You are here

COVID-19 and Beyond: Recognizing the Essential Role of the Social Service Workforce

Hugh Salmon's picture

blog by Hugh Salmon, Director, Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Social service worker in Mali provides education on COVID-19As we kick off the 7th Annual Social Service Workforce Week, we are celebrating and advocating for the essential role of the social service workforce in the lives of individuals, families and communities. In the context of the global pandemic that has affected all of our lives this year, decision makers, planners and donors are slowly, and belatedly, coming to realize the need not only for doctors, nurses and health workers, but also for a skilled, wide-ranging and integrated community-based workforce. These frontline workers deliver the social services that are crucial to prevent and respond to the pandemic’s wide-ranging social impacts that are multiple, often severe, and, most likely, long lasting. These impacts include escalating rates of family poverty, violence against children, domestic violence, child labour and child marriage. The pandemic has also heightened the vulnerability of older people, and those with particular health conditions and disabilities.

Children, families and vulnerable groups certainly need health protection, and social protection including emergency cash assistance. But they also need a range of more targeted, and often specialist, services, which only a trained, adequately resourced, staffed and distributed social service workforce can provide. Only social service workers have the skills, knowledge and values to identify, reach, assess and engage with the most marginalised and often invisible members of society, who include not only those with social, economic or health disadvantages, but also those experiencing or fleeing ethnic or racial discrimination and oppression, homelessness, war, persecution, natural disasters or the effects of climate change. 

The good news is that this workforce, despite the failure by many governments initially to invest in their important role, has proven to be strong, resilient and innovative. Social service workers have successfully lobbied not only for recognition of their essential role, but for the personal protective equipment, transport and other resources they need. This has enabled them to continue to identify and visit the most vulnerable or isolated members of their community, including those who would otherwise struggle to access services.

Social service workers have managed to quickly identify and reach those most in need, and to adapt or innovate services and ways of delivering them, including telephone helplines for those at risk of abuse; digital apps to enable case management, monitoring and access to information; and online support to help parents and children prevent and cope with increasing stress and conflict at home. Social service workers have also lobbied not only for recognition, but for the personal protective equipment, transport and other resources they need, to be able to continue to identify and visit the most vulnerable or isolated members of their community, those who would otherwise be hidden, overlooked or unable to access services, whether online or in person. 

We invite you to join us in the weeklong awareness-raising campaign as we highlight the overall essential role of the workforce, in the wide-ranging response to the social impacts of COVID-19. On day 2 we will be examining the vital role of supportive supervision for these frontline workers, in helping them understand and address the daily challenges they face in their work, while improving the quality and impact of services they deliver. On day 3, we will share examples of the essential role of social service workers in transforming care for children, helping care systems and services transition from an over-reliance on residential institutions to a more family and community-centred approach. On day 4, we will hear about the vital role played by social service workers in protecting children from all forms of violence and abuse. Finally, on day 5 we will share examples of the ways in which the workforce plays an essential role in delivering mental health and psychosocial support particularly to refugee and migrant groups.