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Grace Kozak's picture

The Role of the Social Service Workforce in Responding to Human Trafficking

logo for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, July 30The World Day Against Trafficking in Persons was established in 2013 by the United Nations in order to raise awareness and promote the rights of the nearly 2.5 million people in modern day slavery. Out of the UN’s efforts to combat human trafficking, the Blue Heart Campaign was born, an awareness raising campaign being joined by the governments of many world nations, including Peru, Switzerland, Brazil, Nigeria, and Lebanon.

This global problem affects every nation in the world, with the most vulnerable members of society being targeted as victims of trafficking. Many have been made vulnerable by poverty and conflict, but no matter the reason, when victims are trafficked, social workers and other social service providers play a critical role in raising awareness of trafficking and aiding survivors.

“Our law clinic represents clients who are survivors of human trafficking. Social workers play a key role in many of our clients' efforts to recover from the trauma of trafficking and to build a secure future life,” says Suellyn Scarnecchia, Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Human Trafficking Clinic. “Social work case managers who help both our minor and adult clients, connect our clients to essential resources like cash assistance, housing, education, English language training, employment, transportation, and counseling. Many of our clients receive counseling from social work therapists in individual or group settings as well. We teach our law students that the skill of working with other professionals, like social workers, is essential to their clients' success. Serving victims of human trafficking is truly an interdisciplinary enterprise.”

Human trafficking robs its victims of their most basic human rights, and members of the social service workforce, being grounded in protecting the rights of others, must be trained and ready to respond to trafficking in their communities.

Learn more about international NGOs working to combat human trafficking:

Download resources related to human trafficking from the Alliance database:

Nicole Brown's picture

Regional Conference in Africa Allows Social Workers to Share Innovative Approaches for Working with Families & Communities

IFSW Africa Regional Conference 2017Many people are not aware of the myriad of issues that social workers and others in the social service sector help individuals and communities to address. During the Social Work, Education and Social Development 2017 Conference more than 200 practitioners, government representatives, researchers, students, association members, and NGO, CSO and FBO staff came together to discuss innovative national, regional and global evidence-based approaches in social work. Held June 25-28 in Livingstone, Zambia, the conference was jointly hosted by the Association of Schools of Social Work in Africa (ASSWA), the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW, Africa), and Social Workers’ Association of Zambia (SWAZ).

Presentations encouraged dialogue on approaches to providing services to address HIV/AIDS, childhood marriage, gender-based violence, social protection, child protection, gender equality, family-based care, environmental sustainability and protection, and other issues affecting vulnerable populations that require a well-planned, well-developed and well-supported social service workforce.

The conference is one of several regional conferences organized with support of IFSW annually, leading up to the IFSW Global Conference in June 2018. During opening remarks, Ruth Stark, President of IFSW, challenged attendees to think of their role globally. “Research shows that for every $1 spent on social services, the return to the local economy is $3. We have an incredible contribution to make to our communities and global communities. Our profession is a borderless profession.”

To emphasize the global nature of the profession, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance supported the conference and coordinated a panel session on ‘Identifying effective social service workforce strengthening and case management in initiatives in Zambia and beyond.’ Presenters from Zambia Rising Project at Save the Children, the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, Christian Alliance for Children in Zambia, Expanded Church Response and Luapula Foundation joined the Alliance in presenting on roles and responsibilities in case management, embedding case management into communities and building consensus in uses of case management. Participants also discussed alternative care case management systems as a component of the broad integrated case management system within the child and family welfare system.

I took part in a panel presentation on how to advocate for a stronger workforce. During the panel I shared the new Global Advocacy Toolkit for the Social Service Workforce that the Alliance developed with WithoutViolence. The toolkit provides evidence-based tools for developing messages, determining key audiences, creating outreach plans and monitoring success of efforts to advocate to policy-makers and stakeholders for greater funding and support for the social service workforce.

I also attended several of the more than 100 abstract presentations. Some of the highlights for me included learning from Genious Musokotwane from Girls Not Brides who reviewed how social workers in Zambia are also involved in providing safe spaces for girls freed from childhood marriages to be able to complete their schooling through grade 12. The organization is trying to work with communities to overcome religious and cultural beliefs that allow girls to marry as soon as they reach puberty so that more girls can finish school and delay pregnancies. In 2016, 16,000 girls nationwide dropped out of school due to teenage pregnancy; annually 15 million girls are married before they turn 18.[1] 

Representatives from social work councils in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe provided detail on how the councils were established, their role in supporting the profession and the sustainability of both the council and association through dues and fees related to registration and licensing. As the only three countries among the 54 countries in Africa with a council and association, there was great interest from other participants to learn how to begin the process in their country. “Contribute your voice as practitioners through involvement in your national association and give visibility and credibility to the profession, learn from each other and validate the work of others,” stated Noel Muridzo, IFSW Africa President.

In another session on social protection and legal frameworks for policy development with Southern African Development Community (SADC), examples from Kenya, Zambia and Mozambique were highlighted. “SADC leads the continent in range, reach and number of social protection programs,” said Vince Chipatuka, Southern African Social Protection Experts Network Coordinator. The session sought to inform social workers and development practitioners on current developments within the region in order to enhance policy interventions at the national level.

As a network, the Alliance fosters the exchange of ideas, tools and best practices across countries. For many at the conference, this was the first such opportunity to learn from others working in the same field in another country. More than 20 conference attendees became members of the Alliance to continue this discourse with colleagues globally.

The Alliance’s participation in the conference was supported by the GHR Foundation’s Children in Families project. The GHR Foundation is supporting the Alliance and other organizations working in Zambia that are helping to strengthen the workforce to support vulnerable families and provide family-based care for children.

Anonymous's picture

Celebrating Families, Education and Well-being on International Day of Families

by Hassan Khan, Vice President and Executive Director, Asia Pacific Forum on Families International (APFAM)Logo for International Day of Families

This year’s observance of the International Day of Families on May 15 focuses on the role of families and family-oriented policies in promoting education and overall well-being. In particular, the goal of the day is to raise awareness of the role of families in promoting early childhood education and lifelong learning opportunities for children and youth.

The day will highlight the importance of all caregivers in families, and the importance of parental education for the welfare of children. It will focus on good practices for work-family balance to assist parents in their educational and caregiving roles. Good practices from the private sector in support of working parents, as well as youth and older persons in the workplace, will also be highlighted.

The day also aims to discuss the importance of ‘knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development’ (SDG4, target 4.7).

Families and family-oriented policies and programs are vital for the achievement of many goals and targets of the Sustainable Development Agenda. In particular, families have a unique role in supporting the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

In the 2030 Agenda, Member States commit to “strive to provide children and youth with a nurturing environment for the full realization of their rights and capabilities, helping our countries to reap the demographic dividend, including through safe schools and cohesive communities and families.” 

Indeed, cohesive, stable, supportive and well-functioning families are primary educators for young children. Primary caregivers educate and socialize children and youth and ensure their well-being. Parents, and often grandparents, have a vital role in safeguarding good quality education, starting with early childhood and extending throughout their children’s and grandchildren’s lifespan.

Early childhood spans the period up to eight years of age. It is essential for physical, social, cognitive and emotional development of children. Early childhood education (target 4.2) is essential to prepare children for primary education. Beyond that, research indicates that early childhood learning lasts a lifetime and brings about many benefits. 

In particular, early stimulation and interaction with parents and caregivers ‘jumpstart the journey of brain development and a lifetime of learning.’ The first years of life are crucial for children: how they are parented and cared for affects their brain function for the years to come. Investments in early childhood care, education and development also help to reduce disadvantages for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, the returns of such investments are highest among low-income children and serve as a stepping stone out of poverty and exclusion.

As the components of early childhood development include education, health and nutrition, protection and stimulation, safe, nurturing, responsive and stimulating family environments are crucial. In fact, girls and boys with involved and supportive parents tend to have high attendance records, positive attitudes toward school work, achieve better grades and have higher career aspirations. 

It is vital for parents to support their children on their lifelong educational journey. Programs that support parental education and development of parental skills are often an untapped potential toward the achievement of SDG4. 

Similarly, the educational role of grandparents in families should not be overlooked. The number of households where grandparents are primary caregivers for their grandchildren is on the rise mainly due to external migration of parents. Thus, grandparents take on a role of a caregiver and an early educator for children and youth in their families. 

Working conditions of parents affect their ability to play an active role in their children’s education. In fact, in order to be good educators in families, parents need family-friendly policies ensuring work-family balance so that they can be productive employers and involved parents. Policies encouraging corporate responsibility and family-friendly work environments are essential here and have already shown improvement in workers’ productivity and dependability.

The private sector plays a role in supporting training and education of young people, be it through internships or on-the job training. Some enterprises also support intergenerational exchanges where both youth and older adults are mentors or mentees, learning new skills in intergenerational settings.

To increase awareness of the role of families in promoting early childhood education and lifelong learning opportunities for children and youth, APFAM is extending the one-day focus over a 12-month period. Over the course of the next year, the role of families in supporting education and well-being for youth will be championed by organizations globally.

The social service workforce is central to the success of families in improving children’s education and wellbeing. These workers play an enabling role as the wellbeing of individual family members and the community as a whole is at the heart of social service programs.

To learn more and show your support, contact APFAM

Nicole Brown's picture

Environmental Justice, Community Organizing Focus of 34th Social Work Day at the United Nations

 “On behalf of 3 million social workers in 124 countries represented by the International Federation of Social Workers, I welcome you to Social Work Day at the United Nations,” said Suzanne Dworak-Peck. “Social workers are experts in leading communities…to achieve common goals.”

She joined organizing co-chairs Shirley Gatenio-Gabel Professor at Fordham University and International Association of Schools of Social Work Representative to the UN, and Dr. Robin Mama Sakina, Dean of Monmouth University and IFSW Representative to the UN, in opening the April 17, 2017 event to a sold-out crowd of practitioners, professors, students, NGO representatives, associations and other supporters of the social work profession. Attendees from throughout the United States, Canada, Italy, Australia, China and remote participants viewing the live webcast took part in the annual event that shines a light on the significant impact social workers have on the local and global community and provides a platform for social workers to engage on shared goals of the United Nations.

“Our local issues need to be linked to global trends. We must commit to aligning our practices…to achieve the sustainable development goals,” said Gatenio-Gabel in her opening remarks. She referenced the dynamic, innovative, people-centric work of social workers toward ‘Promoting Community and Environmental Sustainability.This was the 2017 theme, which relates to the third pillar of the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development. Throughout the event, panelists shared examples of local and global activism toward achieving these goals under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda for 2030.

His Excellency the Honorable Ambassador Masud Bin Moment, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations, shared Bangladesh’s environmental goals and steps the country is currently undertaking. He called upon the international community to recognize the need and take action toward environmental sustainability. “Social workers can motivate local people to carry out the SDGs,” he stated, encouraging those in attendance to be an active, local voice.

John Ennis, Chief of Information and Outreach, Office of Disarmament Affairs, United Nations, also challenged social workers to think about how they can be involved in the SDGs. He shared his experiences as a social work practitioner and prior roles in international development. “In my experiences, governments tend to act when civil society is leading the way…Social work plays an enormous role in a country’s socioeconomic development…Today, social issues are more interwoven into other issues.”

Stressing the combined impact of social issues and environmental issues on indigenous peoples, Roberto Borrero with the NGO Committee on the Rights of Indigenous People, spoke about the need to raise these issues at the international level. He highlighted that the SDGs specifically reference indigenous peoples and progress is being made toward inclusion but there are still great challenges and opportunities to do more.

“Today’s history is not written,” said Terri Klemm, Associate Professor and BSW Program Director at Centenary University. She stressed the importance of local community organizing and that taking a stand for the local community’s interest requires skills learned through social work. “Activism is self-care.” She shared her own personal environmental social justice interests and the ways in which she has mobilized individuals in the community to rally around preventing the detrimental impacts of fracking.

Similarly, MSW Student Elizabeth Gustafson shared the ways in which she used her community organizing skills she has learned through her MSW course work and field placements. As a macro-focused student, she emphasized valuing both macro- and micro- level practice.  When she joined activists at Standing Rock, North Dakota, for several days in November 2016 she noted that she learned that “Change at the global level is as important as at the policy level.”.

Anna Maria Campanini, President of the International Association of Schools of Social Work, echoed this comment. She agreed that there needs to be greater collaboration and integration between micro and macro-level social work to support provision of services to individuals and also incorporate a policy perspective to create positive change for clients at the systems level. She concluded by saying that “social work can promote peace and culture in communities. The UN and social work can both benefit and have a greater influence upon development.”

Following the event, social work students then participated in a student-led event to continue discussions on how they and the profession can support the SDGs and promote community and environmental sustainability. The events served as a call to action for the profession to continue to take a stand for the best interests of their fellow community members in order to have a combined global impact.

Anonymous's picture

The Role of National Associations in Organizing Social Workers to Advocate for Women’s Rights

Social workers at the Women's Marchby Dina L. Kastner, MSS, MLSP, NASW Senior Field Organizer

As we celebrate and mark International Women’s Day, one must also consider and reflect upon the best ways to advocate for women’s issues globally. Social workers are a natural fit for organizing. Social workers have long organized to improve living and working conditions. One such renowned social worker and women’s rights advocate is Jane Addams, who worked in Chicago, Illinois, through the settlement house movement in America to promote social and economic reform. In the US, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) supports women’s rights. One of the bylaws-mandated committees of the association is the National Committee on Women’s Issues. They are tasked with developing, reviewing and monitoring programs of the Association that significantly affect women.

The NASW Code of Ethics calls on social workers to be engaged in social and political action. “Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.”[1]

I have worked at NASW since 2003. One of my first projects was to organize social workers for the March for Women’s Lives in April of 2004. It was an amazing experience. I worked with staff across the association to bring together hundreds of social workers to march in support of reproductive choice. We had social work staff and other professional staff working together to mobilize our members.

I have also organized social workers for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. The purpose of this March was to commemorate the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s original March on Washington for jobs and freedom and to work to fulfill his dream of equality. I worked closely with the DC Metro Chapter of NASW to mobilize social workers for the Anniversary March. We had social workers come in from across the country.

In January, hundreds of social workers, both women and men, joined NASW to participate in the Women’s March on Washington in Washington, DC, and across the country. The reasons for marching were varied, but at one level people marched to show that women’s voices matter and that government leaders should put women’s issues at the forefront of the political agenda.

The energy for the March was electric. NASW set up a platform for individuals to sign up for the March. The platform allowed for 500 registrants, and we surpassed that total a week before the March. NASW chapters organized social workers to march in their states and some even organized buses to travel to Washington, DC. They joined an estimated 500,000 marchers.

We had marchers at the Washington, DC event from as far as California and Oregon and as close as DC.

NASW President-Elect, Kathryn Wehrmann, said the March was a “life transforming experience.”

The Women’s March on Washington had an international reach. There were at least 673 marches held on the same date around the world. Our voices were heard.

Continuing the Momentum

You may ask what happens after marching. Well, marching is a critical organizing tool. It helps bring people together and allows us to stay connected with them. After the March, we sent an email to people who signed up to march and invited them to join the NASW Advocacy Listserv. The Listserv helps individuals send letters to their members of Congress on key legislative issues. We have also connected individuals to their local chapters to help continue the work of organizing for social change.

Social workers can be involved in social change efforts with clients, in their communities, in their country and across the world. One way to do this is to join an association or organization that promotes change efforts you believe in. Associations and organizations often have ways to engage their members to influence change. You can also contact your representative body in your nation to educate them about social work and the work that you do. You can become an expert resource for your elected officials. You may want to attend town hall meetings that your representatives host. You can write letters to the editor of your local or national news outlets. See NASW’s Advocacy Resources here.

The main thing is to stay engaged and let your voice be heard. Social workers are experts in individual, group and community interactions. We can help bridge the gap between elected officials and the clients that we serve.

NASW is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the United States, with 132,000 members. NASW works to enhance the professional growth and development of its members, to create and maintain professional standards, and to advance sound social policies. We serve our members through our National Office and 55 Chapters.

[1] National Association of Social Workers. (2015). Code of Ethics, p. 27.

Anonymous's picture

Global Goals Require Gender Equality and a Strong Social Service Workforce

by Molly Fitzgerald, Plan International USAAt Plan International we fight every day for a future in which girls and young women can enjoy the same opportunities and have the same ambitions as their brothers.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cutting across all sectors. This new agenda reflects an increasing awareness among the development community that vibrant societies and economies rely on thriving health, education, environmental and social sectors. Now is an ideal time to take stock of the important role the social service workforce will play in achieving these goals, particularly in advancing rights for women and girls.  

Gender equality features prominently in the SDG Agenda. SDG 5 is dedicated solely to gender equality, because women and girls’ inequality remains a significant barrier to achieving all the other SGDs. In addition to ending discrimination against women and girls, SDG 5 sets specific targets around social welfare including: the protection against violence and harmful practices including child, early and forced marriage; assurances for access to sexual and reproductive health services; and equal and full participation in economic, political and public life. We must all be concerned about the global status of women and girls’ equality.  As participants, advocates, members or beneficiaries of the social service workforce, we recognize that a stronger workforce is better equipped to address and advance these issues. They are vital members of their communities, helping women and girls recognize and fully achieve equal rights.

Unfortunately, the global status of women and girls lags far behind on most of these important targets. Globally, an estimated 35 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence.[1] A third of girls living in the developing world marry before age 18, and one in nine marry before the age of fifteen.[2]

Regional and country variations reveal even greater gender disparities, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where girls and young women account for between two thirds and three quarters of new HIV infections among adolescents.[3] Poor health and social outcomes result from failures in other social sectors to achieve targets for gender equality. In Malawi for example, females have less control over household resources, lower wages, less political participation, and lower enrollment in secondary and tertiary education.[4] Malawian adolescent girls (ages 15-19) are 10 times more likely to be forced into marriage than boys.[5] Female youth are less knowledgeable about HIV and are less likely to use condoms than young males of the same age.[6]

These converging factors enhance vulnerability to HIV infection leading to worse health outcomes -- Malawian adolescent girls and young women are more than twice as likely to be HIV positive.[7] Girls also experience higher rates of malnutrition, shorter life expectancy and poverty, further undermining equal participation in the education, labor and social sectors.  

These inequalities place a heavy burden on the social service workforce. Morbidity and shorter life expectancies related to HIV, malnutrition and widespread poverty increase the demand while also contributing to the challenges faced in meeting the workforce needs. As the leading cause of death in Malawi, AIDS has contributed to a 12 percent prevalence of orphaned children.[8] While tradition encourages community and extended family support for orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi, poverty compounded by recent draught in the country makes this challenging. Approximately, one fifth of all Malawian families are providing care for orphans and vulnerable children; women and girls often carry the brunt of this burden.[9] Even with a large proportion of volunteers and community support, the social welfare workforce struggles to meet the demands. Efforts to meet the demand have included economic, educational and caregiver support to strengthen families.[10] Given the massive human resource gaps in the formal health and social service workforce, strengthening the capacity and coordination among services is a priority.

Plan International implements gender equitable programming for girls and women. Through the USAID funded One Community, led by Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Plan has also been tasked with DREAMS, PEPFAR’s new initiative to reduce new HIV infections among vulnerable adolescent girls and young women.[11] DREAMS addresses positive sexual health behaviors, increases access to sexual and reproductive health services, and creates an enabling environment for AGYW by supporting caregivers, addressing harmful community norms and practices, and creating safe spaces for AGYW in schools and in communities.[12]

Women and girls have an important role to play in closing this gap in strengthening the social service workforce. Representing more than 52 percent of the population in Malawi, and as essential actors in the social service system, certainly the best way to do this is to promote their welfare and protection.[13] This will reduce the demands on the workforce and services; it will also secure the health and well-being of families and communities as key components of a strong social welfare workforce.

Without assuring the welfare and protection of women and girls, we will never be able to achieve and sustain a strong workforce.

Photo caption and credit:
At Plan International we fight every day for a future in which girls and young women can enjoy the same opportunities and have the same ambitions as their brothers.
Plan International / Erik Thallhaug

Nicole Brown's picture

Sparking a Global Movement Toward a Stronger Social Service Workforce in 2016

As we reflect on 2016, we thank you for your efforts to strengthen planning, development and support of the social service workforce over the last year. You, our members, are the "sparks" and the reason that the Alliance exists. You have helped advance our collective mission of promoting the knowledge and evidence, resources and tools, and political will and action needed to address key social service workforce challenges and better support vulnerable children and families. This newsletter highlights some of the progress we’ve made together this past year.

Convene and Connect

Advance Knowledge


  • Daily blogs during Social Service Workforce Week in September generated discussion, shared promising practices and illustrated innovative approaches to ‘Build the Case for a Stronger Workforce.’
  • A cohort of eight Alliance Ambassadors are working to inform strategy and influence policy at the local, national and regional level in support of social service workforce strengthening efforts. Following an orientation and training in September, they began their two-year terms.
  • This year, the network grew to more than 1,100 members from 88 countries who are actively working to raise awareness and garner support at all levels for the social service workforce.

Why Be Involved in 2017

Looking ahead to 2017, we are energized by the many opportunities to convene members to exchange innovative approaches, advance knowledge of promising practices and amplify our voices by working together to advocate for greater recognition and integration of the social service workforce. We hope you will join us in the following ways:

  • Join our new interest group on case management (being launched early 2017)
  • Download the second edition of Para Professionals in the Social Service Workforce: Guiding Principles, Functions and Competencies, which will include new competencies for para social workers and community development workers after validation exercises in Ethiopia and DRC (early 2017).
  • Join our collective global advocacy efforts on World Social Work Day (March 2017)
  • Use our new advocacy toolkit aimed to assist members in outreach efforts (April 2017)
  • Attend our 4th Annual Global Social Service Workforce Strengthening Symposium (May 2017)
  • Participate in select conferences and events with us, including the 3rd Africa Regional Joint Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development (Zambia, June 2017) and the REPSSI Forum (Tanzania, September 2017)
  • Take part in Social Service Workforce Week (September 2017)
  • Share information for inclusion in the 3rd State of the Social Service Workforce Report (December 2017)
  • Participate in webinars on key topics related to strengthening the workforce

Join Us in Amplifying Social Service Workforce Strengthening Efforts

The purpose of the Alliance, as a network, is to bring together members across borders to exchange ideas, share tools and advance promising practices. There are many ways you can engage with one another and the global community to help strengthen the workforce in 2017. The coming year offers a renewed opportunity to build upon our many successes, and we look forward to working together over the coming year to continue to strengthen our sector and improve the lives of vulnerable populations. More information on ways to become involved in upcoming activities will be shared throughout the year. We hope you’ll join us on our journey toward strengthening the workforce in 2017 and beyond.

Our work is made possible by: USAID, PEPFAR, 4Children and GHR Foundation.

Betsy  Sherwood 's picture

Social Service Workers in Haiti Promote a More Inclusive Society for Children with Disabilities

Guest blog submitted by Betsy Sherwood, Head of Programs for CBM Country Office in Haiti & Ambassador of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

December 3rd is always one of my favorite days in the calendar year - it’s the day those of us in the disability and human rights sectors come together to celebrate International Day for Persons with Disabilities. In many countries where I have worked, this tends to be a very inspiring day, one meant to reflect on the achievements made by persons with disabilities and to advocate for more progress in the coming year.

This year’s theme is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want” – drawing attention to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals within the 2030 Agenda, a global framework for development.

While significant efforts have been made since the UN started celebrating this day 24 years ago, we cannot ignore that children with disabilities still remain one of the most marginalized and excluded groups in society. 

Here in Haiti, many children with disabilities face daily discrimination and are often not able to realize their full rights to education, family, and healthcare. To the dismay of many of us in the social service workforce, children with disabilities remain less likely to attend school, access medical services or have their voices heard in society.  

While the statistics and stories can feel daunting, there are many promising initiatives happening around the globe to promote the rights of children with disabilities. There are also important ways that those in the social service workforce can work to ensure that all children, including those with disabilities, have the opportunity to live up to their full potential.

Philogene meets with studentsIn my daily work, I have the privilege of collaborating with a motivated group of local social workers who have dedicated their professional lives to working on behalf of children with disabilities in Haiti. This week, I sat down to chat with my colleague, Philogene Edmonds, to learn more from him about his experience as an advocate for children with disabilities. Philogene is a Social Worker by training and serves as Program Coordinator for CBM-Haiti, guiding all of our programs related to child protection and inclusive education. Since the January 2010 earthquake struck Haiti, he has worked tirelessly to ensure that children with disabilities have equal access to all essential services. Below are a few highlights from our conversation:

Q:  What role can social service professionals play in improving the lives of children with disabilities?

A: We have a critical role to play as it is often on us to advocate for and defend the rights of those who are most vulnerable. I have witnessed firsthand how our workforce has been able to bring attention to the needs of children with disabilities. Here in Haiti, we have had positive influence on key child protection and education actors, using our professional knowledge to encourage them to build programs that are more inclusive for children with disabilities. After the earthquake, we advocated for disability inclusive child-friendly spaces, we trained frontline protection workers on the rights of children with disabilities and we pressured education actors at all levels to work on inclusive education initiatives.

As social workers, we also have very specific skills and training that allow us to work effectively with families. I’ve learned that one of the most important ways I can support a child with a disability is by also providing good support to their family members. By encouraging parents and caregivers of children with disabilities through counseling and coaching, I have seen many positive results. For example, I’ve watched parents become more confident and develop better coping mechanisms, I’ve seen children become more integrated into their families, and ultimately, in the communities where we have worked. I’ve noticed less children with disabilities being abandoned or placed in institutional care. Now, we just need to do a better job of tracking and documenting our successes – those in academia need to join alongside us to help us develop evidence and show what works best in the field.

Q: How has working with children with disabilities impacted you as a professional?

A: I have learned so much since I started working with children and adults with disabilities. I now am more open minded and always understand that no matter how tough a situation seems, there is potential and hope. I have become much more creative, often being forced on the spot to adjust interventions to ensure that a child with a certain type of disability is able to participate. I have become a much better listener and communicator. Sometimes I need to take a few extra steps, or rework the things I am trying to say to ensure that I am effectively communicating with the person I am working with, sometimes the work takes longer, but this process always helps in building trust. I’ve also had the privilege of working closely with people from the deaf community and thanks to them I have learned new ways to communicate.

Philiogene at a school with childrenQ: What advice would you give to a social service professional who is hesitant about working with children with disabilities?

A: Well the first thing I realized, when I too was initially hesitant, is that you don’t have to be a “disability expert” to work with children with disabilities. At first, sometimes the disability itself can be overwhelming and you forget to focus on the child – their needs, their dreams, their ambitions. I suggest not to get caught up in “curing or fixing” the disability and focusing instead on ways in which you can make their immediate environments more accessible and accommodating. Ask yourself how in your professional role you can support their teachers, family members, siblings, and neighbors to ensure that this child feels safe and included. As professionals, we already know how to connect with families and communities, this is what we are good at, so don’t be scared.

Also, it’s really important to always use a strengths-based approach! I find most days I am blown away by what the children I work with are capable of and how, when given the chance, they are able to adapt and succeed in ways many of the people closest to them never thought possible. At the end of the day, even when you are feeling hesitant, you will have to overcome those feelings. We as a workforce have a mandatory obligation to work with all children. Start to explore some of the many resources out there on working with children with disabilities and look for mentors in the field.

While the social service workforce still has hurdles to overcome here in Haiti, it is always inspiring to sit down and chat with Haitian professionals who are working tirelessly to improve the lives of children. This December 3rd, I encourage all members of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance to reflect on how you and your organization can better support children with disabilities. I also encourage you to take time to learn more about how to promote disability inclusion in your existing programming by exploring resources developed by organizations such as CBM and other leaders in the disability field.  

CBM is a Christian international development organization, committed to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities in the poorest communities of the world irrespective of race, gender or religious belief. Based on its core values and over 100 years of professional expertise, CBM addresses poverty both as a cause and as a consequence of disability, and works in partnership with local and national civil society organizations to create an inclusive society for all. For further information, please visit

Christina Quinby's picture

Para Social Workers in Tanzania: Helping People Living with HIV/AIDS Access Treatment and Navigate Social Barriers to Care

It was a busy morning in the usually calm village of Levolosi in the Tanzanian city of Arusha.  Neema, 27, and her friend Eliaremisa were going to visit a woman they had learned about from another member of the community.

The woman’s situation was dire: she had been ill for several weeks and had just been evicted from the home where she and her two children had been living.

During the visit, Neema and Eliaremisa provided counsel to their new friend, encouraging her to get tested for HIV. When the young mother tested positive, they supported her on her path to treatment. They also found her a place to live, finding a community member who was able to provide not only a home, but also a piece of land to cultivate, which represents an important means to earn a living in this part of northern Tanzania.

“The primary need of my clients is empowerment in a variety of ways,” Neema explains, stressing that removing barriers to accessing important social benefits is at the heart of her work with vulnerable individuals and families.

Neema gained a strong foundation in the knowledge and skills she needs to provide critical support to orphans, vulnerable children, and others in need in her community through her participation in the Para Social Worker (PSW) Training Program being implemented by the American International Health Alliance (AIHA) with support from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Tanzania.

"When I was little, I remember that my mother was very sick. She would send me to a clinic in another district to get her TB medicine. She died and my baby sister and I went to live with our grandmother for a while, but she was sick and became blind. If it weren't for this place, I would have joined a gang and likely been involved in drugs by now."
-Mohamed Shukuru, an 18-year-old orphan who receives support from Para Social Worker Edithrose Moyo in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
(photo: Kathryn Utan, AIHA)
Photo of PSW and boy helped  

AIHA’s PSW program provides skills-based training in social work case management and child development to caregivers, empowering countries to strengthen human resource capacity to more effectively address the immediate needs of vulnerable children and families through the development of a previously underutilized segment of the workforce and has been implemented in Nigeria and Ethiopia and soon in Mozambique.

The PSW training package varies slightly from country to country based on local needs, but the basic model includes an introductory course approximately two weeks in duration. This course introduces key social work concepts, such as using empathy and an unbiased approach when working with clients; development of a mutually agreed-upon focus of work and desired outcomes starting where the client is; and advocating for client access to services. The training package also teaches practical skills in outreach and client identification, needs assessment, case management, child development, resource linkages, family support, counseling, ongoing service coordination, and avoiding professional burnout. Upon completion of the introductory course, participants undergo six months of supervised field work and mentoring before taking a follow-up course that focuses on specialized skills related to caring for vulnerable children and families. Topics covered include: stigma reduction; collaboration with local governments; care and support for children living with HIV; HIV risk reduction; addressing personal and cultural biases when working with key populations; and addressing the needs of diverse family situations.

In response to a call by her village government for new community volunteer trainees, Neema entered the program in November 2014. Upon completion of the training, she returned home to Levolosi, a rural community that, like so many others, lacks professional social workers.

Neema says she really appreciates that the PSW training has set her apart from other community volunteers working to support vulnerable groups by arming her with unique skills needed to handle sensitive issues and help her clients through complex social challenges.

Community members and leaders alike also appreciate Neema’s work in supporting vulnerable groups in Levolosi, particularly people living with HIV and orphans and vulnerable children. She collaborates with other stakeholders to identify people in need and the community-based organizations or individuals that offer critical support. Neema also provides counseling, linkages, and referrals to crucial services, such as healthcare, economic empowerment, and education.

According to Neema, confidentiality and relationship-building are two of the most useful skills she has acquired. Without these, she admits, she would not be able to effectively support her clients — many of whom face very serious and complex situations.

“I reassure them that I am with them all the way through,” Neema states. “I do not simply identify the clients, speak to them, and leave them. I make sure they receive the care they need even beyond my purview as I work to address individual needs of vulnerable children, people living with HIV, and their households.”  

AIHA, through its HIV/AIDS Twinning Center Program, has supported social work education — including the PSW Training Program — in Tanzania since 2006. With PEPFAR support, we worked closely with the Tanzania Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children; the Institute of Social Work (ISW); and technical resource partners at Jane Addams College of Social Work (JACSW) and the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center (MATEC) of the University of Illinois, Chicago, to support the development of a national PSW curriculum with enhanced HIV/AIDS competencies.

PSWs are trained and deployed across the country to deliver psychosocial services at the community level. To date, 4,682 community-based caregivers have completed phase one of the PSW training and more than 2,600 have completed the full course to become certified PSWs. In September 2016, ISW assumed full ownership of the PSW Training Program and now collaborates directly with other implementing partners to train PSWs throughout the country.

In 2012, AIHA worked closely with Tanzania’s Department of Social Welfare and our partners at ISW, JACSW, and MATEC to develop a mid-level Social Welfare Assistant (SWA) Training Program. The SWA program helps bridge Tanzania’s human resource gap in the health and social welfare sectors. It also provides a career ladder for members of the country’s social welfare workforce.

Developed to complement the existing PSW Training Program, the SWA Program uses ISW’s certification curriculum to qualify SWAs to work as government or NGO employees at the ward level. This year-long competency-based program includes both classroom lessons and a field practicum focusing on social work processes, policies, and laws governing services to vulnerable populations such as children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. ISW continues to operate this program and has to date graduated more than 140 SWAs.

This guest blog was prepared by Ronald Nakaka, Tina Quinby, and Kathryn Utan and submitted in honor of World AIDS Day.

AIHA provides technical assistance through comprehensive, integrated, and volunteer-driven partnerships and initiatives that help low- and middle-income countries build institutional and human resource capacity to create a strong foundation for delivering high-quality, inclusive health services. Our comprehensive, multi-pillar approach to health system strengthening has enabled us to achieve sustainable outcomes through more than 175 partnerships in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean.

AIHA has more than 24 years of experience working with host country governments, donors, and other key national and international stakeholders to address critical public health issues such as HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, maternal and child health, primary healthcare, emergency medicine, and a broad range of health professions education and development.

Cover photo:
“Para Social Workers provide important support to the government. They are a key part of the health and social support workforce and have greatly reduced the workload of social workers at the village, ward, and district levels in Tanzania. This program has opened a lot doors for our trainees, who recognize that they now have a path to further education.”

 - Asha Mbaruku, Para-Social Worker Supervisor and Trainer, Kisutu Juvenile Court, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Photo: Courtesy of AIHA/Tanzania

Jennifer Kaberi's picture

To 'Leave No One Behind,' We Must Include the Social Service Workforce

The sustainable development goals have just clocked one year, and everyone is rallying behind the call to “Leave no one behind.” This year’s theme of the Universal Children’s Day, celebrated on November 20, is “Leave No One Behind.” But what does it really mean to leave no one behind? According to the Overseas Development Institute, it means that no goal will be met unless it is inclusive of everyone. In attaining the goal, organizations are aiming to include vulnerable children. Doing so requires both greater investment and data.

Social service workers are the advocates to ensure this happens, but they must be included to be able to do so. Is the social service workforce being included in high-level forums happening all over the world? They are the ones who are most closely positioned to truly understand and add voice to the situation of vulnerable children and families.

To help make this point, I’d like to introduce you to some social service workers who are striving to improve the lives of vulnerable children. One such individual is Lilly, a social worker I recently met in Madagascar. Lilly runs a day care center for street connected children. The center provides showers, meals and education for 100-300 children daily, from ages 6 months to 17 years old.

Her calm nature made me wonder what is her drive, what makes her wake up in the morning and walk for one hour? And most importantly, what does she need to be more effective or make her work easier? Has she fallen through the cracks as she provides for the most vulnerable? Her caseload is 1:300 and her center is poorly resourced. She is driven to improve the lives of these children who are the future of Madagascar, but more funding allocation for additional resources would help her toward meeting the SDGs.

Training in KenyaAnother example is John. He has a Master’s degree in Social Work. He works with children in conflict with the law. The first time I talked to John, I didn’t know there were social workers for children in the juvenile system; I assumed like many others that the prison department and police are responsible for children in the system.

John tells me that he is passionate about helping these children. According to John, probation work involving children in conflict with the law remains one of the most challenging roles. Since the first time he encountered a child in a police cell, young and full of potential, it has never been easy to see children in the criminal justice system in Kenya. He argues that social systems failures are partially to blame for children being in conflict with the law and that we need to remedy this. He is working to reform the juvenile justice system and ensure no child goes to prison. But how much understanding and support is there for social workers in the juvenile justice system and what do they need to best meet the needs of these children?

John tells me that he needs more human and financial resources in the probation department. He needs rehab centers with qualified social service workers. He needs a community where he can exchange ideas on reforming the juvenile system, as well as people who can relate to the stresses of his tough work.

Rehema is a community social worker who works with pregnant teenagers. She helps with nutrition and encourages them to go for health screenings. At age 35, Rehema is a “gogo” grandmother to many of these children who otherwise would have been abandoned. She believes that one of the children she rescues will one day become president, and that helps motivate her. Will Rehema’s efforts in development work be properly shared and reported to build the data base?

These three social workers are working to make a difference and ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind. They are the intervention in these children’s lives. They collect data and come up with solutions to ensure no child is left behind. But who is ensuring that they are not being left behind? Many development agencies and governments don’t capture the needed data about their most important asset – the workforce providing these services. Very little data is available to show the contribution of social workers in sustainable development and more specifically in the lives of children. Evidence shows that an empowered, regulated and rewarded social service workforce has a better outcome on children. The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance has recently untaken a project to build the evidence base for helping support workforce strengthening, and the outcomes paper and webinar on the topic are available online.

To ensure that no one is left behind, there is a need for the right data to be collected. The data has to tell a story and show where investment needs to be made. The story needs to connect all the players in the children’s sector. The data has to tell the stories of Lilly, John and Rehema by recognizing what they do toward ensuring that no one is left behind. They, too, must be counted and their needs must be considered so that they are best able to help children and families to have better outcomes.

To ensure that no social service worker is left behind, there is a need for policies that not only regulate what they do but also ensure that they are retained. The policy has to speak to both the intervention and intervener and the policies have to be evidence based and intervention/solution oriented.

My passion is working with children to make development a reality in Africa, but this will only be possible when we leave no child and no social service worker behind.

 Jennifer Kaberi is a Social Worker and an Ambassador of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. She coordinates the Children Agenda Forum in Kenya and has more than 10 years of experience working with children. She is driven by knowing children are the enablers and promise holders for Africa’s brighter future.

To read more articles by her, visit or follow her on Twitter at @dalithso.