on School Social Work Education and Practice (NACOSSWEP)

School children in South Africa

Once upon a time…

Researchers identified the need to include school social workers in the South African education system more than 40 years ago and Professor H. Rocher was a pioneer of laying the foundation for school social work. Since the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, many policies implemented by the Department of Basic Education have acknowledged the role of the social worker within the multidisciplinary team in the education system.

Wish upon a star…

In South Africa, there are a significant number of learners who are unable to attend school regularly and perform optimally due to the impact of poverty, child abuse, violence, loss and other societal barriers. They are in dire need of care and support and schools often serve as the only place where that can be realized for them. Social workers who render services at schools play a key role in these learners’ access to holistic support, which may include arranging a daily meal, accessing grants, providing therapy, and supporting the family through parental guidance and assistance in accessing services and resources. This multidisciplinary intervention is in line with the Southern African Development Community’s Framework for Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL) in education.

From dreams to reality…

As a result of this growing need for care and support in schools, social workers are increasingly being employed by the Department of Basic Education in some provinces in their school programmes. Each social worker then serves a cluster of schools, while some are placed in special schools. Some school governing bodies are also taking it upon themselves to employ social workers directly, to serve their school community. 

The day-to-day reality…

School children in South AfricaThe focus of social work interventions in schools includes prevention, crisis intervention, networking for resources, restorative justice in disciplinary action with the overall aim of providing care and support to school communities within a multidisciplinary team. Social workers are actively involved in removing learning barriers so that children can live, learn and develop to their full potential. With COVID-19 fresh in our minds and in our lives, the psycho-social needs of learners in our schools have increased and some resources have decreased.

A beacon of hope…

The number of social workers who are being employed by the Departments of Basic Education and of Social Development, as well as by school governing bodies, is increasing exponentially. School social work is in the process of being acknowledged as an area of specialization in South Africa. In June 2015, the National Association of Social Work established a National Committee on School Social Work Education and Practice (NACOSSWEP) to focus on school social work specialization, education and knowledge development, as well as on development of practice models, practice standards and programmes. This committee has already done the necessary work for the specialization to become a reality. Draft regulations pertaining to the specialization were published for comments and we are currently eagerly awaiting the outcome of this process. One of our Universities, the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in Johannesburg, has offered a Master’s in Social Work in the field of School Social Work since 2021, and a short course in School Social Work since 2017, with two other Universities in the development phase of similar courses. It is our hope that, as this specialization is formalized, it would lead to a greater impact in terms of individual lives, as well as broader developmental goals!

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Trabajador de servicio social destacado: Una sesión de preguntas y respuestas con Edgar Danilo López Ramírez, Especialista en Fortalecimiento Familiar y Comunitario con Iniciativa “Cambiando la Forma en que Cuidamos”


Also available in English.

1. Cuéntenos un poco sobre su vida personal, por favor.

Resido en el municipio y departamento de Chiquimula, Guatemala, soy casado, tengo tres hijos hermosos, dos varones y una hembra; disfruto mucho compartir con mi familia, salir juntos en paseos, especialmente en áreas del campo, compartir con la naturaleza y compartir con amigos en común de la familia. Me encanta ver disfrutar a mi familia. Entre mis pasatiempos favoritos está leer literatura de crecimiento personal.

2. Cuéntenos sobre la comunidad o zona donde usted trabaja. ¿Cuáles son los principales problemas que enfrentan los habitantes de la comunidad o zona donde usted trabaja?

Actualmente trabajo en los municipios de Zacapa, Río Hondo y Usumatlán, del departamento de Zacapa, Guatemala, especialmente coordinando con gobiernos municipales y comunitarios, para establecer coordinaciones o alianzas enfocadas en lograr la creación de redes de apoyo para promover el cuidado familiar, proteger a la niñez y adolescencia y evitar la separación familiar innecesaria, especialmente tratando de involucrar a líderes, lideresas y autoridades comunitarias, dentro de sus mismas comunidades.

En el tiempo que tengo de ser parte de la iniciativa y con la experiencia previa en el área de trabajo, he notado la ausencia de diversos actores sociales que realicen acciones dirigidas a la protección de las familias, a pesar de las condiciones socioeconómicos vulnerables y alta exposición de los adolescentes a diferentes riesgos que afectan su desarrollo personal.

También creo que los gobiernos municipales y departamental pueden hacer mucho más para lograr el fortalecimiento de las familias a fin de mejorar sus condiciones de vida y con ello reducir los riesgos de las separaciones familiares innecesarias, especialmente facilitando el acceso a los servicios que las familias necesitan.

En el área de trabajo funcionan tres hogares de protección, con quienes la iniciativa mantiene estrecha coordinación para promover la reunificación de las niñas y niños para fortalecer su vinculación afectiva.  

3. ¿Hace cuánto tiempo trabaja en el área social y que es lo que le motivó a formarse como trabajador(a) social, psicólogo, u otra profesión que brinda atención social?

A partir de febrero de 2005 inicio a trabajar en temas sociales, brindando apoyo a familias vulnerables a la inseguridad alimentaria, brindando especial atención a las que entre sus miembros habían niñas y niños menores de cinco años.

Decidí estudiar trabajo social, al darme cuenta que es una carrera profesional que sirve como medio para contribuir al mejoramiento de la condiciones de vida de las familias, especialemente las que residen en el área rural, por medio de la articulación de esfuerzos con otros actores sociales.

4. ¿En qué consistió la formación profesional que usted recibió (título, diplomado, etc)?

A nivel técnico estudié en la Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala y me gradué en gerencia del desarrollo comunitario, recibiendo formación enfocada a gerenciar procesos de desarrollo comunitario integral, con énfasis en el desarrollo social.

A nivel de licenciatura estudié en la Universidad “Rafael Landívar”, graduándome de licenciado en trabajo social, con énfasis en gerencia del desarrollo. Aunque fueron diferentes casas de estudio el enfoque de estudio fue similar. Recibiendo formación profesional para dirigir, coordinar o liderear procesos de desarrollo de la población guatemalteca.

5. Favor de describir el trabajo que usted realiza actualmente y las principales funciones que ejerce.  ¿Qué tipo de atención o servicios brinda usted a niños, niñas, adolescentes y familias?

Entre las principales funciones de mi trabajo está realizar coordinaciones institucionales, para promover el fortalecimiento del sistema de protección de las familias y de las comunidades, para prevenir la separación familiar innecesaria. La creación de redes de apoyo para la niñez y adolescencia a nivel comunitario, municipal y departamental, involucrando y empoderando a las autoridades, lideresas y líderes comunitarios y municipales. También realizar gestiones que generen intervenciones para promover el desarrollo económico de las familias en riesgo de separación innecesaria.

 6. ¿Cuáles son los aspectos que más le gustan de su rol o trabajo actual?  

En general todo mi trabajo es interesante y me agrada cada actividad que realizo, porque van enfocadas a construir una mejor realidad para las familias y sociedad en general. Pero me genera mayor agrado realizar acciones, mantener comunicación y establecer acuerdos, para lograr que la población y las autoridades comunitarias y municipales sean parte del equipo que se esfuerza por ser parte del sistema de protección de la niñez y adolescencia.

 7. ¿Cuáles son los principales retos que usted enfrenta en su rol o trabajo actual y como los enfrenta o resuelve?

Creo que uno de los mayores desafíos es lograr la articulación de los diferentes actores sociales involucrados en el tema de protección de la niñez y adolescencia, porque sus antecedentes son de trabajo desarticulado;  pero es un reto que con el transcurso del proceso se va reduciendo la brecha y cada vez más se logra generar el interés por ser parte de ese equipo, por medio de la sensibilización y el empoderamiento sobre la importancia y los beneficios que ellos pueden generar y hacer historia en sus comunidades, municipios o departamentos.

 8. ¿Hay algo más que quisiera compartir con nosotros sobre su trabajo, su motivación, sus sueños, etc?

Mi trabajo es una bendición de Dios, porque hago lo me gusta y recibo beneficios salariales, es un medio para servir a las familias y crear mejores condiciones de vida para los NNA. Espero que en el corto y mediano plazo la iniciativa pueda ampliar su área de cobertura para incrementar el numero de familias beneficiarias e involucrar a otros actores sociales del departamento.



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Social Service Worker Spotlight: A Q&A with Edgar Danilo López Ramírez, Specialist in Family and Community Strengthening with Changing the Way We Care


También disponible en español.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I live in Chiquimula, Guatemala. I am married and have three beautiful children, two boys and one girl. I really enjoy spending time with my family, going on walks in the countryside and spending time with friends. I also enjoy reading books to help me grow as a person.

2. Tell us about the community or area where you work. What are the main issues or problems the community faces?

I currently work in the municipalities of Zacapa, Río Hondo and Usumatlán in the Zacapa region of Guatemala. I coordinate with municipal and community authorities to establish support networks, involving community leaders and local authorities, focused on promoting family care and protecting children and adolescents from unnecessary family separation. 

In the time that I have been part of “Changing the Way We Care” and with my previous experience in this area of work, I have noticed an absence of social actors working to protect families, despite the noticeable socioeconomic conditions making them vulnerable and the exposure of adolescents to risk factors that may affect their personal development.

I believe that local authorities and governments can do much more to strengthen families by facilitating access to services and improving their living conditions, thus reducing the risk of unnecessary family separation.

Three children’s shelters (known as protection homes) operate in the area where I work, with whom we maintain close coordination in order to promote the reunification of the children from the shelters with their families.

3. How long have you been working in this profession and what motivated you to train as a social worker, psychologist, or another profession that provides social care?

In February 2005, I began to work on social issues, providing support to families vulnerable to food insecurity, paying special attention to families with children under five years of age.

I decided to study social work, realizing that it is a profession that contributes to the wellbeing of families, especially those that reside in rural areas.

4. What type of professional training did you receive? 

At a technical level, I received training at the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala in community development management. This included training on managing comprehensive community development processes, with an emphasis on social development.

At the undergraduate level, I studied at the Universidad de Rafael Landívar, graduating with a degree in social work with an emphasis on development management. Although my two areas of study were different, the approach was similar, both focusing on directing, coordinating and leading development processes for Guatemala

5. Please describe the work you currently do and the main functions of your role.

My main roles are to carry out institutional coordination, to promote the strengthening of the protection system for families and communities, and to prevent unnecessary family separation. I create support networks for children and adolescents at the community, municipal and departmental levels, involving and empowering authorities and community and municipal leaders. I also carry out procedures that promote the economic development of families at risk of unnecessary separation.

 6.  What aspects of your current job or role do you like the most?

In general, I find all of my work interesting, and I enjoy all aspects of it because it is all focused on building a better reality for families and for society in general. But I most enjoy my work that involves establishing agreements that ensure a better protection system for children and adolescents.

7.  What are the main challenges you face in your current role and how do you work to resolve them?

I believe that one of the greatest challenges is to achieve a common goal among the different actors involved in child protection, because everyone has different objectives in their roles. But by raising awareness about the importance and benefits of the work, a common goal can be achieved, and changes can be made in the different communities, municipalities and government departments.

8.  Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

My work is a blessing from God, because I do the work that I enjoy, and I receive a salary. My job is also a way to serve families and create better living conditions for children and adolescents. I hope that in the short and medium term the Changing the Way We Care program can expand its coverage area to increase the number of families who benefit from its services.

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A new start for children off the streets

UNICEF is working with the Congolese government to create a protective environment and to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable children.

Originally published on the UNICEF Democtratic Republic of Congo website. Also available in French. 



At an emergency center in Bandalungwa, around twenty children form a circle around their supervisor and discuss good practices for living in a community. These children have different stories and yet are very similar to one another because the majority of them lived on the streets of Kinshasa only a few days ago.

Ketia, 16 years old, lived in the street for a year with her mother before her mother passed away. The young girl thus found herself alone in the street, confronted on a daily basis by abuse and violence that led to pregnancy. It was children who were previously homeless, who had trained to be para social workers, who found her and guided her to health services.

At the center, children are provided shelter away from the streets and from mistreatment for a month. They are then either reunified with their families, placed in foster families, or lodged in accommodation centres for an indeterminate duration. According to their needs and ambitions, all the children are encouraged to undertake education or begin professional training.

Intending to help support the needs of his family, Richard left the city of Tshikapa at the age of 12 to find work in Kinshasa. Alone, the young boy was quickly subject to economic exploitation in the capital. Following a family tracing process, Richard will be reunited with his parents in Tshikapa and will continue to be accompanied by para social workers there.

UNICEF accompanies the Ministry of Social Affairs, Humanitarian Action and National Solidarity to establish child protection mechanisms. Last year, two welcome centers were set up in Kinshasa and more than 3,000 children were welcomed there thanks to the support of the Canadian government.

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Un nouveau départ pour les enfants sortis des rues

L’UNICEF travaille avec le Gouvernement congolais pour créer un environnement protecteur et assurer la sécurité des enfants les plus vulnérables.

Publié à l'origine sur le site Web de l'UNICEF République Démocratique du Congo. Aussi disponible en anglais.

Au Centre d’Accueil d’Urgence de Bandalungwa, une vingtaine d’enfants forment une ronde autour de leur encadreur et discutent des bonnes pratiques de vie en communauté. Ces enfants ont des parcours différents et pourtant très similaires puisqu’il y a quelques jours encore, la majorité d’entre eux vivaient dans les rues de la ville de Kinshasa.

Ketia, 16 ans, a vécu dans la rue durant un an avec sa mère avant que cette dernière ne décède. La jeune fille s’est alors retrouvée seule dans la rue et a été confrontée quotidiennement aux abus et à des violences qui ont conduit à sa grossesse précoce. Ce sont des anciens enfants des rues, formés pour devenir des travailleurs para-sociaux, qui ont identifié et orienté la jeune fille vers les services de santé. 

Au centre, les enfants sont mis à l’abri de la rue et de la maltraitance durant un mois avant d’être réunifiés avec leurs familles ou orientés vers des familles d’accueil ou des centres d’hébergement à durée indéterminée. Selon leurs envies et leurs projets d’avenir, tous les jeunes encouragés à poursuivre leur apprentissage ou commencer une formation professionnelle. 

Pensant pouvoir aider à subvenir aux besoins de sa famille, Richard a quitté la ville de Tshikapa à l’âge de 12 ans pour trouver du travail à Kinshasa. Isolé, le jeune garçon a rapidement été victime d'exploitation économique dans la capitale congolaise. Suite à un processus de recherche familiale, Richard sera réunifié avec ses parents à Tshikapa et continuera d’être accompagné par des travailleurs para-sociaux sur place.

L’UNICEF accompagne le Ministère des Affaires Sociales, Action Humanitaire et Solidarité Nationale dans la mise en place des mécanismes de protection des enfants. L’année passée, deux centres d’accueil ont été mis en place à Kinshasa et plus de 3.000 enfants y ont été accueillis grâce à l’appui du Gouvernement canadien.

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7 Reasons to Celebrate Frontline Street Social Workers

Produced by the Consortium for Street Children.

International Day for Street Children

12th of April is The International Day for Street Children. It is a day to raise awareness of street children’s realities and respect for their rights in all parts of the world. This year, we want the international day to acknowledge those who work directly on the street with them. 

Throughout the pandemic, frontline workers have had to take extraordinary measures to ensure that street-connected children did not see vital care and services interrupted. Mobility restrictions posed a challenge to the existing networks that street workers had established to facilitate the delivery of their activities and services.  

We are excited that so many organisations want to celebrate the valuable work that frontline workers carry out. Here are seven reasons why we think you’ll want to join us in celebrating them on International Day for Street Children.  

They build trust

Frontline workers know that street social work is about establishing trust and creating a safe environment for street children. They show compassion and friendliness, ensuring that their relationships with the children are based on mutual respect and admiration.

Street social workers know the field better than anyone else. They are the first point of reconnection with a community they have often lost faith in, are referral points for other services, and they are messengers needed to understand street-connected children’s situations fully. By supporting street social workers in this work, decision-makers can design more appropriate specialised interventions for children in street situations.

They listen

Because social work requires direct contact with many street-connected children and people, they become skilled at developing good interpersonal relationships and strengthening these connections. Frontline workers can handle situations that can be a source of tension by displaying friendliness and sympathy towards other people, good humour, the ability to know, to listen, the ability to express oneself and to convince, the ability to communicate, the ability to be welcoming, openness and availability.

They do not require professionalisation to be professional

Street workers can be formal and informal – both have the same merit and deserve the same respect. Often those who are close enough to work closely with street children do so without any prior degree or qualification. They learn on the ground in a blended process involving practice and training courses. However, regardless of their background, they are individuals who are fully committed to the best interests of the street children and are guided by high standards of care and protection towards them. Those who work with street-connected children are the first point of contact for delivering services to them.

They multitask

Street work requires many different skills which allow the street worker to adapt to the immediate scenario. They are not only service providers but also mentors, therapists, teachers, caregivers, legal champions, leaders, listeners, and more. They engage in multiple roles to break down boundaries so that street-connected children can rebuild trust in a world which has failed them.

Sometimes, the street workers themselves have experienced living on the streets, thus giving them a unique skillset and knowledge.

They provide essential services

The services provided by frontline workers blur the boundaries between mainstream society and marginalised groups such as street-connected children. They enable services to become more accessible in ways tailored to street children’s needs in terms of accessibility, methods, and settings. Therefore, their frontline work turns them into powerful actors to generate real social inclusion and remove the barriers between social policies and social change by opening spaces for the involvement of street-connected children. If it were not for frontline workers and their willingness to be with street children when they need them most, many would neither have access to essential services nor be able to learn about forms of exercising their rights.

They believe in street-connected children 

Street social workers know better than anyone that street children are not victims but active agents in writing a better future for themselves. They act with the conviction and confidence that children can play a leading role in their development.

They overcome obstacles

All social action work faces difficulties and obstacles, such as rejection, apathy, ingratitude, non-compliance with planned activities, among others. Despite the hardship, frontline workers persist.


People assume street work is a simple thing to do. But in practice, it is a 24/7 job that is demanding and intricate. 

It is a job that requires to a large extent, affection, and protection for all the street children and young people with whom they collaborate. Street workers have a common identity despite different contexts. Respecting child rights is a mindset.  

Therefore, we wish to highlight that their work does not go unnoticed, and we are confident that they are positive role models not only for the street-connected children but also for us. 

Find out more about International Day for Street Children.

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Addressing child protection concerns through the integration of social service workers in schools

Two children stand outside of a schoolA new technical note, developed by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance and UNICEF, finds that violence against children and other child protection concerns can be addressed more effectively when social service workers are integrated into school structures.

“Children spend a significant amount of time each day in school, making it a space where child protection concerns often present themselves, and giving school-based staff a vital frontline role in identification and response,” explains Stephen Blight, Senior Advisor for Child Protection at UNICEF.

“When appropriately capacitated, resourced and supported, social service workers located in or working with schools can play a major role in addressing concerns related to violence, abuse and neglect, mental health, and psychosocial well-being,” Blight continues.

The technical note, which included a review of evidence across the globe, finds that teachers and school administrators usually have primary responsibility for reporting child protection concerns, but in many countries, they do not have the training and support, or time, to recognize signs and symptoms of abuse or violence, to record concerns, or to make referrals. In fact, studies have shown that teachers in different contexts tend to under-report child abuse due to lack of knowledge about the signs and symptoms of abuse, unclear reporting procedures and fear of making inaccurate reports.

A social worker works with a child in GuatemalaWhile it is recommended that teacher and administrator training and support remain a central component of child protection within schools, child protection and well-being concerns can be addressed more effectively if the responsibility is shared with social service workers. Properly trained and supported social service workers can work with teachers and administrators to establish an overall protective climate and culture in schools that is safe, non-violent and inclusive. They can also provide intensive and specialized support for at-risk students. They can also connect interventions at school with the wider child protection system and effectively follow-up on child protection concerns when making external referrals and collaborating with other agencies.

Research for this technical note found that over 50 countries in different parts of the world have a designated role of school social worker, but they use very different models of school social work. In the United Arab Emirates, all public schools have assigned social workers, at two levels: a social worker handles promotive and preventative work and manages ‘low-risk’ issues, while ‘high-risk’ issues are referred to a child protection specialist who has the legal authority to visit homes and intervene to protect a child from imminent danger. In Ecuador, the “Departamentos de Consejeria Estudiantil”, or DECE, work within educational institutions to ensure the protection and well-being of students. DECEs are composed of interdisciplinary teams, which include social workers, and have the responsibility to provide referrals and follow-up for students affected by violence within the school and/or community. In Mongolia, a provision for school social work was included in the ‘Law on Child Protection’ when it was amended in 2003. The ministry of education produced a job description for school social workers, assigning them a range of duties that include policy development, provision of parenting education, assessment and referrals, counselling, response to domestic violence allegations and more general family welfare tasks.

In other contexts, the key source of support for students is the role of school-based counsellor. In many countries, this role has expanded from supporting students’ academic and career development, to incorporate supporting students’ mental health and well-being. For example, in Jordan, the role of school-based counsellor includes running mental health programs for children and providing follow-up for cases of children found to be particularly at risk. In Bhutan, the ministry of education builds the capacity of school counsellors by equipping them with the knowledge and skills to prevent, recognize and respond to violence against children. Efforts are also being made to integrate child protection in residential schools, monasteries and nunneries where children live and learn, to ensure that children who are particularly vulnerable, because they are living outside of parental care, are not overlooked.

Two children interact at a school in India

Unfortunately, a majority of low- and middle-income countries currently lack long-term programmes for involving the social service workforce in schools, whether that be as school social workers or school counsellors. In such countries, there is a need to advocate for the social service workforce to become integrated within schools, and for the key role that the social service workforce can play in schools to be recognized by ministries of education. Ministries of social welfare and ministries of education also need to work together to ensure the integration of the workforce within education. They should combine their efforts to ensure that social service workers’ role in schools is formalized and reinforced through   appropriate training, development of professional standards, and ensuring workers in these roles are licensed or certified. Legislation is also needed that defines and mandates the role of the social service workforce in schools.

Where there are few if any formal professional development programs for the social service workforce, and so a shortage of qualified social workers, social pedagogues of psychologists, staff or volunteers can be equipped to take on para professional social service roles in schools, through suitable on the job training and supervision. This can help build capacity for meeting students’ social and emotional needs and preventing violence in schools. The ‘barefoot social worker model’ introduced in China, is one such example, in which local community members with a basic level of education and knowledge of social work and child protection, are trained and supported to provide essential, community-based child welfare services.


Read the technical note for the full scope of services that the social service workforce, if sufficiently resourced and supported, can provide working in or with schools, and which school administrators and leaders need to support in order to more effectively address child protection concerns. 

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School social workers’ crucial role in protecting children and their right to education

A social worker speaks with children at a school

Written by Marion Huxtable, Coordinator of the International Network for School Social Work

As coordinator of the International Network for School Social Work I have been keeping track since 1992 of how school social workers protect schoolchildren and their rights. 

Global goals for education are captured in UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the 2030 agenda. The last decade saw accelerated progress especially in primary education and gender equity. However in many countries there are disadvantaged groups of children who lag behind. This has dramatically increased since 2020 through the impact of the pandemic. By April 2020, 188 countries had closed schools, affecting 91% of total enrolled learners. Many children could not participate in distance learning and so dropped out of school completely. As schools started to re-open, it is clear that some, especially girls, have not returned to school.

There are around 50 countries where social workers are part of the school system. In these contexts, terms equivalent to school social worker and education social worker are used in many languages as job titles. While school social work is well established in countries in Western Europe and the United States, plus a few Asian and African countries, the approach is now being applied in a wider range of Asian countries, and other countries in Africa, Central and South America have started to locate social workers in schools.

School social workers work as part of the school team to reach children and families and provide the help needed. Using basic social work methods, school social work adapts to the local culture. Examples include a social worker at a village school in Laos organizing construction of toilets and gardens along with many other programs, and, in Burundi, social service workers rescuing and providing education for the youngest and most neglected children. During the pandemic school social workers everywhere reached out to children and families in creative ways to support mental health and engagement with school.

Schools need help to deal with schoolchildren’s complex problems, including the ramifications of poverty, the impact of civil strife, family problems and disabilities that impede learning. Since the pandemic, emotional and behavioral problems in schools have increased and many children have dropped out. School social workers help address all these challenges.

It is time for a deeper look at the role schools could play in protecting children and their education, and reaching the SDG 4.  UNICEF, the World Bank and UNESCO, in their report Recovering Education in 2021, call for “tailored services needed to meet learning, health, psychosocial  wellbeing and other needs”. School social work is a crucial part of this. We must foster the political will in all sectors including government, international organizations, education ministries and universities to fund, determine needs, and develop national plans to train and place social workers in schools. This commitment is needed to help schools become the safe place where children want to learn and their families want them to be.