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Webinar 18: Developing Community Social Service Workers: The Role of Para Professionals and the Work of the Alliance Interest Group on Para Professionals

Webinar Summary and Recording

Click here to view the full webinar.

On December 4, 2014 the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance and CapacityPlus hosted their eighteenth webinar in partnership with the Philippines-based Child Protection Network. The webinar explored the role of para professionals in the social service workforce and presented recent work from the Alliance Interest Group on Para Professionals. The webinar was featured during Ako Para sa Bata, the International Conference in Manila, organized by the Child Protection Network with the theme of “The Child without Borders: Cultural Beliefs and Practices Affecting Child Protection.” More than 60 people attended the webinar as a session at that conference and the webinar was simultaneously open to online participants. During the webinar, two members of the Alliance Steering Committee and co-chairs of the Alliance Interest Group on Para Professionals offered a presentation on:

•           Guiding Principles for the Development of Para Professional Social Service Workers

•           Examples of Para Professional Functions and Competencies

•           Applying the Functions and Competencies to Specific Groups

•           Sharing Promising Practices, Overcoming Challenges, and the Way Forward

Dr. Bernadette Madrid, Executive Director of the Child Protection Network Foundation, Inc., opened the concurrent online and in-person session by explaining the nature of the technology allowing this truly global discussion of the para professional social service workforce to take place at the conference. She introduced the online speakers and moderator, as well as noted the individuals participating on the panel of reactors who would be speaking at the end of the virtual portion of the presentation. Dr. Jim McCaffery, Senior Advisor, Training Resources Group and CapacityPlus, began the webinar by presenting background information on the social service workforce, the Alliance and its activities, and the work of the Alliance’s two interest groups. Within this context, he handed over the presentation to one of the co-chairs of the Interest Group on Para Professionals, Dr. Nathan Linsk.

Dr. Linsk, Professor of Social Work in Family Medicine, University of Illinois, began his portion of the presentation by giving an overview of para professional social service workers. He stressed how there is no agreed upon or recognized definition for these workers at the global or regional level and highlighted the most common types of training undertaken by these workers, the multitude of titles and roles that they play within the social welfare system, and their employment status in terms of paid or unpaid, often within non-profit or government sectors. In light of this information, Dr. Linsk described the process of creating the Interest Group on Para Professionals and introduced the key achievements of the group to date—development of guiding principles and a framework of functions and competencies for these workers—which were expanded on later in the presentation. Before providing more detail on these achievements of the interest group, he provided examples of types of social service para professionals (social worker, child and youth care worker, community development worker) based on levels of intervention and a story from the para social work training program launched in Tanzania to illustrate the number of issues related to the social service workforce and how para professionals can be engaged to meet needs of vulnerable populations, as well as provide a career ladder for the social welfare system.

Zeni Thumbadoo, Deputy Director, National Association of Child Care Workers – South Africa, continued the presentation by delving more deeply into the guiding principles for the development of para professional social service workers, reviewing the overarching principles, as well as those related to planning, developing, and supporting this workforce. Dr. Linsk re-entered the presentation to outline the key components of the para professionals’ functions and competencies document developed by the interest group, noting that they were designed to be generic so that they can apply to most para professional cadres and in order to serve as a useful base for developing service and training programs. He also called attention to the fact that all para professionals are not expected to need all of the competencies and that specific groups (e.g., child and youth care workers, para social workers) may have more specialized functions and competencies that can be combined with those included in the document in training and service programs or will need to be supplemented by functional areas and competencies related to the context or specific discipline or to those served by the para professional workers. At this point, Dr. Linsk walked the audience through selected sections of the functions and competencies framework, providing concrete examples from the document to support the next portion of the discussion where the functions and competencies were applied to a specific group of para professional workers.

The final portion of the presentation focused on applying the functions and competencies to a specific group of para professional workers:  para child and youth care workers. Ms. Thumbadoo introduced the audience to the concept of child and youth care work and the core functions and competencies of these workers. She also presented case examples of para child and youth care workers in South Africa, describing the essential work that they do and how it relates to the functions and competencies document. She closed the presentation with some thoughts on how the interest group, the Alliance, and wider audience might share promising practices and overcome challenges related to developing the para professional social service workforce, inviting conference and online webinar participants to provide feedback on the documents presented, to be a part of the field testing of the functions and competencies, and to engage in the process of advocating for these workers as a first step on the career ladders to professional credentials within the social service workforce.

The presentation was followed by a brief question and answer session moderated by Dr. James McCaffery of CapacityPlus. Questions included how to balance the principle for retaining localized para professional social service workers while at the same time promoting their access to a career ladder which might take them away from their communities; what the field testing of the functions and competencies might look like; the importance of sharing tools for para professional social worker performance assessments, training curricula, and accreditation systems; and more specifics surrounding the national level scale up of child and youth care work in South Africa, including costs and steps for implementation.

In addition to the question and answer session, a panel of reactors in the Philippines also provided remarks on the presentation which stimulated further discussion among conference participants after the close of online portion of the session. Director Gemma Gabuya of the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development commented that there is no definition for paraprofessional in the Philippines but regardless of definition, their contribution in the provision of social services is important. Since most paraprofessionals in the Philippines are volunteers, training and supervision are very important. The “ladderized curriculum” that was presented by Ms. Thumbadoo as it related to child and youth care workers was also something that Ms. Gabuya thought could be adopted in the Philippines in order to create a career path for paraprofessionals, while keeping in mind that support in terms of salaries is a continuing problem in the Philippines especially in the poor municipalities. Dean Ines Danao of the Asian Institute of Social Work commented that the ladderized diploma in social work had already been in place in the Philippines in the 70’s but was not sustained. She added that there is now a shift from a competency-based curriculum to an outcomes-based curriculum. Dean Danao expressed her interest in credentialing and in the tools to evaluate performance and documentation of best practices. Professor Ofelia Mendoza of the Philippine Women’s University School of Social Work added that in Vietnam, paraprofessionals performed the work of social workers when the field of social work was still at its early stages. In that context, they showed that with training paraprofessionals can perform their functions well.