by Colleen Fitzgerald, MSW, Case Management Specialist, International Rescue Committee and Co-Chair of the Child Protection Case Management Task Force
All over the world there are Child Protection caseworkers and social workers accompanying vulnerable children through some of the most harrowing experiences of their lives: Abuse. Family separation. Exploitation. Engagement with armed forces. Trafficking. Displacement. Child marriage.
It is the task of social workers and caseworkers to support and protect children in these situations, to build trust in order to understand what they have experienced, help them find safety and navigate a way forward toward healthy development. On a daily basis, workers engage with children and families in order to provide direct support and connect them to life-saving services. In such environments, clear solutions and decisions regarding children’s best interests are often complex and unclear.
While the work itself is deeply meaningful and essential, it is also relentless in hurdles and stress. There are often complicated family dynamics, dangerous environments and significant legal and bureaucratic obstacles. In addition, witnessing the suffering of children and their families on a constant basis can lead to vicarious trauma and burnout.
With the complexity of the work and the high demands on workers, governments, NGOs and community-based organizations should not expect them to do it alone. Recognizing this reality, the Case Management Task Force of the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action has prioritized the well-being of caseworkers and social workers by developing an Inter-agency Case Management Supervision and Coaching Package. Here’s what we’ve learned:
Supervision is critical.
What we know is that consistent, structured supervision is essential in order to provide social workers and caseworkers the necessary support to consider children’s best interests and cope with the daily stressors of the work. Evidence from practice and research has taught us that workers who are supported through consistent supervision can improve the lives of children and families. Supervision can ensure that children who have experienced violence, exploitation, abuse or neglect receive the appropriate services and are protected from further harm by providing adequate support to workers.
Best practices from the Task Force have been adopted across various organizations, sectors, and countries.
We are thrilled to see that this resource and advocacy has reached Child Protection organizations, workers and supervisors across the world, in both development and humanitarian settings including Myanmar, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Iraq, Syria, Burundi, Tanzania, Turkey, Niger, Kenya, Burkina Faso and counting.
Investing in Supervision and Coaching yields improved performance from workers and better outcomes for children and families.
Through an external review of the Supervision and Coaching package, it was found that the Supervision and Coaching training initiative has increased the capacity of caseworkers to provide quality case management. Supervisors have reported improvement among caseworkers in their communication, interactions and support to children and their families. In Nigeria, it was mentioned that there has been a shift in confidence of workers, as they now feel equipped to seek guidance and support from supervisors. Some informants mentioned that they have seen higher responsiveness and improved support to high risk cases as a result of consistent supervision for caseworkers.
Supervision requires first and foremost an investment from the start, as well as adequate staffing structures, building trust within a team and resources. Child protection workers need time to reflect, space to learn and support to process their experiences in order to sustain themselves in this critical work. When our organizations make investments in developing, guiding and supporting workers, we see improved outcomes across the board – for case management teams, staff retention and most importantly for the children and families we serve.
Want to learn more about the Supervision and Coaching Package? Visit the launch page to access the resource in English, French, Arabic and Spanish. There are also videos and testimonies from several countries.
The Case Management Task Force worked closely with the Alliance Case Management Interest Group in the development of resources contained in the Case Management Compendium for the social service workforce, which also incorporated materials on supervision. Noting the importance of collaboration across humanitarian and development actors working on issues related to child protection, the recently released 4Children Case Management Package also built on this work.