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Webinar: Social Service Workforce Safety and Wellbeing during the COVID-19 Response

Thursday, May 14, 2020 

View the recording and download the presentations

Webinar Summary: 

A webinar was organized to review the recently released technical note on Social Service Workforce Safety and Wellbeing during the COVID-19 Response: Recommended Actions as well as share examples of country-level actions to support the safety and wellbeing of social service workers and communities during the COVID-19 response. The webinar was jointly hosted by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, UNICEF and International Federation of Social Workers.

Dr. Hani Mansourian, Senior Coordinator, Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, opened the webinar by introducing the topic and providing background that this webinar is part of a series on annex topics to the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action’s technical note on Protection of Children during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The aim of the original brief is to support child protection practitioners to better respond to the child protection risks during a COVID-19 pandemic. Part 1 presents the potential child protection risks COVID-19 can pose to children. Part 2 presents programmatic options in line with the 2019 Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPMS) and the Guidance Note: Protection of Children During Infectious Disease Outbreaks.

Amy Bess, Acting Director, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance then shared background on development of the technical note specific to the workforce. To develop the technical note global standards and guidelines were considered and a survey was also conducted of frontline workers to learn from their experiences. With new and increasing child protection risks, workers are rapidly adapting their support by using technology for remote case monitoring, but some supports to children, families and communities may still require in-person visits. The technical note includes specific roles that workers are carrying out as part of the COVID 19 response. For example, some promotive roles include advocacy for the workforce to be considered essential, and this is being carried out by many professional associations of social work across the world, with good success in many places.  Some preventive roles include providing psychosocial support, staffing child help lines, and contact tracing, among others. Responsive functions include continuing to carry out important child protection roles, especially as many countries have experienced a tragic uptick in reports of child abuse, neglect and exploitation. The technical note includes a set of priority actions that are applicable to government, NGOs, supervisors and workers to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the workforce so that they are best able to meet needs of children, youth, families and communities.  She then invited participants to continue to share challenges, expertise and innovative solutions through the Alliance’s network.

Langanani Lucy Catherine Malamba, Registrar, South African Council of Social Services Professions, shared how the council successfully brought together social workers, child and youth care workers and others to advocate to the government forthese workers to be considered essential service providers in responding to COVID-19. The Council is committed to putting practitioners first and adopted a humanitarian approach during lockdown. Council developed guidelines to promote use of alternative platforms to continue rendering psychosocial support interventions. They also mobilized funding for training on disaster management, trauma debriefing, psychosocial interventions and self-care kits. They have successfully called for distribution of personal protective equipment to workers, and workers also provided masks, sanitizer and other materials to at-risk populations. The Council is continuing registration, training and development of these professions and is supporting the professionalization of emerging professions as designated by the Minister such as community development.

Muhammad Rafiq Khan, Chief of Child Protection, UNICEF Ghana, provided an overview of how child protection services are continuing in the country. He began by providing background on the provision of child protection services and composition of the social service workforce with data obtained in recent mappings. Last year, UNICEF supported field-based social service delivery in 72 districts and 2,057 communities, reaching a total of 507,703 people through face-to-face prevention interventions. Ensuring continuity of services remains their biggest challenge and greatest priority during COVID-19. They are currently conducting a survey of children to determine if stress, violence and abuse have increased in the home and if children know how to access services. A significant number report an increase but yet don’t know how to seek help. UNICEF supported the government in creating guidance for child protection case management in preventing and responding to COVID-19 and also developing key messages to support those working with vulnerable children and families in Ghana. These resources include a matrix for assessing risk and urgency to determine whether remote or in-person follow up is needed. They are also supporting the Child Helpline in managing the increased demand for follow up and referrals and creating PSAs to ensure the community is aware of how to contact the Child Helpline. Safely continuing in-person communications and interventions while using technology to adapt for new methods, they are ensuring the continuity of services to vulnerable children and families.

Natalie McCauley, Chief Child Protection, UNICEF Bangladesh, detailed social service workforce strengthening during COVID-19 in Bangladesh. As there was only 1 social service worker per every 100,000 children before COVID-19, the need for increased workforce strengthening has been exacerbated. There is also no alternative care or formal alternative care system and more than 1 million children living on the streets who are at significant risk. There is already a notable increase in violence and abuse toward women and children. Calls to the Child Helpline have increased fourfold in just one month and media reported increased numbers of child deaths from extreme abuse. UNICEF has created a campaign to reach 37 million residents with urgent messages regarding protection and parenting tips to try to steam these increases. UNICEF is supporting efforts to formal recognition and support for the social service workforce as essential, critical and lifesaving during COVID-19. They are hiring, training and equipping additional workers in key urban, field and call center locations. UNICEF is also supporting virtual access to justice through virtual court processes and expediting release of juveniles to link them with social service workers for return and referral services. UNICEF will continue its efforts to strengthen the social service workforce and system now and post-COVID-19 through online case management systems, human resources capacity building, collaboration with other sectors and coordination of child protection across government and NGOs. 

Sayed Mawismi Sayed Mohamad Mustar, Assistant Social Development Officer, Department of Social Welfare, Malaysia, detailed how the movement control order nationwide is affecting workforce interactions. The government has deemed the social service workforce as part of essential service delivery. Workers are either continuing in-person services through adherence to safety and health measures or transferring services to online supports. When online, the client and worker agree to the type of technology and review privacy and confidentiality protocols. To ensure workers have the appropriative supportive supervision, case conferencing and daily team meetings are held to review challenges, referrals and next steps of cases, while also ensuring self-care and mental health of the team.

Aniruddha Kulkarni, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Headquarters in New York moderated a robust question and answer session. Given the interest in the topic and requests for additional opportunities to learn from other countries, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance and UNICEF are discussing future related webinars. The Alliance is also continuing to update a webpage with resources related to the social service workforce and COVID-19 response.

We recognize all of the hard work of members are putting into responding to COVID-19 in their communities. We want to give everyone the opportunity to share information about the work that they’re doing or seek support from one another. We invite you to post messages here.