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Kelley Bunkers's picture

Together, we can! Strengthening the capacity of multi-disciplinary teams within the Guatemalan child protection workforce

Contributed by Kelley Bunkers, formerly a child protection consultant and currently Child Protection and Welfare Systems Technical Director at 4Children and member of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Group photo of training participantsI joined with Jini Roby (Professor of Social Work at Brigham Young University) to develop two training modules for Buckner Guatemala. The trainings were launched in June 2015 with two sessions of two-day trainings to highlight the important role of multi-disciplinary teams, such as social workers, psychologists and pedagogues, within the Guatemalan child protection system in general and the court system specifically. We traveled to Guatemala City, Guatemala, to hold these trainings from June 8-12, 2015, which were hosted by Buckner Guatemala, with support from the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund (DCOF) and the Guatemalan Court System.  

The two modules, jointly developed by Buckner Guatemala’s “Semillas de Esperanza” (Fostering Hope Guatemala) project and the Guatemalan School of Judicial Studies were titled: Values, Knowledge and Interpersonal Skills for Child Protection and Alternative Care. Jini and I contributed to the development of the modules in a participatory process that was informed and reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team of experts representing Guatemalan child welfare government bodies, academic institutions and representatives from child-focused organizations.

The June training was officially launched by Fostering Hope Guatemala a Project of Buckner and the Guatemalan Judicial System and included key note speeches from the Chilean Ambassador to Guatemala, Ambassador Domingo Namuncura. The participation of Ambassador Namuncura was particularly relevant given that he is a trained social worker and he has contributed significant work in human rights related efforts within Chile. The presentations by guest speakers and the content of the two training modules we presented focused on the values and skills of the multi-disciplinary team including the important role of coordination between the legal and the psychosocial sectors in providing a holistic response to children.  Participants shared interesting real life examples from Chile and Guatemala, which illustrated how the child protection system continues to be strengthened in these countries. We also divided participants into small groups to interact and raise questions. Participants agreed that these sessions provided useful opportunities for them to reflect and discuss the training content. 

The module on alternative care proved to be especially interesting to participants given the important role that multi-disciplinary teams have in the assessment, referral, case management and follow up procedures involved in the decision making process of alternative care. Participants were particularly interested in learning more about the evidence base related to both residential and family based care. Very few participants were familiar with the Guidelines on Alternative Care of Children so the information provided was especially relevant. Participants also suggested that Guatemala develop its own National Guidelines for Alternative Care to ensure that they were contextually appropriate and informed by real life experiences of children and families. 

I engaged with participants in lively discussions around this issue. They developed concrete ideas about how they could take the information learned in the training and incorporate it into their daily work. Examples included sharing information on the detrimental effects of residential care on children’s development with judges to help influence and inform their decisions related to alternative care. Participants also stressed the need to improve linkages with local service providers to strengthen community based family strengthening services that aim to prevent separation and eventual placement in residential care.

Pre-service and in-service trainings remain an important aspect of the training multi-disciplinary teams receive, including social workers. UNESCO data from 2013 shows that 293,721 students in Guatemala are engaged in higher education; approximately 5,000 of those are studying social work.

Abigail Alvarez Och, a Professor of Social Work at a university in Guatemala City, shared with me that many of her students have chosen their career path because they come from very humble backgrounds and can easily relate to the personal experiences of many of their clients. She has spent the past 24 years working in the social service sector. Now the Director of Gender and Ethnic Equality within the Presidential Secretariat for Planning and Programming, she was involved in the recent drafting of the National Plan of Action for Development K’atun Nuestra Guatemala 2032.  The plan is centered on human development and finding the means to guarantee the participation and fulfillment of rights of Guatemalan citizens, including children. “I utilized a lot of my social work background and theory to inform the drafting of this important document,” she said.

The training modules we developed were officially endorsed by the Guatemala School of Judicial Studies (GSJS) in a formal ceremony attended by government representatives from both Guatemala and the United States. I was excited to learn that the training will also be mandatory pre-service training for all new social workers, pedagogues and psychologists and required in-service training for existing staff of multi-disciplinary teams. The GSJS will offer the training utilizing the trainer’s guide that we developed together with the student manual. Both manuals, Manual del Docente and Manual del Estudiante, are now available publicly, in Spanish. As Guatemala continues to strengthen its social service workforce across all sectors, the skills developed through these trainings will be invaluable toward advancing child protection, alternative care and psychosocial support.

Nicole Brown's picture

Once an At-Risk Youth, Thembi Becomes a Child & Youth Care Worker

Contributed by the National Association of Child Care Workers, South Africa

After Thembi’s* parents passed away from an illness when she was in Grade 11, she and her brother, in Grade 8 at the time, moved in with their grandmother. It was not an easy transition for any of them.

The grandmother did not work; in fact, she was old enough to be dependent upon government grants for the elderly. The money was not adequate for her to cope with the sudden growth in the household and with the needs of two growing school-aged children. She was not able to afford the children’s school uniforms and other material needs. They were struggling, with no means to access what was needed to steer them out of their bleak reality. The highly stressful situation impacted the grandmother’s health; she developed a high-blood pressure condition. 

Unfortunately, the story is not uncommon in the many granny-headed families in South Africa. If the parents pass away, there is oftentimes no financial, material or psychosocial support for the children. Sometimes proper identification is not available. Who helps vulnerable children to respond to these crises?

A Child and Youth Care Worker Intervenes

In 2010, Lungi, an Isibindi Child and Youth Care Worker (CYCW) intervened. She explained the program, its purpose and services to the grandmother. Developed and implemented by the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW), the Isibindi program is serving more than 180,000 orphans, at-risk or vulnerable children throughout South Africa. Each worker aids up to 48 children, monitoring a child’s progress, acting as their confident and providing support in any areas as needed in a child’s life. CYCWs build relationships with children through interaction in typical daily routines- cooking together, reading, household chores and life skills.

The grandmother was both pleased and relieved to be immediately registered in the program and receive additional support for herself as well as the children. The CYCW assisted the family in applying to the Department of Social Development for a foster grant. She also helped with Christmas gifts during that first, difficult year. Over time, this new, blended family was able to begin saving money toward future schooling.

Lungi saw the need for grief counseling to help the family cope with their losses. In addition, life-space counselling played a big role in teaching the family to communicate and develop routines for sharing responsibility for household chores and they were taught effective behavior management skills to strengthen their family. Lungi also encouraged and supported the family to grow a food garden; this project was a great success and was even formally approved by the Department of Agriculture.

The CYCW also arranged for the children to participate in the city’s soup kitchen breakfasts and lunches. With a full belly, the children were better able to concentrate on their school work. She also participated in regular school visits and helped with homework.

Thembi Joins the Isibindi TeamThembi graduates from a local college

Thembi completed her schooling in 2011; then her CYCW advocated successfully for funds to enable her to further her education. She was accepted into the Human Resources program at at local college in 2012. Following graduation, in 2014, Lungi further encouraged Thembi to apply for a CYCW post. She was selected for the job in this exciting new initiative – once an at-risk youth herself, she had now graduated to become a service provider to others facing difficult situations.

“The skills that are important to me as a CYCW are observation, communication, listening and facilitation,” said Thembi. “My relationship with Lungi means a lot. She taught me the importance of education and loving life. She is an important role model to me.”

Meaning “courage” in IsiZulu, the Isibindi program is in the second year of a five-year scale up and is being funded by PEPFAR through USAID. With a goal of training 10,000 CYCWs, to date 4,402 CYCWs have been trained.

Read Part 2 of Thembi's story next month. Her story will be posted as a blog and included in the December member e-update.

*Names changed to protect identity

Anonymous's picture

The Alliance Joins 53 Signatories Calling on Global Action for Children

The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance (the Alliance) is proud to join 52 leading children’s and disability rights organizations in calling on the UN Statistical Commission and Inter-Agency Expert Group on the Sustainable Development Goal Indicators to ensure children living outside of families are a part of the SDGs. NGOs and other civil society bodies have been encouraged to give their views on the Indicators, which will make up the monitoring framework and allow progress against the goals to be assessed.

While all children count, not all children are counted. The document “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Global Action” calls for children’s holistic needs to be fully addressed, including health care, education, and protection from violence, exploitation and abuse. The Alliance supports efforts to ensure that we ‘leave no one behind’ in the post-2015 global development agenda.

As one of the signatories, the Alliance joins in the following recommendations:

  • Ensure that children living outside of household and/or without parental care are represented in disaggregated data. If the Post-2015 agenda is to leave no one behind, it is essential that the global monitoring framework includes methodologies to ensure that children living outside of households and/or without parental care are represented and that data is used to inform targeted, appropriate, and accessible interventions.
  • Improve and expand data collection methodologies to ensure all children are represented. The post‐2015 global monitoring framework offers an opportunity to do more and better on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable children – ensuring, first and foremost, that they are no longer invisible.

It is estimated that anywhere from 2-8 million children live outside of family care. Most of these children are not orphans and have family members who could provide care with the right support. Given the importance of a strong workforce to provide this support, the Alliance feels it is important to ensure that any enumeration of children outside of family care include collection of workforce data to assist with adequate workforce planning and development to best support family-based care.

The letter to UN Expert Group states: “All children count, but not all children are counted. As a result, some of the world’s most vulnerable children – those without parental care or at risk of being so; in institutions or on the street; trafficked; separated from their families as a result of conflict or disaster; or recruited into armed groups – have largely fallen off the UN’s statistical map. There are only limited data about how many children live in such precarious circumstances, except for scattered estimates from some specific countries.”

The Inter-Agency Expert Group will next meet again in Bangkok from October 26-28, and a final set of indicators is expected to be completed by early 2016. The Alliance joins the voices of support in calling for all children to be counted in these final indicators.

Nicole Brown's picture

Improving Access to Services for Children and Families Through Collaboration Among Health Workers and Social Service Workers

When health workers and social service workers collaborate to enhance community capacity to care for children and adolescents, vulnerable children and families reap the benefits. Last month, I witnessed first-hand some of those benefits.

Global evidence shows that children orphaned by AIDS or living with HIV-positive caregivers face an increased risk of physical and emotional abuse as compared to other children in sub-Saharan Africa, including other orphans. They also face stigma, neglect and many other issues that negatively impact their psychosocial wellbeing.

To strengthen linkages and referral systems between community and government service providers, the Bantwana Initiative was developed by World Education Initiative (WEI) and is an initiative of WEI and John Snow, Inc. The program prides itself on “innovative models of care that are based on existing community structures and address children’s comprehensive needs.” The program is supporting vulnerable children and families in Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, and in Zimbabwe, which I recently visited.

In Zimbabwe, nearly one in four children has lost one or both parents, most due to HIV/AIDS, and 1 in 11 children die before age five due to HIV-related illnesses.[1] Additionally, there were an estimated 1.2 million Zimbabweans living with HIV/AIDS in 2011, 200,615 were children under age 15.[2] Many of these children acquired HIV from their HIV-infected mothers during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding, with mother-to-child transmission accounting for virtually all new HIV infections among infants in Zimbabwe. There are also a total of 1.2 million children of school going age, between 3-16 years, who were out of school in 2012 and 843,266 people (ages 5-24 years) had never been to school[3]. Overall, more than one quarter of children between 3 to 16 years were out of school. To combat these staggering statistics, Bantwana developed an integrated pediatric HIV/AIDS care and treatment program and is working closely with the government to strengthen the social service system.

I had the opportunity to meet Shelton Tshuna, one of the 9,765 community-level child care workers trained across 65 districts throughout Zimbabwe. The neighborhood where he works is familiar and convenient to him because it’s in his backyard. We drove less than 10 minutes from the tourist town of Victoria Falls to his community in the Chinotimba area. Only an SUV would be able to travel the paths of this village, for when we stepped out of the car, golden dust half covered our shoes.

Meeting of CCWsI attended a meeting of 21 child care workers (CCWs) as they discussed some of the issues facing their community and how they can best address them. They’re easily recognizable, as each wears a t-shirt and hat that announce them as a child care worker within the community. They’ve received training to be sensitive to the needs of children living with HIV, case management procedures, and some psychosocial support. They’ve also attended a course on basic counselling and communication, receiving a certificate upon completion. The CCWs have come to gain the trust of their neighbors and are viewed as a formal role within the community, leading to community participation in identifying children in need of the CCW’s help. The CCWs work with the Child Protection Committee and Village Health Worker to implement an integrated approach to addressing the children's overall well-being.

Shelton meets with the family“Working with the community is important,” Shelton told me. As a CCW for the last 1.5 years, he’s spent months getting to know 13-year-old Khethiwe* and gaining the trust of his grandfather. The boy moved from another area of Zimbabwe last year after his mother, father and younger brother all died from HIV. His grandfather and a maternal aunt are now his caregivers. Out-of-school for a period, Shelton helped Khethiwe re-enroll in school. He told me that social studies is his favorite class. He’s also begun making new friends. In fact, he was playing soccer with them when we arrived. The transition hasn’t been easy, though. Shelton visits Khethiwe and his caregivers frequently, which is apparent from their casual, friendly interaction.

Prior to Shelton’s help, the grandfather told me their “situation was pathetic, and we couldn’t afford much.” Shelton is helping enroll the family in World Vision’s food program, to ensure Khethiwe receives adequate, nutritious meals to help with his own HIV status. He’s also now receiving ARV treatments and paperwork is underway to obtain his birth certificate, which will help the family to access additional benefits and services from the government and volunteer organizations.

Bantwana is also collaborating with UNICEF and Zimbabwe’s Department of Social Services (DSS) on a three-year case management project. As part of the scale-up, CCWs receive training to work with vulnerable children until they no longer need their services. Through the program, DSS social work staff will be deployed to 30,000 vulnerable households by 2017, Yvonne Mandikutse, a child welfare officer with the government told me.

To-date, the program is having great results, some of these I witnessed first-hand. In Shelton’s ward, in the last year, community members have increased their sensitization to neglect and sexual abuse, leading to increased reporting of these issues; two children were reunited with their families; 34 students were re-enrolled in school; and CCWs helped 34 children/families to obtain birth certificates, necessary to help the families qualify for additional aid and support.

“How to handle children in distress is critical to training of para professionals. We’ve trained close to 1,500 para social workers. Strengthening of formal and informal systems to increase the wellbeing of children begins at the community level,” said Edton Babu Ndyabahika, Deputy Country Director, Bantwana Initiative, Uganda.

The need for more and better integrated services is beginning to receive more attention. I joined more than 400 attendees from 27 countries, largely within sub-Saharan Africa, at the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative Forum (REPSSI Forum) in Zimbabwe for three days in September to discuss the importance and challenges of integrating child protection, HIV programming and psychosocial support by strengthening community level linkages. There, I met Edton and several others from Bantwana’s other country programs, who all shared examples of why this is important and how it’s making a difference in their countries.

“Strengthening the framework of psychosocial support must remain embedded in social services. Exposure to best practices and the exchange of knowledge adds quality to psychosocial support,” said Priscah Mupfumira, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Zimbabwe, in her address to Forum attendees.

Initiatives like Bantwana in Zimbabwe are making this case on the ground, effectively integrating a case management model into existing government social services and extending the government’s reach to the children and families who need support most.

Ashenafi presents during an Alliance Forum sessionAs a co-sponsor of the REPSSI Forum, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, the organization where I work, held three sessions on the importance of supporting community-level workers (or para professional workers), including increased training and recognition, so that they can be best utilized toward strengthening these community linkages. Community-level workers play critical roles in linking programs to health facilities, reinforcing promising practices, uniting organizations and government, and promoting a referral system. Largely community volunteers, these workers oftentimes lack the training and recognition to work hand-in-hand with health workers and others providing and advocating for children’s well-being. To help address these gaps, the Alliance’s Interest Group on Para Professionals, comprised of dedicated members of the Alliance, developed a competency framework. This new resource outlines functions and competencies of para professional social service workers. It is our hope it will be used to provide program guidance, accountability and ultimately inform training and supervision of para professionals.

It takes a strong social service workforce to provide the best care for vulnerable populations. The Alliance celebrates people like Shelton who are committed to making this dream a reality and supports these linkages through conferences, tools and resources.


*Child's name has been changed to protect his identity.

[1] The National Strategic Plan for Eliminating New HIV Infections in Children and Keeping Mothers and Families Alive (2011-2015)

[2] MOHCW AIDS & TB Unit Annual Report 2011

[3] UNICEF Commissioned a 'National Assessment of Out of School Children,' Dr Jeanette Manjengwa, June 2015

Additional resource:
Protection and resilience: A simple checklist for why, where and how to coordinate HIV and child protection policy and programming, introduced at the REPSSI Forum during a session presented by

Jim McCaffery's picture

A Competency Framework for Para Professional Social Service Workers

by Jim McCaffery, Chair, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance Steering Committee

Welcome to Day Five of Social Service Workforce Week! This week, as you probably know, we have been celebrating the work of community level social ervice workers. Given the critical role these community workers play every day in providing care and support to children and families, it has been our premise that they form the backbone of a strong social service system.

We hope that through the various methods and communication channels this week – blogs, worker profiles, web visits, tweets, and so on – we have all gained a better understanding of what they do and how they do it. And that we would appreciate both the individual stories as well as the overall perspectives and tools that have been highlighted.

As we look at the bigger picture of community level social service workers, one cannot help but be impressed by the great diversity of roles and services that they provide. While this is a real strength in that community level work must fit different contexts, it also poses a challenge -- the functions and activities of these workers are not well described or delineated within or across countries. Training, credentialing, supervision and evaluation of para professional community social services vary as well based on local context, the existence or lack of formal social services or social welfare structures as well as the professional and local cultural stance on how vulnerable people are to be supported and helped.

Recognizing this, the Alliance formed the Interest Group on Para Professionals in the SSW (IGPP) in September 2013, which has been open to all members of the Alliance. Zeni Thumbadoo, National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers in South Africa, and Nathan Linsk, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago, co-facilitate the group. Currently there are more than 30 member participants who represent seven countries from North America, Europe and Africa.

The Competency Framework for Para Professional Social Service Workers

The group developed a competency framework for para professionals that outlines the functions and competencies and can be used to provide program guidance, accountability and ultimately inform both training and supervision. 

Today, we are releasing the full document, including the guiding principles and competency framework. We hope that all of you will take a look, try it out and provide feedback to make the next edition even more robust.

You can find the competency framework here.

Let me say a few words about the three key sections of the document:

1) Guiding Principles

The purpose of this section is to provide a set of principles that will be a useful base from which to develop programs and activities related to how programs can work to better plan, develop and support para professional social service workers. (For additional information on the Guiding Principles, please see the day one blog.)

2) Core Functions and Competencies

The purpose of describing core functions and competencies is to more clearly define the range of work of para professional social service workers. The competency framework can be used toward the development of service and training programs for para professionals working as direct care workers in the social service sector. These functions and competencies should serve as a useful base to develop such programs; however, based on the type of services provided as well as the professional and regional context, they often will need to be supplemented by functional areas and competencies specific to the context or discipline related to those served by the para professional workers. 

The overall functions and competencies are generic in that they may apply to most para professional cadres, but at the same time not all para professionals are expected to need all of these competencies. Specific groups may have more specialized functions and competencies that can be combined with these generic functions and competencies in training and service programs

These functions may be viewed as a "menu" of competencies that may be helpful in developing service programs as well as training and supervising workers who do this work. They may be useful as well in developing credentialing or qualifying descriptions of these workers, including job descriptions, scopes of work or schemes of service. Potentially they may also be used to ensure ethical practice and enforce related laws and professional standards that relate to para professionals practicing in these fields.

The document presents eight overall functional areas as follows:

a)  Communication skills
b)  Direct work with children, youth and families
c)  Application of knowledge related to client needs
d)  Community work
e)  Collaboration skills
f)  Organization and leadership
g)  Monitoring and evaluation
h)  Developing self and others

Each functional area is divided into a series of competencies that provide more detail. Practice competencies are specific expected abilities that a worker may use in their work; these competencies can be used to develop or evaluate their skills and may be a part of a work description. Training competencies can be used to develop training objectives and activities as well as evaluate training success.

3) Specialized Functions and Competencies – Child and Youth Care Workers

Toward more specialized competencies, the current document also outlines functions and competencies associated with one specialized area of para professional social service work – Child and Youth Care Workers (CYCW). Child and youth care practice focuses on the infant, child, and adolescent, within the context of the family, the community and the life span. The developmental-ecological perspective emphasizes the interaction between persons and the physical and social environments, including cultural and political settings. This is an internationally recognized field with standardized competencies and training at the professional level that enables a career ladder for para professional child and youth care workers. The internationally accepted child and youth care competencies for professional CYCW can be found online. The IGPP document is a first effort to define specialized competencies for para professional CYCW.

It is hoped that future versions of the document will incorporate specialized functions and competencies for other types of cadres, including para social work and community development.

A major contribution…let us know what you think

Developing and publishing the guiding principles and competencies for community level social service workers is a major contribution to the field. The IGPP is congratulated for the hard work that went into the initiative and the document. I should add that validation exercises have been carried out in Kenya and Uganda with the specific aim of assessing the relevance of the framework’s functions and competencies to a specific group of para professional workers.

So, please read through the document – we hope you learn from it and, most important, if you have reactions and ideas and suggestions, please contribute them, as we want this to be a living document that grows and becomes more finely tuned based on broad input and experience. We request that as you use these tools you let us know how you do so, what groups you target and what are the results including needed modifications. Please email us with any and all comments and feedback. We look forward to hearing from you.

And thank you for joining us during this year’s social service workforce week. Take a look back through the week’s information here. If you haven’t become a member of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance yet, we invite you to do so.

Anonymous's picture

The Role of Community Level Social Service Workers in Care Reform

By Stela Grigoras, PhD, Director, Partnership for Every Child, Moldova, and Florence Martin, Director, Better Care Network

"The work of the community social worker is very important. The better the community social worker works, in collaboration with the community multidisciplinary team, the fewer children there are in the child care system. They are working to address the family situations early in the life of the problem. So if they identify problems and start working with this family early, fewer children will need alternative care. Once children are placed in family-based alternative care, community social workers will monitor their wellbeing and work for future family reintegration.                    (foster care social worker, Ungheni)

Children living outside of family care around the world

There are children without adequate family care in every country in the world — low, middle and high income, stable and fragile. Data on children in alternative care are notoriously unreliable, but estimates range between 2 and 8 million children living in institutional care. Research has also consistently found that the vast majority of children in these facilities have families, including at least one parent alive, while an even larger proportion have relatives. Instead, a combination of poverty, discrimination, lack of access to basic services and the relative ease of placement in care, are the main underlying factors behind their placement. There is growing recognition of the central role of family in child development and well-being and of the detrimental impact that loss of family care has on children. Increasing numbers of countries are working to make changes to their child care systems and mechanisms to promote and strengthen the capacity of families, prevent separation and ensure appropriate family-based alternative care options are available. Countries also increasingly understand that a strong social service workforce is integral to these care reforms.

The situation in Moldova

The population of the Republic of Moldova is 3,557,634, of which 20% are children under the age of 18. In January 2015, there were 3,644 children in large-scale residential care and 11,573 children in family-based alternative care, while in 2007 (at the beginning of the child care reform) there were 11,544 children in large-scale residential care and 6,562 children in family-based alternative care. Although the child care reform has resulted in significant positive steps forward in decreasing the reliance on large-scale residential care and establishing family-based alterative care options, issues such as family violence, alcohol abuse, parental economic migration, and limited access to effective primary social services and family support type services are common risk factors resulting in child and family vulnerability.

Community level workers are well-positioned to help

In Moldova the community social service workforce consists of Community Social Workers (CSWs). They are general social workers providing assistance at the community level to a range of clients, including children and families at risk of separation or out-of-home children. They provide individual case work, support households in applying for cash benefits and undertake community mobilization activities. There are around 1,200 CSWs deployed in the system of social assistance in Moldova, one per community of more than 3,000 population.

CSWs are working on a regular basis with children experiencing neglect, abuse and violence in the home and with their parents, extended family members and alternative care-givers. CSWs are important actors in the government’s policy of deinstitutionalization as they are the frontline in prevention of child separation and reintegration of children from institutional care to their birth or extended families. CSWs are engaged in referring children to alternative care and monitoring the well-being and quality of care of children in family-based alternative care, such as foster care, formal and informal guardianship, and family-type children’s homes.

Ways that community level workers are engaged in helping

CSWs have the following functions and responsibilities related to case management and working with children and families.

  • Identification, referral and assessment - CSWs decide in the first instance whether a case should be opened and if so, whether it is a family support case which they can manage themselves using community resources or if it is a child protection case requiring a multi-disciplinary team meeting and subsequent referral to the District Child Protection Specialists and Gate-Keeping Commission. 
  • Planning, coordinating and implementing programs of support including referrals to other services - CSWs coordinate the community multi-disciplinary team, provide direct support to children and families at risk in the form of advice and practical support, are involved in removing children into care or support reintegration of children with their birth or extended families and into the community from institutional and family-based care. CSWs also have responsibilities for mobilizing support from other community actors to support individual children and families. In some districts of Moldova CSWs are involved in assessing potential adopters, guardians or foster carers of children at the request of District Child Protection Specialists who are responsible for these types of assessments. CSWs also have the responsibility to monitor children in placements with legal guardians, foster carers and in informal guardianship arrangements.

The type of support they need

In order to carry out this work effectively, CSWs need to be equipped with professional social work skills and knowledge so they can assess the needs of children and families; the socio-economic and cultural systems in the wider community; and to assess risk, identify the best interests of children based on a solid foundation of age-appropriate child development knowledge and plan and provide appropriate levels of intervention. Currently the training opportunities are provided mainly by NGOs and the Ministry of Labour, Social Protection and Family; very few districts are able to plan and provide initial and ongoing training opportunities to CSWs.  

The CSW works in a matrix management structure with multiple reporting lines. The management arrangements vary slightly from district to district, but main structures and lines of reporting are largely similar as they are dictated by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and Family MLSPF guidance, including the CSWs’ job description, the mechanism for professional supervision of social workers, case management guide and by legislation – Law on Special Protection of Children, Law on Social Assistance, The National Strategy for Decentralization 2012-2015 and other legal and policy documents.

A performance management system is designed at the moment for the community social service workforce. The future appraisal system is meant to ensure a robust link with the current supervision process, which is the foundation upon which good appraisals are built. It is a two-way process that monitors, supports and develops good practice for CSWs.

Join us during Social Service Workforce Week in celebrating this work

Today we are featuring worker profiles of community level workers engaged in care reform in two countries. Please take some time to read these worker profiles on our website:

More information on this topic can be found in this working paper on The Role of the Social Service Workforce Development in Care Reform, recently released by the Alliance and the Better Care Network. Additional resources on care reform and community level workers can be found in the Alliance resource database here. 

Also take a few minutes to review this webinar: Deinstitutionalizing the Alternative Care System for Children: Implications for the social service workforce with learning from Rwanda and Moldova

This video provides an overview of the way in which child and youth care workers from the Isibindi program in South Africa are supporting children and families.  It is produced by the National Association of Child Care Workers and UNICEF. 

Do you have more examples or resources? Join the conversation and tweet them using #SSWWeek or email us with updates and the Alliance will share your work with the broader network.

Anonymous's picture

Supporting Social Service Workers to Promote Better Health Outcomes

by Carol Bales, communications officer, IntraHealth International

Mohammed Adamu Adangba, a social service worker in Nigeria, was getting his bachelor’s degree when a professor approached him about helping children who had lost parents to HIV/AIDS.  

“That was 2002 and stigma of HIV and AIDS was very, very high,” he says. “The prevalence rate was over 5% and a lot of people were in denial, not going for testing. And the children that had lost their mothers and fathers were neglected and treated terribly.”

At the time there wasn’t a lot of funding support for child protection at the local level in Nigeria. But Adangba signed up immediately as a community volunteer and received specialized training. He worked with community members to identify children in need, report cases of abuse and neglect, help children access care, and initiate a local response.

A shortage of social service workers to provide services for children in need

In 2014, there were 17.5 million orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria. There’s also a shortage of trained social service workers like Adangba, who help these children receive the services they need. In Nigeria, 95% of orphans and vulnerable children do not receive any type of medical, emotional, social, material, or school-related assistance.

According to the most recent Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, HIV/AIDS is still a major reason for the high number of orphans and vulnerable children. These children often lack basic support, like access to education and health care. Many are abused and neglected, affected by violence or trafficking, and struggle with mental, emotional, and physical health challenges.

And while the roles of doctors, for instance, are understood across countries, the roles of social service workers are often misunderstood and under-recognized. Social service workers often do not receive the support they need to carry out their jobs well and grow professionally, including appropriate and ongoing training.

Adangba has experienced this firsthand. “It’s overwhelming when you go to communities and the resources are not there to help as many people as you want,” he says. “The government ministries responsible for taking care of orphans and vulnerable children are grossly short of social workers, and those that are there lack capacity and need additional training.”

Mohammed Adangba talks with girls who are out of school“Social service workers are often transferred whether they have competencies or not,” he says. “They can be moved from one department or job to another without the proper background.”

The Nigerian government has committed to helping these children and established the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Division in the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to provide integrated services for vulnerable children, focusing on the community level.

An important part of health teams

At IntraHealth International, where I work, we see social service workers like Adangba as an important part of health teams and vital to improving the population’s health.

To quote my colleagues, “Social service workers form a vital safety net for children and families made vulnerable by the HIV epidemic and other circumstances, providing access to an array of services to promote well-being and protection from harm, including referrals for primary health services such as family planning and maternal and child health care.”

Although IntraHealth’s work focuses on health workers, we’ve applied our health workforce expertise and approaches to strengthen the social service workforce. Together, frontline health workers and social service workers can identify and provide holistic care to more families in need.

We’ve even worked with Adangba.

Adangba worked with us on our global USAID-fundedproject, CapacityPlus—as well as the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, UNICEF, and other partners—to coordinate the mapping of the state child protection system in Federal Capital Territory State. The goal was to strengthen the overall child protection system at the state level, improving the case management and referral processes so that children affected by HIV/AIDS and other vulnerabilities are identified and cared for in a timely way.

Part of a larger mapping activity in six states, the process involved identifying the laws, policies, and structures for child protection that currently exist in each state, assessing the system to see what needed to be improved, and identifying and costing priority changes. Nigeria now has a clearer picture of its social service workforce, and state governments are using the findings to improve services for vulnerable children.

IntraHealth has worked in other countries and at the global level to strengthen the social service workforce. For example, we’ve helped Malawi and Tanzania implement our iHRIS open source HR software to better manage and deploy their social service workforces; documented the composition of the social service workforce to move toward a common understanding of the functions, education, and training typically associated with different types of workers; and refined a framework for professionalizing the social service workforce. IntraHealth is also the fiscal sponsor and host of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance.

Strengthen the system, so more children receive care

While some social service workers provide direct support to vulnerable children (like social workers) or focus on national-level policy and government coordination, Adangba continues to mobilize efforts at the community level. He’s now a protection manager with the International Rescue Committee in Nigeria.

Over the years he’s worked with traditional leaders, religious leaders, teachers, and health workers to organize efforts that recognize and respond to children’s needs.

Through his work, and community structures he helped set up, Adangba learned about four children who were living with their grandmother. Amos, Christiana, Elijah, and Wei (ages 2–17) lost their mother to HIV/AIDS. They have two different fathers, one is absent and the other died of HIV/AIDS.

“When I first met them, none of the children were going to school,” Adangba says.

He’s since enrolled all four children, and 300 more in similar situations, in school. He arranged for waivers for their school fees and worked with the community to provide books and uniforms.

For children with HIV and other health issues, he works with local health workers to get the medical care they need. 

This week IntraHealth is joining the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance to participate in Social Service Workforce Week to celebrate the social service workforce and highlight promising ways to strengthen this vital workforce.

Learn about other social service workers like Mohammed Adamu Adangba. We’d like to introduce you to:

The Alliance has a wealth of information available on this topic, including this Webinar: Strengthening Social Service Systems through Cross-Sectoral Collaboration: Multidisciplinary teams in communities and local health facilities.

Grace Mayanja's picture

Preventing and Addressing Violence Against Children: The important role of the community level worker

by Grace Mayanja, Chief of Party, USAID SUNRISE-OVC Project, Uganda

Orphaned as a child in a community heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, Doreen was defiled and became pregnant at 15, but she was determined to stay in school. She dropped out when students and school authorities shunned and stigmatized her, but with support from a community social worker, Doreen returned to school. The social worker advocated on Doreen’s behalf, lobbying and sensitizing parents, teachers and students. Doreen is one of the few girls who have returned to school after having a child.

Internationally there is growing attention to the prevalence of violence against children and huge momentum around preventing and addressing violence against children. Many studies, such as the Violence Against Children Studies (VAC), have added to the growing body of evidence that demonstrates how violence against children and the exploitation of children are global social, economic, human rights and public health issues, with significant negative health and social impacts.

Strategies to address violence, such as those outlined by THRIVES, reflect available evidence to help countries sharpen their focus on violence prevention priorities. UNICEF’s #Endviolence campaign has helped to foster global consensus that violence against children is unacceptable, and has also promoted strategies to prevent and respond to violence.

In Uganda, an estimated 25% of teenage girls are sexually abused, resulting in child motherhood and a high risk of HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted infections (Uganda National Household Survey 2012/13). In addition, 38% of children experience violence at home and 32% at school. The evidence shows that children and adolescents in Uganda continue to face sexual exploitation, early marriages, human trafficking, drug and substance abuse, involvement in social unrest, and engaging in criminal activities.

We ask is enough being done to respond to the child protection needs of children affected by violence?

Protecting children from violence: the need to work together

Through our experience of supporting children in Uganda, we take a look at the role of community action in this area.

Grace Mukakimenyi is a government community development worker in the sub-county of Katikamu in Luwero district, Uganda. Through a process of community mapping, the most critically vulnerable families were identified in Grace’s area. This data was collected as part of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance-led, USAID funded, SUNRISE-OVC project which worked with local government and communities to improve services for children. Grace says, “Before SUNRISE, we didn’t know whether we were providing the right services to the right people.”

The role of community level workers

When it comes to integrating services, community workers play an essential role in creating demand for other services.

In the context of task-shifting, the concept of using community members to deliver certain basic health and social welfare services to their communities has gained currency. In 2013, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance conducted a systematic literature review of the role of volunteer community health workers in HIV care in sub-Saharan Africa. The study found that these workers clearly contributed to HIV service delivery and to strengthening the human resource capacity in their communities.

Evidence of the crucial role community level workers can play in preventing and addressing violence against children has been demonstrated by a five-year, USAID-PEPFAR funded project working with orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) in Uganda.

The USAID Strengthening Local Government Responses for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children (SUNRISE-OVC) project adopted a systems’ approach to protecting and caring for orphans and other vulnerable children. The project focused on strengthening district and community level systems by working with the central line ministry to increase capabilities and better respond to the needs of orphans and other vulnerable children in communities identified with high levels of child abuse and neglect to help improve each link in the child protection and care system. The ultimate goal was to support every orphan and other vulnerable children to attain their full potential.

The training of an army of 11,700 para professional social workers has been instrumental in supporting local government staff to identify vulnerable families, making first contact and referring them to services.

Para professionals visit with at-risk familiesAll the para social workers are community volunteers. They were already part of informal community groups such as village health teams and community development committees; others were local religious leaders or members of people living with HIV or adult literacy groups and therefore already active in the community. They received training in child protection, community mobilization, child abuse identification and reporting procedures, advocacy and data collection, using government and UNICEF developed curriculum.

Community para social workers conduct home visits to OVC families to ensure that children are in school and link families to more formal social service providers to support their well-being. Doreen, a 17-year-old mother and student, is an example of how the project has made a difference among Uganda’s youth.

Getting Results

Over 1 million children have benefited indirectly but all vulnerable children and families gain from a strengthened government and community systems. As USAID’s Mission Director Leslie Reed said, “When the child social welfare and protection system is functioning effectively, families and children have access to an array of quality services that promote wellness and protect them from harm.”

Para professionals are consistently identifying vulnerable families, providing first level response and referring them to services and to sub-county Community Development Officers. The system of identifying, responding and referring means an increase in preventing, responding and protecting OVC against abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation. These volunteers provide critical links between families and government services. Evidence from 43 of the districts in which SUNRISE-OVC operated indicate the majority (79%) saw a decrease in the number of orphans and other vulnerable children experiencing abuse between 2011 and 2014.

Through the work of community para social workers, the community has increased its understanding of child protection through community dialogue, and local government staff have increased their capacity at community level.

The impact of SUNRISE-OVC provides further evidence that a commitment to community systems strengthening including community level workers – which lies at the heart of growing movements such as the 1mCHW Campaign – must be adopted by those programming for vulnerable, hard to reach groups.

Useful Links

On this second day of Social Service Workforce Week, we are featuring worker profiles that display the skills and dedication that community level workers bring to addressing child protection issues. Please take some time to read these worker profiles on our website:

Please take a look at this SUNRISE-OVC project memoir.

For additional success stories, click on these links to see two of Uganda SUNRISE-OVC project case studies:

Read this blog posted on the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance website by Kate Iorpenda, Senior Advisor on Children and Impact Mitigation, following her trip to Uganda to see the work of the SUNRISE-OVC project.

Take a few minutes to watch this video produced by CRS on addressing violence against children in Malawi.

Do you have more examples? Join the conversation and tweet them using #SSWWeek or send them to us via email and the Alliance will help to promote your work.

Amy Bess's picture

Community Workers are the Backbone of a Strong Social Service Workforce

Welcome to Day One of Social Service Workforce Week! This week, we are celebrating the work of community level social service workers.

Building support for community level workers

When the Alliance was first launched, the most common area of interest expressed among our first few hundred members was to better understand and support community level workers. Many recognized that community level workers are the backbone of a strong social service system. Indeed, when we asked for voices of support during the launch in June 2013, a social welfare officer from Lesotho said,

“When we have an efficient, skilled and motivated social service workforce in our communities and its functioning well, children and their families have access to an array of quality services that promote their well-being and protection from harm, abuse and exploitation.”

Children’s well-being is dependent on the care provided to them by those around them. Immediate care providers such as families can find themselves facing challenges that can overwhelm their resources. When families are not fully able to cope on their own, the community can be a key source of support. Neighbors, friends, elders, teachers and community leaders working together and linking with government can form an all-encompassing care and support network that can promote the healthy development of children, strong families and safe communities. 

However, the importance of this type of work often goes unrecognized. The role of those such as child protection workers, child welfare committee members, volunteer children’s officers, para social workers and child and youth care workers is often unclear, misunderstood, taken for granted and/or underfunded. Training programs can be brief and disconnected to a broader strategy of career development within a given country. Supervision and support is often lacking.

Recognizing the important roles of para professionals in the community

The Alliance members recognized these challenges and came together to form an interest group to advance knowledge and discuss solutions. Initially, the group focused on community level workers, and over time, due to both the Technical Brief on the Composition of the Social Service Workforce supported by the Alliance and ongoing conversations within the interest group, terminology has shifted to “para professionals.”   

The Interest Group on Para Professionals in the SSW (IGPP) was announced in September 2013 and has been open to all members of the Alliance. Zeni Thumbadoo, National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers in South Africa, and Nathan Linsk, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago, co-facilitate the group. Currently there are more than 30 member participants who represent seven countries from North America, Europe and Africa.

The group developed a set of guiding principles for working with para professionals to form a base from which to develop programs and activities related to how social service para professionals can be trained, developed, deployed and supported. The group also decided that an important contribution to this area of work would be the development of a competency framework for para professionals that would outline the functions and competencies of para professionals and could be used to provide program guidance, accountability and ultimately inform both training and supervision. 

These two tools have benefited from input from many more people over the past year, including through presentations and discussions at conferences in the Philippines and South Africa and through two validation exercises in Kenya and Uganda with four groups of para professional social service workers and their supervisors.

The work of the IGPP and the Alliance aims to bring about more recognition of the important roles community level workers play in providing care and support to children and families. They raise awareness about child protection issues and mobilize communities to prevent and respond to child protection risks within the community. They assess the needs of vulnerable children and households and link them to appropriate services. They work together with health teams to promote healthy development and well-being of children. They support care reform efforts by supporting family tracing and reintegration for children outside of protective family care.  

Social Service Workforce Week 2015: Celebrating community level workers

Therefore, for this year’s Social Service Workforce Week, we decided to focus each day on a particular area of work that would not be achieved without the dedication of community level workers. On Day Two, we will highlight the role of community workers in preventing and addressing violence against children. On Day Three, we will feature ways in which community level social service workers promote better health outcomes. Day Four will focus on ways in which these workers help to promote family based care and care reform. 

On Friday, the full document including the competency framework will be made public and we hope that all of you will take a look, try it out and provide feedback to make the next edition even more robust.

In line with today’s general introduction, we are publicizing the Guiding Principles. Please take a look and let us know what you think.

Meet a colleague working in social services

Each day, we will also be featuring profiles of different workers. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Intan and Simon:

Advance global learning and share your expertise with others

Since our launch, the Alliance has attracted nearly 800 members from more than 70 countries. Each of you who has joined us has valuable knowledge and expertise to share with colleagues from around the world. We encourage you to do so through the following methods:

  • Take a look around our website and the many resources it contains
  • Check out our recent webinar on the guiding principles and competency framework that was live webcast from the Philippines 
  • Review the range of documents on the Alliance resource database that highlight the role of community workers.
  • Our hope is that you will share your documents or insights about your own initiatives in this area so that others might profit as result of your work. You can send documents via email with a short description to disseminate them to this network.
  • Join the conversation this week on Twitter! Do you think community level workers are the backbone of a strong social service workforce? Use #SSWWeek or tweet us @SSWAlliance to explain why or tell us about your programs or post a message on our Facebook page.

Thank you for joining us this week as we celebrate the work of those who have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others. We look forward to continuing to exchange promising practices and innovative ideas in the shared spirit of strengthening the social service workforce.

Grace Kozak's picture

Youth Advocacy Strengthens the Social Service Workforce

Youth present their messages at the NACCW conferenceOn the final day of the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) biennial conference in Cape Town, South Africa, the youth delegation took the stage chanting, “We are the answer!” The message was to the child and youth care workers there, as well as the South African government, what issues were important to them. They asked CYC workers to help them address the issues that are most challenging to South African youth, including gang violence to teenage pregnancy to illicit drug use.

On August 12, the United Nations will celebrate International Youth Day through the theme “Youth Civic Engagement.” Frequently, there are few opportunities for youth to engage with their government, but the NACCW offers the youth they serve with a platform to speak about the issues that are most critical in their lives and in society at large.

The Alliance values youth civic engagement as a key component of protecting vulnerable children, youth, and families. The youth at the NACCW conference demonstrated their deep knowledge of what they need to live healthy, safe, and productive lives. The social service workforce must take heed of these messages, joining with youth to achieve sustainable human development.

Learn more about youth civic engagement:

Alliance resources on youth and community advocacy: