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Actions for Realizing a Stronger Social Service Workforce

Day 5, September 28, Social Service Workforce Week

In our work over the past five years, the Alliance has heard from thousands of social service workers that they need greater support in order to better serve children and families. Over the course of this past week of Social Service Workforce Week, our goal has been to rally social service workforce advocates to jointly call for key actions.

But once this week is over, where do we go from here? What actions do we take? And how do we know if those actions are making a difference?

The Alliance network, working with our many partners including USAID / PEPFAR and UNICEF and the organizations behind the INSPIRE Implementation Handbook, has helped to establish a few key milestone indicators. These indicators are relevant to any individual or group providing social services, and can be measured at the national level and compiled at a global level.

  • Existence of a government-led, national coalition to strengthen the social service workforce
  • Existence of a national strategic plan on strengthening the social service workforce
  • Existence of a normative framework on outlining/defining functions (roles and responsibilities) for social service workers and practice standards
  • Budget and mandated institutions for planning, developing and supporting the social service workforce
  • Nationwide comprehensive mapping of social service workforce regularly carried out and documented in an information management system

We will be tracking these indicators and several others across different countries to assess global progress in workforce strengthening. As noted on previous days during Social Service Workforce Week, the Alliance has supported workforce mapping processes to gather information about workforce structures and needs in 37 countries. But that is only one step in this multifaceted process that offers a baseline against which to measure future progress.

As a network member, we invite you to take part in this exciting process that will help us all see the change we are working to create. 

Get Involved

You can:

  1. Help support or establish a national level government-led stakeholder leadership group or coalition in your country, whether you are a representative of a government, civil society, non-governmental organization (NGO), university, training institution, professional association, religious entity, national donor, multilateral, bilateral, or private sector. It’s an opportunity to work with others involved in planning, budgeting, managing and supporting your country’s social service workforce.
  2. Does your country have adequate data on the current structure and needs of the social service workforce? If not, advocate to the stakeholder leadership group to carry out a workforce mapping and help to gather data. The Alliance will soon be producing a mapping toolkit to help guide this work for national actors.
  3. Support the development and implementation of your national workforce strengthening strategy based on available workforce information. It is important that these strategies include a diversity of views and experiences, including those who access social services.
  4. Help measure and report on the indicators mentioned above.
  5. Get involved in advocacy efforts to ensure that social service workforce strengthening remains high on the global agenda.
  6. Let us know how your organization is contributing to any of these steps – we’ll feature good examples in our newsletters and reports so that other organizations can learn from your efforts.

Additional resources:

Amy Bess's picture

Ending Violence Against Children Requires a Strong Social Service Workforce

Day 4, September 27, Social Service Workforce Week

As many Alliance members know, there have been multiple recent efforts to address violence against children across the globe. Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 calls for ending all forms of violence against children. The distressing findings of many national surveys of violence against children have catalyzed stakeholders to take action and work together to end violence. To date, 23 countries have signed up as Pathfinder Countries through the Global Partnership to End Violence, demonstrating their commitment to lead comprehensive initiatives to end violence against children as outlined in National Plans of Action. These plans are meant to incorporate the seven strategies to end violence as outlined in the INSPIRE package and the accompanying actions laid out in the recently released INSPIRE Implementation Handbook

Studies show that approximately 1 billion children worldwide have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence in the last year alone. While the magnitude of violence against children can be discouraging, one of the solutions and reasons for great hope lies in strengthening the social service workforce. 

The social service workforce is on the front lines every day to prevent and respond to violence against children in its multiple forms, by:

  • Playing a key role as central actors facilitating collaboration amongst service providers
  • Carrying out strengths-based assessments
  • Providing or referring children and their families to support services
  • Monitoring children separated from their families who are living in institutions and home placements and supporting their reintegration
  • Providing direct counseling and psychosocial support
  • Mobilizing communities and facilitating community discussions about cultural beliefs and social norms related to violence
  • Supporting the development of policies and legislation
  • Carrying out policy and programmatic advocacy

Infographic on importance of a strong SSWSocial service workers have noted the many positive changes over time that children and families have experienced as a result of their work together, as reported in the State of the Social Service Workforce Report 2017. Outcomes include an increase in children and families’ self-worth, self-confidence and morale. They have seen increased trust, communication of feelings, attachment and emotional bonds among family members. They have noted that caretakers better understand how to engage with and care for the children in their care. And they have seen families benefit from various services, such as health and nutrition, shelter and birth certificates and have become empowered to earn income to support themselves and their families.

These positive outcomes are only possible when the right number of workers are in the right places with the right training. This requires careful strategic planning with a diverse range of people at the table.

Planning and Developing the WorkforceMany countries recognize the importance of collaborative workforce strengthening strategies and are incorporating them into their National Plans of Action to Address Violence against Children. Read some best practices in integrating the social service workforce within National Plans of Action

Today as part of Social Service Workforce Week, we are offering a webinar that will provide examples of ways that coalitions of organizations coming together at the national level are developing and implementing comprehensive plans to strengthen the workforce as part of their overall plan to end violence.

For example, in Tanzania, a coalition has come together to identify concrete actions to improve workforce distribution, including ensuring that one Social Welfare Officer per district be assigned to schools to help identify children who need to be referred to services. 

In Montenegro, one of their workforce strategies includes improving the design of both pre-service and professional development curricula for relevant professionals working with children victims of violence.Supporting the Workforce

Fortunately, for others looking for effective ways to improve the workforce and the provision of social services and support to children and families affected by violence, several documents, tools and approaches exist. The diagram to the right outlines strategies to plan, develop and support the workforce that have been included in national strategies. The Alliance will be working with UNICEF to develop a toolkit of resources linked to specific workforce strengthening strategies.

We hope you’ll continue to work with the many members in this network to improve workforce strengthening efforts, and if you’re not yet a member, we invite you to join us in these efforts. As we all know, strengthening and supporting the social service workforce is an important pillar of any plan to address violence against children, and success requires working together.


Get Involved


Read how organizations that have signed on to the Call to Action are supporting social service workforce strengthening efforts:

  • Having worked in child protection for the last 10 years in Thailand, Global Child Advocates recognizes the need for an increase in social service workforce capacity to provide family support services and assistance to orphanages seeking to shift their care model to family-based care. Working alongside the Thai child welfare department, the organization provides guidance for orphanages and shelters along the border region on child protection best practices in an effort to provide family-based care for all child victims of abuse and trafficking. GCA is supporting social service workforce strengthening as a critical component to facilitating care reform in a safe and sustainable way so that more children have the chance to grow up in a safe, loving family.  
  • Shanduko Yeupenyu Child Care in Zimbabwe supports the Call to Action because it aligns with their mission of protecting children through strengthening the social service workforce. Shanduko helps children to thrive in difficult circumstances through provision of psychosocial support services to physically and sexually abused children. They support drop in centers in the region and consult with child protection committees, recognizing the key role of social service providers in this work.
  • The Together for Girls partnership aims to raise awareness, promote evidence-based solutions and galvanize coordinated action to end violence against girls and boys. TfG believes that a strong and locally-based social service workforce plays a crucial role in both preventing and effectively responding to violence against children. TfG is contributing to knowledge exchange and cross-cultural learning through a variety of resources, including launching the “Every Hour Matters” campaign, which aims to increase awareness about the critical importance of quickly accessing post-rape care and calls on national and community leaders to ensure comprehensive services are available in all communities.
  • The Centre for Excellent for Looked After Children in Scotland’s (CELCIS) international work aims to promote the implementation of Guidelines on the Alternative Care of Children. CELCIS shares the understanding that the social service workforce, encompassing social workers and social pedagogues, carers and multiple other professionals and volunteers, play a pivotal role in reforming and improving current care systems and increasing the emphasis on supporting families and preventing the separation of children, while ensuring that those who cannot be cared for in their own families receive the best possible care. CELCIS is developing a collaboration of key stakeholders to develop course topics and identify resources to strengthen knowledge and practice skills in child and family social work in specific countries where professional social work is a new or recently developed profession, or where it has recently expanded.
Nicole Brown's picture

Development of a National Social Service Workforce Strengthening Strategy: The Ugandan experience

Day 3, September 26, Social Service Workforce Week

In too many countries, social services remain severely under-staffed and unable to adequately prevent and respond to violence against children. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires a well-planned, developed and supported social service workforce.

This week, during Social Service Workforce Week, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance is raising awareness and interest in the need to strengthen the social service workforce by sharing examples of how countries are implementing national level goals as outlined in the Call to Action for Strengthening the Social Service Workforce to Better Protect Children and Achieve the SDGs.

The Call to Action recommends country and global level actions that build on existing efforts underway nationally. Endorsed by 31 organizations, the Call to Action calls on relevant state governments to initiate, lead and engage in dialogue with partners to develop or enhance a national workforce strengthening strategy, based on workforce mapping and through a government-led workforce leadership group. Effective strategies make choices about key workforce elements to strengthen in the near- and longer-term and incorporate actions related to a diversified workforce of para professionals and professionals at community, district, regional and national levels. Including the views and experiences of children, youth and adults who have received services must be part of the development of such a strategy.

In Uganda recognizing that greater budget allocations are needed for strengthening the social service workforce to achieve SDG 16.2 to end all violence against children, the government is leading the development of a multi-sectoral national social service workforce strengthening strategy.

“Uganda has been involved in many aspects of workforce strengthening, including in the early years of systems mapping, to care reforms, recently completing the Violence Against Children studies.” said Patrick Onyango Mangen, Country Director, TPO Uganda, in introducing a national panel to speak on workforce strengthening strategy development at the Alliance’s 5th Annual Symposium in May 2018. He also shared that Uganda is a Pathfinder Country for the Global Partnership to End Violence Children and is piloting the INSPIRE program as one of the action points within the national action plan. “The Ministry of Gender has been at the helm of these reforms in terms of leadership and multi-sectoral coordination.”

Lydia Joyce Najjemba, National Coordinator, Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, presented at the Symposium on the government’s key role in building multi-sectoral collaboration and influencing other stakeholder groups. This includes:

  • Quarterly meetings across stakeholder groups organized by the Ministry, and establishment of the Child Protection Working Group that brings together stakeholder groups and other ministries of government
  • Support to the National Association of Social Workers Uganda for development of processes and policies to register, regulate and professionalize social workers and development of a competency framework for para social workers;
  • Collaboration on service delivery with NGOs and civil society;
  • Research and education to support training and degree programs, including a Master of Social Work, with Makerere University;
  • Capacity building and project development;
  • Advocacy for greater funding and policy support for the social service workforce by using data from the VAC studies
  • Enacting child protection policies, including the first ever child policy and legal protections
  • Mapping of the workforce and services to deploy resources where needed

Through GHR Foundation, USAID and UBS Optimus funding support, the Alliance, Alliance Ambassadors and Steering Committee representative in Uganda organized a multi-sectoral stakeholder summit earlier this month. The summit brought together 100 actors to discuss and plan social service workforce strengthening efforts to build capacity in the areas of child protection and care reform.

Michael Byamukama speaks at the Ugandan Symposium“While there has not yet been the opportunity to have social work practice as an area of concern discussed at national level, there is growing interest among a cross section of social work professionals and child focused agencies to work collaboratively with government institutions. Standardizing social work curriculum, setting minimum standards, regulating social work practice and skilling the social workforce at service delivery level will ensure social and economic transformation – a dream we all anxiously look forward to seeing,” said Michael Byamukama, President, National Association of Social Workers Uganda.

As Uganda continues to strengthen family and kinship care in order to avoid separations and end institutions, other countries can continue to learn from Uganda’s experiences. The SDGs offer an unprecedented opportunity to undertake such efforts.

Developing or enhancing a national workforce strengthening strategy is just one of many steps toward realizing a stronger social service workforce that is best positioned to help achieve the SDGs. An investment in a strong social service workforce is a long-term investment in a resilient, peaceful and prosperous society.

In a show of support for the Call to Action, 34 organizations have added their logos. Many are working to strengthen the social service workforce in order to prevent family separation:

  • Maestral International supports systemic, holistic and cross-cutting approaches to addressing violence, exploitation and abuse of children. Maestral is a member of the Changing the Way We Care consortium that includes Catholice Relief Services and Lumos. The initiative will promote the development and strengthening of the social service workforce and case management assessments and referrals based on the particular needs of each child in Guatemala, Kenya, Moldova and Zambia to strengthen families and reduce reliance on residential institutions for children.
  • Better Care Network believes that a strong social service workforce is critical to meeting the needs of children without adequate family care. The development of a skilled and well-supported social service workforce is particularly important as countries move toward reforming their care systems and work to reduce reliance on residential care, strengthen families, prevent separation and promote family and community-based alternative care options. To help achieve this, BCN and Save the Children have co-facilitated the Tracking Progress Initiative to enable national-level actors to determine the extent to which their state or region has effectively implemented the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, and the priorities for change still ahead, through a strengths-based diagnostic and learning tool. 
  • SOS Children’s Villages aims to ensure the best care for children and young people in its programmes in partnership with other stakeholders to ensure every child receives quality care and protection in a nurturing family environment. SOS believes a properly skilled, resourced and supported child care workforce is key in ensuring quality care. To increasement recognition, remuneration and training in rights-based gender-sensitive training, SOS is collaborating with international and national partners through two projects: Prepare for Leaving Care (2017-2018) and Leaving Care (2018-2020). The projects included development of a set of national policy recommendations on how training for care professionals working with care leavers can be sustained.
  • TPO Uganda is a national level organization working with the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to support dissemination, uptake and programing based on the VACS findings. TPO Uganda in collaboration with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), conducted a comprehensive mapping exercise to identify actors and structures that interact with children at all levels. They built on the sub-county Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s (OVC) Coordination Committee to include representatives from selected informal structures for a community-led service workforce to champion VAC prevention and response.


Get Involved in Social Service Workforce Week

Today is Day 3 of Social Service Workforce Week. Review and share the blogs, resources and examples of efforts underway:

We encourage you to get involved through the following methods:

  • Download the Call to Action and share with your network. Available in English and Spanish.
  • Share stories from your organization by emailing the Alliance about effective advocacy approaches you have implemented, including positive outcomes achieved, and country or global level actions as outlined in the Call to Action that you are involved in.
  • Invite a colleague to become a member, and they will receive the daily updates directly.

Additional Resources:

TPO Uganda is establishing community-led committes for VAC preventionRelated Resources on Uganda’s Approach and Global Learnings:

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Mapping the Social Service Workforce to Better Protect Children

Day 2, September 25, Social Service Workforce Week

To support appropriate responses through effective child protection, as well as justice, health, education and quality care interventions, it is imperative to have a strong protection system in place. One critical element of this system is an effective social service workforce with a clear mandate, appropriate resources and relevant training and supervision. However, limited data about the workforce and the systems that support it makes it challenging for governments and partners to identify and implement evidence-based solutions to strengthen the social service workforce.

During Social Service Workforce Week, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance aims to highlight the importance of mapping and assessing the current status of the workforce, included as a national level goal in the Call to Action for Strengthening the Social Service Workforce to Better Protect Children and Achieve the SDGs currently underway in many countries with the leadership of the national level groups.

The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance has provided input into workforce mapping and assessments in 37 countries. Currently, the Alliance is carrying out workforce assessments in six countries within the East Asia and Pacific region and eight countries within the Middle East and North Africa region in collaboration with UNICEF Regional and Country Offices. In addition, the Alliance completed a scoping of eight countries in South Asia, documented in the State of the Social Service Workforce in South Asia Report and 15 countries globally as described in our 2015 State of the Social Service Workforce Report. Each of these assessments is structured around the Framework for Strengthening of the Social Service Workforce developed through consultations with a wide range of stakeholders globally and intended to guide country efforts for planning, developing and supporting the workforce.

Applying the Alliance-tested approach, national workforce leadership groups ensure contextualization of the assessment methodology and tools and support their application in the each country. Groups advise on the definition of the social service workforce, sampling and data collection, assessment process and priority actions for strengthening and advocating for the social service workforce as applicable to the country.

Workforce assessments aim to establish a baseline of information and data on the status of the social service workforce in each country in order to guide and assist country-level action plans toward strengthening the social service workforce. With this broader goal in mind, the mapping process is meant to:

  • Examine the availability of workforce-supportive legislation and policies
  • Identify availability and duration of different levels of education and training
  • Document the existence and role of professional associations and regulatory bodies that establish licensing, competency standards and/or a professional code of ethics
  • Record the number of professional and para professional workers at the national and subnational levels, in government and non-government positions
  • Assess workers’ perceptions of work environment, supervision, job satisfaction, professional development, incentive systems and career paths.

Country experience of mapping the social service workforce

In Jordan, the Country-level Task Group led by the Ministry of Social Development has identified several key initiatives that will be informed and supported by the mapping and review, including the Social Work Professionalization initiative underway in the country. The high-level officials of the Ministry are also keen to share the Jordan experience of understanding workforce and strengthening its components at the level of the League of Arab States, as an example for other countries.

Indonesia has achieved significant advances in data collection for reviewing its workforce. Findings from a survey of 1,180 professional and paraprofessional workers employed by the state and non-state entities were discussed at the national stakeholder meeting held in Jakarta in August 2018. According to Dr. Kanya Eka Santi, Secretary for Director General of Social Welfare, preliminary findings will already be of use for the country, as the research and education body is currently working on identifying training needed for social service workers.

Country task group meeting in IndonesiaMaryam S.V. Nainggolan, Secretary General of the Consortium of Social Work of Indonesia, composed of 13 state and non-state social welfare organizations, acknowledged the importance of the new data for informing the legislation currently being developed in the country. The process of advocating for and drafting laws to professionalize and strengthen the workforce, initiated in 2012 at Bandung School of Social Work, will benefit from efforts to assess the social service workforce in Indonesia. “We need to have a good communication strategy to advocate for strengthening social work practice, and this is our responsibility. Findings of this mapping and assessment will contribute to our advocacy work on Social Work Practice Law,” says Mrs. Nainggolan.

Country task group meeting in Cambodia, August 2018Similarly, Cambodia echoes the national level goal on mapping of the social service workforce outlined in the Call to Action. Guided by the Action Plan for Improving Child Care and other national strategies, the country is implementing child care system reform aimed at family strengthening, development of alternative care options and reducing reliance on institutional care. The key role of the social service workforce in achieving these objectives and the importance of having current workforce data is fully acknowledged by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation of Cambodia and other partners in Cambodia.

”Family Care First wholeheartedly supports the mapping of the social service workforce in Cambodia.  We believe that the mapping will enable us, in partnership with the government, UNICEF and other NGOs, to more effectively plan our support services to the workforce. This will enable us to improve our targeting of support to vulnerable children and their families in Cambodia,” says John Statham, Senior Social Work Technical Advisor at Family Care First, Save the Children Cambodia. Save the Children, Social Services Cambodia and Family Care First have signed on to the Call to Action in a show of support for workforce strengthening efforts for implementing care reform.

Commitment of key stakeholders, including UNICEF at the global, regional and national levels, to gather details about the structure and needs of this workforce in different countries offers a strong opportunity for sharing promising practices and taking a systematic approach to strengthening the social service workforce.

The Alliance will soon produce a mapping toolkit, to be released in 2019, that will offer step- by-step guidance for carrying out national workforce assessments.


To date, 31 organizations have joined the Call to Action. Some examples of how these organizations are supporting workforce strengthening:

  • Helping Children Worldwide signed the Call to Action because the ideas outlined in it reflect major goals of the programs they support at the Child Rescue Centre (CRC) in Bo, Sierra Leone. CRC is transitioning child welfare programs from institutional care and orphanage model settings to family-based care within the community. Helping Children Worldwide and the Child Rescue Centre contribute to the knowledge exchange by working closely with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender Affairs as well as with other child-focused NGOs in the region and in the country, by meeting regularly to share knowledge and best practices at a time when all residential children’s programs in Sierra Leone are making the transition to family-based care.
  • Since it was established in 1948, FICE International has worked to create a global network of organizations and individuals with the common goal to improve the quality of child and youth care around the world. FICE organizes conferences and congresses for child and youth care professionals to connect, exchange knowledge, good practices and information, to increase their capacities to discuss and establish best practices for working with children without parental care, refugee youth and unaccompanied minors, education and learning challenges of children and adolescents in care, sexual abuse, aggressive behavior on the Internet, care leavers, and more.
  • The Asia Pacific Forum on Families International (APFAM) realizes the central role of the social service workforce in building stronger families to contribute to the balanced development of children, self-reliance and financial sufficiency. Strengthening of families is a key initiative for children's development and welfare. APFAM is a United Nations recognized organization with 10 member countries within the region.
  • Family Care First is a global initiative that seeks to uncover and advance transformational solutions to reduce the number of children growing up outside of safe, nurturing, family-based care. Cambodia was selected in 2015 to pilot this approach, the partnership of global and community partners from all sectors continues to expand. Social Services Cambodia and Save the Children are a part of this initiative.


Get Involved in Social Service Workforce Week

Join us this week in advocating for social service workers. Daily emails include a blog, links to resources, organization efforts underway and ways to get involved. We encourage you to share today's email and other resources from the week.

    Day 1, September 24: A Call to Action: Strengthening the Social Service Workforce to Better Protect Children and Achieve the
    Day 3, September 26: Development of a National Social Service Workforce Strengthening Strategy
    Day 4, September 27: Ending Violence Against Children Requires a Strong Social Service Workforce
    Day 5, September 28: Actions for Realizing a Stronger Social Service Workforce

We encourage you to get involved through the following methods:

  • Join the Twitter chat TODAY from 09:00-10:00 EDT to share the importance of a strong social service workforce for protecting children & achieving the SDGs. Follow and tag @SSWAlliance.
  • Download the Call to Action and share with your network. Available in English and Spanish.
  • Register for the webinar on Thursday, September 27: Ending Violence Against Children Requires a Strong Social Service Workforce, being jointly organized with UNICEF and the Global Partnership to End Violence. In advance of the webinar, review some best practices of integrating the social service workforce within National Plans of Action.
  • Circulate this email and the other daily blogs during to raise awareness and increase the number of supporters for strengthening the social service workforce. Or, invite a colleague to become a member, and they will receive updates directly.
  • Further your support through a donation to the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. Contributions will be used to support the Alliance’s work toward strengthening the workforce.
  • Download resources from the Alliance library and share resources from your organization.
Nicole Brown's picture

A Call to Action: Strengthening the Social Service Workforce to Better Protect Children and Achieve the SDGs

A Call to Action for Strengthening the SSWDay 1, September 24, Social Service Workforce Week

Today marks day one of Social Service Workforce Week. Celebrated annually for the last five years, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance invites you to get involved throughout the week in advocating for greater funding, policy and programmatic support for the social service workforce. The week’s theme is A Call to Action: Strengthening the Social Service Workforce to Better Protect Children and Achieve the SDGs, and we invite you to join these efforts.

To gain the attention and funding levels needed to ensure a well-trained, well-developed and well-supported workforce, greater advocacy efforts are needed. The Sustainable Development Goals provide an unprecedented opportunity to influence national and international development policy and programs while highlighting the intersections between the work of the social service workforce and those working on health challenges, violence prevention and migration. Through amplifying our collective voice, we can garner greater attention and actions to strengthen the frontline workforce that will be vital to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals,

Blogs, social media posts, case studies, worker profiles and new resources will be shared daily during Social Service Workforce Week to increase attention and prompt planning for realizing the recommendations within the recently launched Call to Action. This advocacy tool makes recommendations at the country and global level for governments to initiate, lead and engage in dialogue with partners for these efforts.


To date, 31 organizations have signed on to the Call to Action to show their shared commitment for a strong social service workforce that is best positioned to meet the needs of vulnerable children, youth, families and communities. Some examples of how these organizations are supporting workforce strengthening include:

  • HealthProm trains social service professionals working in the health, social care, and education sectors in areas ranging from child protection to inclusive education for children with disabilities. HealthProm strives to strengthen their capacity so that they can drive local change to improve services, reduce stigma, and strengthen relevant policy. In Tajikistan, HealthProm is working with UNICEF and the Tajik Government to advance training and legislature in child protection. In addition to jointly developing the first ever national guidelines on child protection, the organization also provides training for both government and non-government social service professionals.  
  • IntraHealth International has been able to act on the learning from situational analysis and support government system and workforce strengthening efforts at the national level in Botswana. Working with other NGOs and government, action has been taken to form a technical leadership team to assume ownership of national level efforts, complete an assessment of the existing system of enrolling children in social protection/welfare services (such as cash transfers and OVC grants), and determine which gaps to address within structures, systems and procedures. Based on results, the project is planning contributions to the launch of the government's new National Social Protection Framework.
  • To fulfill Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative’s (REPSSI) vision of all girls, boys and youth enjoying psychosocial and mental wellbeing, REPSSI country programs are encouraging government and other partners to establish or reinvigorate national level workforce leadership groups, or national Social Services Workforce task teams, in all 13 countries of East and Southern Africa where REPSSI works. REPSSI is committed to professionalizing the community-level social service workforce and collaborates with national academic institutions to achieve this.
  • Learn more about how UNICEF and the Global Partnership to End Violence are supporting social service workforce strengthening efforts nationally and globally during a webinar on Thursday, September 27. The webinar will feature speakers providing background about Pathfinder Countries and the National Plans of Action, UNICEF’s role in helping countries realize the strategies outlined in the INSPIRE package, advocacy efforts to call for greater attention to the workforce in these efforts, and a country-based example about the integration of workforce strengthening into national plans to address violence against children.


Join Us for a Week of Advocacy

Throughout the week, we will be highlighting the various ways that NGOs, country governments, UNICEF, and other collaborators are supporting social service workforce strengthening. Blogs during Social Service Workforce Week will include country case studies as examples of how country-level recommendations are being implemented and could be replicated in other countries. The blog on Day 5 will outline steps you and your organization can take toward achievement of the country and global level actions outlined in the Call to Action.


Get Involved

  • Download the Call to Action and share with your network. Available in English and Spanish.
  • Show your support by adding your organization's logo to the Call to Action. Email the Alliance with your organization's logo.
  • Share stories from your organization by emailing the Alliance about effective advocacy approaches you have implemented, including positive outcomes achieved, and country or global level actions as outlined in the Call to Action that you are involved in.
  • Circulate this blog and the other daily blogs during Social Service Workforce Week to raise awareness and increase the number of supporters for strengthening the social service workforce.
  • Join the Alliance by becoming a member. You will receive a daily email during Social Service Workforce Week and regular updates you can use to actively advocate for the workforce.
  • View the webcast from the Alliance’s 5th Annual Symposium on the launch of the Call to Action and remarks by Together for Girls and the World Bank on the importance of a strong social service workforce.
  • Further your support through a donation to the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. Contributions will be used to support the Alliance’s work toward strengthening the workforce.
Family  Services's picture

Celebrating the Role of Para Professional Workers in Children’s Lives

Mrs. ZodwaBlog by the Family Services Team at Cabrini Ministries Swaziland

In Honour of Universal Children's Day, we celebrate the work of paraprofessional staff who work with orphans and vulnerable children. For the past few decades, the faith-based organization of Cabrini Ministries in Swaziland has been working with most poor and vulnerable children, youth, and families in rural Swaziland, responding to issues related to HIV/AIDS and TB. Over the past five years, the organization’s response has taken into account not just the needs of the immediate community, but the region and the country as a whole as there has been an increasing need to further promote the welfare of children.

Zodwa Gama, a para professional case worker with the family services department of the organization, shares a bit about how she and the organization are helping vulnerable youth. Although her matrimonial home is in the city, Zodwa chooses to return to the area that she grew up in as a child week after week to work with the most poor and vulnerable in Swaziland’s Lubombo Lowveld. The rural lowveld has some of the highest rates of domestic violence, sexual abuse and poverty in the country. 

Zodwa has stated that there tend to be misunderstandings about what a caseworker does, especially in the rural areas, but once her role is explained most people realize that they can get more from the organization than just healthcare services, OVC care and education support. She has worked over 10 years within the organization. Zodwa’s daily tasks as a para professional caseworker include visits to homesteads, conducting family-centered assessments, liaising with community partners and providing psychosocial support. The aspects that she loves about being a case worker is working with people and getting to know them individually.

Two years ago, Zodwa assisted by providing psychosocial support to a 10-year-old girl who had been raped. The perpetrator died before being arrested. She involved the mandated governmental partners in the case. As the case progressed, there were new discoveries of suspected physical abuse involving caregivers of the child. After meetings with the child, family members, and local government partners, the child was placed with her maternal step-relatives. While her situation and case was deemed as a success after months of monitoring the new placement, two years later the same child’s case was reopened after receiving a call from the local police that there was an issue of suspected child trafficking. Zodwa, in disbelief, met with the local authorities, the family and the child survivor as issues were being sorted through. 

The local police took the lead on the case and Zodwa with the support of her team leader attended various family meetings. The child currently participates in individual and group counseling sessions from a professional counselor on the Family Services Team. Discussions are ongoing with the family about the safest long-term home, which is expected to be determined within the next month. 

This is just one brief example of how complex the daily work of the Zodwa and her team members can be and how important it is that she is present and ready to respond to the needs of vulnerable children

Zodwa believes that a person being respectful, being able to assist families with identifying their strengths and needs, not making false promises, and adhering to confidentiality are the most important skills needed by an effective case worker. Zodwa believes that the major result of her work and that of the department and the overall organization, is to bring back hope to children especially those who feel like they have no hope for a brighter future as a result of hardships they have faced.

This small community care organization has continued to respond to local needs by providing comprehensive and integrated services which include healthcare services, education support services, childcare services, family services, and psychosocial support services.

Through grant funding over the recent years, the organization has been able to able to influence policy, participate in national dialogues, and assist with government capacity building regarding issues involving orphan and vulnerable children, child protection and children’s rights issues, cultural competency, and family strengthening service provision. Yet the majority still remains to be on-the-ground which often times can be challenging and even dangerous for psychosocial support field staff. Some of the staff are survivors themselves; in which cultural sensitivity and confidentiality is held in the highest esteem.

The work of Zodwa and Cabrini Ministries Swaziland is just of many, many examples worldwide of social service workers who are committed to helping vulnerable children and families thrive. On Universal Children’s Day, we say thank you to all of these workers for their continued commitment and efforts. The importance of case management and the ways the social service workforce helps families who have been affected by violence will be furthered featured in new materials and tools being released by the Alliance in January and February.

To learn more about the work of Cabrini Ministries Swaziland go to:

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Advocating for the Profession on World Social Work Day 2018

World Social Work Day is celebrated annually on the third Tuesday of March and took place on March 20, 2018. Events have been held throughout the month of March by social workers and others in the social service sector to celebrate achievements as well as to raise awareness and support for the important role that social workers play in the lives of vulnerable families and communities. The day calls attention to the need for further planning, development and support to the profession and social service sector.

The 2018 World Social Day theme highlights ‘Promoting Community and Environmental Sustainability.’ This is the second and final year of featuring this theme from the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development.

The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) have special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council and therefore hold special events at the UN in New York and Geneva in celebration of World Social Work Day.

World Social Work Day event in GenevaUN Day in Geneva
A two-day event was organized in Geneva on March 20-21. The theme was ‘Social work and youth: towards inclusive sustainable development.’ The event was co-organized by IFSW, IASSW, the Schools of Social Work of Geneva and Fribourg, and the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). Natia Partskhaladze, senior technical advisor for the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, spoke at the event.

Ana Radulescu, European Vice President of IFSW, gave opening remarks at the event. “Social workers see the poverty every day and they also see growing resilience in people who make use of social workers’ support and services. The need to adapt to current and future challenges requires better access to social protection. Taking part in building the social welfare systems in the 21st century, social workers can ensure that the voice of most disadvantaged and excluded members of society is heard and that social inequalities are addressed and ‘no one is left behind.’”

A recording of the event is available on UNRISD’s Facebook page.

UN Day in New York
The 35th Annual Social Work Day at the United Nations was held on March 26 under the theme ‘SDGs, Climate Change and Social Work Practice.’ More than 700 participants from many countries and across the United States joined the event in New York, and it was also live webcast.

Shirley Gatenio Gabel, representing the IASSW, Fordham University and Commission on SW Education, gave an overview of the purpose of the event, which is to increase social workers’ understanding of the issues the UN is currently addressing and also to increase knowledge of the UN on the role of social workers and how they can be involved in addressing these issues.

Annamaria Campanini, President of IASSW, also provided opening remarks. She shared that there is a longstanding relationship between social work and addressing and adapting to environmental issues. Due to the many social inequities caused by environmental issues, particularly climate change, social workers are a key provider of services to those who are most vulnerable and most impacted. IASSW is committed to research in the field to better understanding and addressing environmental issues to mitigate inequalities, she said.

A student event was also organized the day prior.

Approximately 290 social workers, students from three universities and staff at 30 NGOs and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation attended a World Social Work Day event in Phnom Penh. The event included remarks from field social workers and faculty of several of the social work training institutions as well as entertainment by EpicArts, a group of people with disabilities who have created a series of song and dance performances that inspire and entertain. The event was hosted by the Association of Professional Social Workers of Cambodia, and supported by the Ministry, with material support from the Family Care First program. Attendees received polo shirts, tote bags and pens to carry the message of social work to their various workplaces. Cambodia adapted the IFSW message and materials to fit its environment and the focus of its social work promotion this year.

The Georgian Association of Social Workers is helping to host a regional conference and exchange on social work March 28-29. The two-day conference aims to foster the professionalization and capacity of national social work associations by bringing together multi-sectoral stakeholders from Armenia, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan to share results, learning and best practice models.

The Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) joined with the Indonesia Association of Social Workers to host several events throughout March. From March 12-25, a training on case management was held for 120 social workers from 32 provinces by the MOSA with support from Save the Children. “The training provided the basic case management skills that can be used for establishing social work practices. The practices of case management in Indonesia is designed to be embedded into government structure and programs,” said Tata Sudrajat, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Save the Children Indonesia. “The training aims to increase government support and protection of social work practices and ensure accountability and sustainability. In some provinces supported by Save the Children, local government …is financing the case management process and recruiting social workers.” Other activities included a competition among social work students on the theme of social development for poverty alleviation and hosting a discussion with social workers in Malaysia and Australia to exchange updates on social work in the region.

The Association of Medical Social Workers of Nigeria organized 153 medical social workers and 45 students to march to the office of the hospital administrator at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, to raise the issue of affordable care for their patients. They also hosted a radio call-in program to increase awareness on the role of social workers and gain support in advocating to the government to pass the social work regulatory bill that would regulate the practice of social work in Nigeria.

Northern Ireland
The Professional Association for Social Workers in Northern Ireland held an event under the theme of “Building Resilient Communities” and launched a campaign to call attention the important role social workers play in helping people with mental health problems. More than 400 social workers in the country provide mental health support and services.

Attendees to CRISOWO Conference march in KigaliRwanda
More than 500 attendees from 25 countries attended the East Africa Centre for Research and Innovation in Social Work (CRISOWO) Conference in Kigali, planned over World Social Work Day. Many of the presentations included a focus on strengthening the social service workforce and social service system. Three Global Social Service Workforce Alliance Ambassadors presented at the conference on effective advocacy for policy change, and Vishanthie Sewpaul, Steering Committee of the Alliance, spoke during the opening plenary. During the conference, a march was held through the streets of Kigali to raise awareness and support for social workers and their work for human rights, child rights and social justice. Hundreds of marchers were led by local police and a band. The march concluded at the genocide memorial with a rally to highlight the importance of social work activism.

The National Association of Social Workers Uganda organized several events during a two-week period under the IFSW theme and sub-theme “Social work and my environment.” Members and social work universities distributed supplies to area medical centers. They hosted a discussion for 700 social work students, held a national Forum and conducted a press briefing to garner attention from media and government. To help call attention to the role of para social workers as part of the workforce, the association and the Bantwana Initiative developed worker profiles to be shared at their Forum. Read two of these profiles about the work of Aseu Apollo and Fredrick Oyapel.

United Kingdom
The British Association of Social Workers held a conference and also announced that they have signed a landmark co-operation agreement with the Social Workers Union (SWU). Trade union representatives at SWU are also trained as social workers to be able to provide advice and representation to social workers.

The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy Social Work Day on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, was postponed due to weather. The event annually salutes the many social workers working with the federal government to create a more just and equitable society for all people and calls on Congress to continue supporting social services. There are currently eight professional social workers serving in the House and Senate of the United States Congress. March is Social Work Month in the United States.

To help local chapters in planning events, gaining media attention and advocating to policymakers, the National Association of Social Workers developed a number of promotional and campaign materials, which are available for download from the NASW Website.

Resources and Learning Events
In honor of World Social Work Day, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance shared a number of new resources and learning opportunities. The 2017 State of the Social Service Workforce Report highlights the many ways that the social service workforce positively impacts children and families who have been victims of violence. A webinar is being planned for April 12 to review the report finding and recommendations. The Alliance also announced the full agenda for the 5th Annual Social Service Workforce Strengthening Symposium. Register now to attend in person or online on May 8.

The Alliance has also developed a Global Advocacy Toolkit for the Social Service Workforce to provide a common narrative on advocating for the workforce. The toolkit includes factsheets, stories, data and infographics to assist with outreach efforts to policymakers. An infographic depicts the important role of the workforce in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The toolkit will help with continued advocacy throughout the year.

World Social Work Day is an opportunity to raise support and attention for the profession, but the need to proactively promote the valuable contributions made by the social service workforce is needed all year long. If you have more information about events held in your country, please add information in comments below to this blog. View the photo album on our Facebook page of photos from events held around the world.

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World Social Work Day Reinforces Need for a Strong Social Service Workforce to Attain Our Global Goals

(Originally appeared on the Frontline Health Workers Coalition blog, March 21, 2017)Infographic on achieving SDGs

Today we mark World Social Work Day to increase attention and political will for greater planning, development and support to the social service workforce. Celebrated the second Tuesday in March annually since 1983, World Social Work Day celebrates the achievements of social workers and other vital cadres of the social service workforce in improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities where they live and work. The social service workforce, comprised of social workers and many other paid and unpaid governmental and non-governmental workers, is often undervalued and doesn’t receive the national and global recognition and support needed to ensure an appropriate number of trained workers are available to meet the needs of their communities. 

Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 calls for ending all forms of violence against children. Approximately 1 billion children worldwide have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence in the last year alone.[1] This places a huge burden upon the social service workforce. The consequences of physical, psychological and sexual violence against children can be as high as $7 trillion.[2] In the East Asia and Pacific US, the cost is equivalent to 2 percent of the region’s GDP.[3] Social workers and others in the social service workforce play a vital role in preventing and addressing violence. Collaboration with other allied workforces is necessary to link children to services, including health care, mental health and psychosocial support, HIV-related services, child protection, legal assistance, and government benefits they may be entitled to.

In 2013, UNICEF launched the #ENDViolence initiative and developed the Ending Violence Against Children: Six Strategies for Action.[4] Community volunteers, para professional workers, child and youth care workers, child protection officers and social workers, among other specialized frontline social service workers, have an important role in implementation of these strategies. They live and work in the community and are first responders in helping vulnerable children and families. During the 34th regular session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, Maria Santos Pais, outlined the importance of strengthening multisectoral partnerships and mobilizing significant resources to meet violence-related targets set in the 2030 Agenda.[5] Data has been gathered through national child protection surveys in 14 countries to document the magnitude, nature and impact of violence against children. The data is intended to inform policy, planning and budgeting.[6]

Yet the social service workforce needs greater planning, development and support to ensure the right number of workers with appropriate training are positioned to meet the needs of vulnerable populations. In Indonesia, for example, the current ratio of 1 social service worker for every 38,551 people is inadequate.[7] To raise the profile of these workers, the Association of Social Workers in Indonesia is launching a campaign to time with World Social Work Day to attract more social work students.

In Cambodia, there are only three higher degree programs for social work students.[8] Limited university level training has resulted in a lack of recognition and support for the social work profession from communities, NGOs and the government.[9] Social Services of Cambodia is partnering with other NGOs on a year-long advocacy campaign, launching this month, aimed at increasing public understanding and appreciation of the social service workforce.

In the United States, the National Association of Social Workers is the largest social work association in the world, with 120,000 members. Their month-long advocacy campaign, “Social Workers Stand Up,” demonstrates how social workers stand up for vulnerable groups. The campaign includes proclamations, public service announcements and infographics aimed at promoting national legislation of interest to the profession.[10] Advocacy campaign materials and ideas were shared during a recent webinar hosted by the Alliance.

The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance aims to support this work through bringing together groups and individuals in order to provide a forum for discussion, sharing of promising practices and tools, and exchanging innovative approaches toward advocacy, all with the aim of strengthening the social service workforce. To aid members’ efforts in effectively advocating at the national level, the Alliance is creating an advocacy toolkit. As part of this work, it has developed an infographic aimed at depicting how a strong social service workforce is vital to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

When these workers are best positioned to protect the youngest, most vulnerable members of the community, the global community benefits. Let’s support the social service workforce in ensuring that a childhood free of violence is not a dream but rather a reality for all children.

Established in June 2013, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance currently has 1,200 members across 100 countries. Learn more on how to support efforts to strengthen this important workforce at

[1] World Health Organization, Global Health Observation data, http:///

[2] Paola Pereznieto, Andres Montes, Lara Langston, Solveig Routier. ODI and ChildFund Alliance. The Cost and Economic Impact of Violence Against Children. 2014.

[3] Estimating the Economic Burden of Violence against Children in East Asia and the Pacific. UNICEF 2015.

[5] Human Rights Council, 34th Session, February 27 - March 24, 2017, Agenda item 3, Annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children.

[6] Centers for Disease Control and Together for Girls Violence against Children Surveys (VACS).

[7] Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. State of the Social Service Workforce Report. 2015.

[8] Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. State of the Social Service Workforce Report. 2015.

[9] Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. Review of Legislation and Policies that Support the Social Service Workforce in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. 2016.

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Strengthening Parenting Skills and Increasing Involvement of Men in Children’s Lives

Blog by Amanda Melville, UNICEF South AfricaMENCARE Program

Involvement of fathers in caring for infants and children benefits not only children, but also mothers and fathers[1]. To strengthen father and other male caregivers’ positive role in children’s lives, the Men Care South Africa program was launched in 2015. Since then, more than 350 social workers and 190 child and youth care workers have been trained and supported to implement the program.

“I have seen the MenCare program change men in my community,” said Simah Dhlini, a 35-year-old trained as a child and youth care worker conducting parenting training for men through the program.

From the Eastern Cape in South Africa, Simah progressed in her career as a CYCW in 2006 to become a facilitator for youth empowerment and early education programs. She is a part of the Isibindi program that is administered by the National Association of Child Care Workers. Born in a family of five, she grew up with her two sisters and two brothers and her siblings’ many children in a two-room house. In 2006 she became a Child and Youth Care Worker in Eastern Cape and progressed in her career to become a facilitator for the Youth Empowerment program in 2013 and the ECD program in 2016. 

Initiated in South Africa in response to the HIV epidemic, which left many children orphaned or vulnerable, Isibindi is a community-based program that strengthens families and helps to protect children from abuse, neglect and violence. Endorsed by the Government, Isibindi focuses on the psychosocial well-being of children and adolescents by supporting positive caregiving in the most disadvantaged households and assisting families to access key services. Child and Youth Care Workers are drawn from unemployed members of the community and receive accredited training to deliver home visits, work in Safe Parks, and offer parenting and youth empowerment programs to vulnerable children and their families. One of the challenges identified by CYCWs in their daily work was how to more effectively engage fathers and other male caregivers in efforts to care and protect children. Due to migration, the legacy of Apartheid, the impact of HIV and AIDS, delayed marriage and GBV, South Africa has one of the highest rates of absent fathers, with only 37% of children living with their biological fathers. This situation, together with cultural perceptions that child care is the ‘woman’s responsibility’, fathers and other male caregivers too often have a limited role in their children’s lives. 

The MenCare South Africa program was created and launched in 2015 to strengthen the involvement of men as fathers and as caregivers. A partnership of Sonke Gender Justice, UNICEF and NACCW, the program consists of 12 sessions that help to strengthen the relationship between children and their male caregivers by increasing men’s active involvement in childrearing and promoting gender equality and nonviolent parenting practices. Evaluations have shown a number of benefits of the program on participants, including more equal division of caregiving between men and women. 

In 2017, Simah was one of the 190 Child and Youth Care Workers trained on the MENCARE program. The program provided her with confidence and skills to engage with the young men. It helped to change her own attitudes and beliefs regarding men and child care. For instance, Simah previously feared working with men, because of the generally higher social position that men hold compared to women. Through the MenCare program, she learned what questions to ask and how to approach the opposite sex. In addition, the program helped her understand that although traditionally men are not encouraged to express their emotions, men oftentimes have deep-rooted feelings from how they were raised as children that impact their attitudes and behaviours once they themselves become fathers. 

The initial feedback from participants indicated a range of benefits of the program: men felt valued, appreciated and listened to, it provided the opportunity for the men to share experiences and allowed fathers to express their emotions, contributing to changing gender stereotypes. In addition, the program provided an opportunity for fathers and other male caregivers to explore intergenerational transmission of parenting practices: fathers discussed the impact of their experiences as children on both their life and their parenting beliefs and practices, including a sense of being neglected by their own fathers. Participants understanding of the importance of fathers being involved in childcare increased, as did their practical knowledge on issues such as changing nappies, helping in the household, supporting their partners during pregnancy, being more active in family routines and establishing the baby-father bond with very young children. The program also had a ripple effect, with participants becoming change agents in their communities. Concrete actions included male carers wanting to create structured committees to fight violence in their community and becoming advocates in their communities for men’s involvement in parenting.

The transformative impact of the MenCare program is illustrated through the story of one of the participants in Simah’s sessions - Tshepo. Tshepo is a 29 year-old man who grew up living with his mother and three brothers and did not know his father. He dropped out of school in 2007 while in Grade 11 in order to look after his sick mother and younger brother. In October 2016 his mother passed away and he then also lost his younger brother in August 2017. He has two children who are currently living with his girlfriend Gloria, 7 year-old Ayanda and 4 year-old Martin. When he joined the program, he was feeling hopeless and did not want to speak about his past. Through the program, he realised that his feelings of anger and sadness about his past – being abandoned by his father, the death of his mother and brother, and his responsibilities to care for his two ill brothers – were negatively impacting his relationship with his own children. For the first time, he opened up about his feelings of his past and present situation. He began to let go of the past situation and began to build a better relationship with his children and take responsibility for them. He also began job seeking in order to support his brothers and his children.   

Tshepo is now an advocate to other men in his community for increased involvement in child care and stopping abuse of children and women. He has organized events to address a local soccer team, spoke at community meetings during Child Protection Week, and volunteered and mentored young men in youth empowerment programs in Safe Parks and school camps.  Sharing the knowledge and motivation he gained through MenCare, he works tirelessly in his community to help young men understand to the importance of taking care of their family and helps them to be good fathers or male caregivers.

"The Men care program has played a huge role in bringing about change in myself but also my community at large. I see things differently now, and as a man, I am a better partner, father and man. Isibindi brought a program that is different and that helped remove the heavy load that has been on my shoulders for many years." - Tshepo

[1] State of the World’s Fathers Report, 2017

Photo credit: Sarah Isaacs, Sonke Gender Justice

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To Make Children Count, You Must First Count Children

Blog written by Kristen Wenz, MSW

October 17 marks the 30th anniversary of International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and birth registration is one means for helping to end the cycle of poverty. As a social worker who was recently recruited as a Child Protection Specialist and global birth registration focal point at UNICEF, I’d like to highlight the important role that we as the social service workforce can play in helping achieve the SDGs, including ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, through birth registration.

Birth registration is a key part of a civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system in a country. More than 1/3 (67 of the 230) SDG indicators, require data generated through functioning Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) systems for effective monitoring

(World Bank Group, 2017).

Why Does Birth Registration Matter?

Birth registration and subsequent documentation (birth certificate and other legal identity documents) establishes a person’s legal existence and is considered to be a person’s first right. Children who have not had their births registered often go uncounted, and are more likely to be excluded from services such as healthcare, social services and education. Birth registration provides proof of place of birth and family ties on which nationality is determined and therefore can prevent statelessness.[1]

There are 625 million unregistered births globally for children between 0-14 years of age[2] contributing to the estimated 1.5 billion people globally who lack proof of legal identity.4 The global lack of identity is known as the ‘Scandal of Invisibility’. It is often the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society who are unregistered. Children who unable to prove their age are at risk of harmful child labor, being denied their rights to juvenile justice and may be forced to marry or be recruited into armed forces before the legal age.[3] For youth, not having a birth certificate may be an obstacle for joining the formal job sector or completing their education.[4] Later in life not having your birth registered may prevent you from registering the birth of your own children- perpetuating the cycle of exclusion and non-registration.

China’s Barefoot “Social Workers”

The “Barefoot Social Worker” or Child Welfare Directors have become the human face of a child centered, child-and HIV-sensitive social service system in rural China. Through their action, some 80,000 children are now able to enroll in school, receive vaccination, health care and social assistance. In remote communities, especially amongst migrant communities, civil registration documents were of lesser significance than a potato harvest. Without the support of the social workers, some children would have been denied an education and basic health care, including medical treatment, because they had no birth certificate or a residence identity. UNICEF provided technical assistance and financing for child welfare director positions to support community-level social work services. The model has been scaled up with government funds in more than 3,000 villages in Zhejiang, Guangdong and Shenzhen provinces. The Government of China, seeing the results, has launched an effort to build the scheme nationwide. UNICEF will continue to assist the Ministry of Civil Affairs on the development of the barefoot social worker for all communities and villages, increasing the amount and coverage of cash assistance to different categories of vulnerable children.

China’s Barefoot Social Worker, Innovating for Children, Innovation for Equity. (UNICEF, 2013)

The poorest and most marginalized populations are least likely to have their birth registered which in turn increases their vulnerability of being missed (uncounted) or denied access to essential health services. Children living in poverty are almost twice as likely to die before age five compared to children from more wealthy households.[5] Therefore unregistered children of poor households are at risk of both their births and deaths being omitted from civil registration systems, leading to an under-reporting of births and deaths for the world’s poorest.

Birth Registration for Migrants and Refugees

Knowing the number of people requiring protection and assistance determines the amount of food, water, shelter and education and health facility needs. There are an estimated 50 million children on the move in the world today. The need for solid evidence to develop better policies on child migration has never been greater. Emergencies and forced displacement of people infringe on many rights of women and children, including the right to a name and identity, from which other human and civil rights are founded. Lack of identification may prevent displaced people from returning home after an emergency. Furthermore, not having population data generated through CRVS systems, linked migrant populations pose major challenges in planning or providing services as well as monitoring the effectiveness of interventions.

The Social Service Workforce and Birth Registration

Social services are intended to support the most vulnerable members of society. As the social service workforce our job is to ensure people in need have access to the services they are entitled. If so many of the most marginalized and most in need of services are excluded from services because of a lack of identity documents, how can we fully do our jobs? If our clients are legally invisible, how can we as a workforce advocate for sufficient government resources needed to make an impact?

This year’s theme for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is a call to action for a path toward peaceful and inclusive societies. To ensure vulnerable families are fully included and receive the services they are entitled to, we must ensure they are counted by being registered at birth. As frontline workers, we see this “invisible population” every day, therefore we are the ones who can help make the invisible- VISIBLE

[1] Stateless persons are defined under international law as persons who are not considered as nationals by any State under the operation of its law. In other words, they do not possess the nationality of any State.

[2] World Bank Group ID4D, Global dataset, 2015

[3] United Nations Children’s Fund. Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and Trends in Birth Registration, UNICEF, New York, 2013

[4] United Nations Children’s Fund. A Passport to Protection: A Guide to Birth Registration Programming, UNICEF, New York, 2013.