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Webinar 4: Working with Community Members and Workers in the Social Services

Webinar Summary and Recording

Click here to view the full webinar in English.

Voir le webinaire en Français.

The Social Service Workforce Strengthening Alliance hosted its fourth webinar, “Working with Community Members and Workers in the Social Services” on January 17th and January 19th. This was the first time the presentations were offered in both English and French, which provided an important platform to engage francophone countries. The webinar was co-hosted by the Community Child Protection Exchange Forum hosted by Save the Children UK, an inter-agency initiative to advance the state of knowledge about community-based child protection.

Sarah Lilley, Child Protection Learning and Impact Assessment Adviser, with Save the Children UK, framed the conversation during the English language webinar by raising three overarching issues: 1) What are the boundaries of the roles of community workers: what should they be doing, what shouldn’t they be doing; 2) Payment of community workers: how much can you really expected from a community worker who is unpaid; and 3) What level of training, support and supervision is required to really enable community workers? 

Mark Canavera, the Coordinator of the Exchange Forum, moderated the French language webinar and opened with two overarching key issues for webinar participants to consider throughout the presentations and discussions: 1) the payment of community workers: is the social service sector trying to do too much with too few resources?; and 2) sustainability: what are the prospects for long-term community-level service provision by volunteer cadres, and what factors influence these prospects in various settings? 

Maurice Middleberg, Director, CapacityPlus, presented in both the English and French webinars on the lessons learned from working with community health workers in the human resources for health sector. He emphasized that well designed and implemented programs have had positive impacts on the health outcomes, but that programs could fail for a range of reasons. He then outlined the five factors that have contributed to CHW effectiveness and emphasized that successful programs must be integrated into the larger health system.

Serge Dalexis, Child protection Program Manager, International Rescue Committee Haiti, presented in both the English and French webinars on IRC-Haiti’s child protection program, which aims to promote and strengthen resilience among children living in displaced communities, reinforce a community’s capacity to protect their children, and help create a protective environment for children through autonomous and systemic community mechanisms. Community members are primarily volunteers and are involved in multiple roles of the program. There is a competitive selection process for participation for roles which receive small stipends, such as animators and guards of Child-Friendly Spaces. The program works with the social groups that are closest to the children’s protective environment and allows a systemic approach since the community is so integral to the program. The presentation ended with a discussion of efforts that the program is making to “link” it efforts to local authorities and statutory social service providers in an effort to ensure sustainability.

Hannah Newth, OVC Programme Coordinator, Save the Children, and William Chukuma, OVC Programme Coordinator, Save the Children, Cote d’Ivoire co-presented on building the capacity for OVC care and support in seven regions of Cote d’Ivoire. Newth presented in the English language webinar and Chukuma presented during the French language webinar. The program engages community members in the role of community caregivers. Selection is carried out by children in the community; there is a stipend associated with this role on account of the significant responsibilities and complex reporting requirements although the stipend raises a sustainability question. There are no national standards or guidelines in Cote d’Ivoire on the role of the community in OVC care and there are significant differences in how community members are compensated across different NGOs who use this approach for community-level service provision for OVCs. Community caregivers are able to supplement a poorly resourced government social welfare system, and their participation improves community understanding and ownership of the issues facing children affected by HIV. Nonetheless, the long-term prospects of the community caregiver approach remain in question as the government seems incapable of absorbing this vast cadre of workers. 

Sarah Lilley closed the English session with two take-away thoughts; the first echoing Middleburg’s urging that community workers be integrated into the larger social service workforce efforts, and the second being that getting governments to take on a system that they have not been involved in creating could be problematic, but getting governments involved in a participatory manner for the outset will help the sustainability of those programs. During the French session, participants from a number of countries engaged in a lively debate about the implications of the stipends that some community programs use: do stipends send up a red flare that a program is not community-owned, or are they a necessity for duty-bearers who hope to ensure accountability in the provision of social services for vulnerable community members? Participants clearly agreed that in both Haïti and Côte d’Ivoire, stakeholders needed to expend significant thought on persuading the government to take a more active role in the oversight of these community workers. One participant from Côte d’Ivoire summed up by saying, “These community members are engaged, and whether or not we recognize their work and remunerate it, we must start by recognizing that it is work that they are doing.” 

There were opportunities after each presentation for question/answer session, as well as time for a larger discussion at the end of the webinar. It was also mentioned that the Community Child Protection Exchange Forum has recently been launched and has resources available on child protection at the community level. Additionally, USAID’s upcoming Community Health Worker Evidence Summit was referenced as another source of information that would be relevant to this work. The summit is planned for Spring/Summer 2012 and will focus on four questions associated with community and system level interventions. 

The webinars, funded by PEPFAR and implemented under the auspices of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance by USAID partner CapacityPlus, will continue throughout the next year. The Community Child Protection Exchange Forum’s webinars, funded by the Oak Foundation, will continue through the year as well.