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Jennifer Kaberi's picture

To 'Leave No One Behind,' We Must Include the Social Service Workforce

The sustainable development goals have just clocked one year, and everyone is rallying behind the call to “Leave no one behind.” This year’s theme of the Universal Children’s Day, celebrated on November 20, is “Leave No One Behind.” But what does it really mean to leave no one behind? According to the Overseas Development Institute, it means that no goal will be met unless it is inclusive of everyone. In attaining the goal, organizations are aiming to include vulnerable children. Doing so requires both greater investment and data.

Social service workers are the advocates to ensure this happens, but they must be included to be able to do so. Is the social service workforce being included in high-level forums happening all over the world? They are the ones who are most closely positioned to truly understand and add voice to the situation of vulnerable children and families.

To help make this point, I’d like to introduce you to some social service workers who are striving to improve the lives of vulnerable children. One such individual is Lilly, a social worker I recently met in Madagascar. Lilly runs a day care center for street connected children. The center provides showers, meals and education for 100-300 children daily, from ages 6 months to 17 years old.

Her calm nature made me wonder what is her drive, what makes her wake up in the morning and walk for one hour? And most importantly, what does she need to be more effective or make her work easier? Has she fallen through the cracks as she provides for the most vulnerable? Her caseload is 1:300 and her center is poorly resourced. She is driven to improve the lives of these children who are the future of Madagascar, but more funding allocation for additional resources would help her toward meeting the SDGs.

Training in KenyaAnother example is John. He has a Master’s degree in Social Work. He works with children in conflict with the law. The first time I talked to John, I didn’t know there were social workers for children in the juvenile system; I assumed like many others that the prison department and police are responsible for children in the system.

John tells me that he is passionate about helping these children. According to John, probation work involving children in conflict with the law remains one of the most challenging roles. Since the first time he encountered a child in a police cell, young and full of potential, it has never been easy to see children in the criminal justice system in Kenya. He argues that social systems failures are partially to blame for children being in conflict with the law and that we need to remedy this. He is working to reform the juvenile justice system and ensure no child goes to prison. But how much understanding and support is there for social workers in the juvenile justice system and what do they need to best meet the needs of these children?

John tells me that he needs more human and financial resources in the probation department. He needs rehab centers with qualified social service workers. He needs a community where he can exchange ideas on reforming the juvenile system, as well as people who can relate to the stresses of his tough work.

Rehema is a community social worker who works with pregnant teenagers. She helps with nutrition and encourages them to go for health screenings. At age 35, Rehema is a “gogo” grandmother to many of these children who otherwise would have been abandoned. She believes that one of the children she rescues will one day become president, and that helps motivate her. Will Rehema’s efforts in development work be properly shared and reported to build the data base?

These three social workers are working to make a difference and ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind. They are the intervention in these children’s lives. They collect data and come up with solutions to ensure no child is left behind. But who is ensuring that they are not being left behind? Many development agencies and governments don’t capture the needed data about their most important asset – the workforce providing these services. Very little data is available to show the contribution of social workers in sustainable development and more specifically in the lives of children. Evidence shows that an empowered, regulated and rewarded social service workforce has a better outcome on children. The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance has recently untaken a project to build the evidence base for helping support workforce strengthening, and the outcomes paper and webinar on the topic are available online.

To ensure that no one is left behind, there is a need for the right data to be collected. The data has to tell a story and show where investment needs to be made. The story needs to connect all the players in the children’s sector. The data has to tell the stories of Lilly, John and Rehema by recognizing what they do toward ensuring that no one is left behind. They, too, must be counted and their needs must be considered so that they are best able to help children and families to have better outcomes.

To ensure that no social service worker is left behind, there is a need for policies that not only regulate what they do but also ensure that they are retained. The policy has to speak to both the intervention and intervener and the policies have to be evidence based and intervention/solution oriented.

My passion is working with children to make development a reality in Africa, but this will only be possible when we leave no child and no social service worker behind.

 Jennifer Kaberi is a Social Worker and an Ambassador of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. She coordinates the Children Agenda Forum in Kenya and has more than 10 years of experience working with children. She is driven by knowing children are the enablers and promise holders for Africa’s brighter future.

To read more articles by her, visit or follow her on Twitter at @dalithso.

Anonymous's picture

CYCWs Support Families in Household Economic Strengthening

by Sindisiwe Dlamini (CYCW), KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa

The Zondo* family was overwhelmed by their life situation. The mother was chronically ill and mentally disabled, the children were malnourished and missed school frequently and the family was dependent on government child support grants that were only provided for two children. The grants were not large enough for them to survive on. They saw no way to escape poverty. Their plight is not uncommon in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

A child and youth care worker (CYCW), trained through the National Association of Child Care Workers’ Isibindi program in South Africa, intervened. CYCWs are trained in household economic strengthening interventions and developing plans specific to the needs of each family. That’s how I became involved and was able to work with the family improve their financial management to better manage their home and resources in order to better provide for the children. On Eradication of Poverty Day, we share this story of success.

Family stands in front of their gardenThrough door-to-door family recruitment in September 2014, a Community Care Giver (CCG) learned of the family’s hardship and referred them to me, the local CYCW. The family consists of four children: Vamsile (20 years), Asabonga (17 years), Londiwe (10 years) and Siphiwe Biyase (6 years). The mother was on her own, and saw no way to improve the situation for her family.

The children were going to school without food as the mother was paying her loans with the grants she received for the two children. The mother was not adhering to her ARV treatment, the shortage of food in the house being one of the reasons.

I started by visiting the family twice a day to build relationships, especially with the mother. Fortunately, the mother was very open and shared all important and personal information. I referred the family to the Department of Social Development and SASSA for a grant application and for food parcels. I taught the mother about budgeting and assisted her to pay all of her debts. I also visited the Department of Agriculture to advocate for seeds for a food garden and land was identified.

A family meeting was held with Asabonga and her mother to discuss the issue of school attendance. All of Asabonga’s challenges and reasons for not attending school were discussed, namely, the issue of hunger in the house, her school uniform being in bad condition and the issue of lack of toiletries. I went to Asabonga’s school to advocate for her and to get a new uniform and continued to advocate for the family by going to the nearest primary school for admission for Londiwe and Siphiwe.

The school provided a new uniform to Asabonga and a good relationship between the school and myself was established, which enhanced the communication. Regular school visits were conducted for support and monitoring of the children’s progress. I also linked Asabonga to a study group that she attends every Monday and Thursday after school. Support is being provided by all stakeholders in terms of monitoring the progress of the children and family. Siphiwe and Londiwe were admitted to school and the mother was able to buy school uniforms for each of them with the Child Support Grant money. Both children did very well at school and managed to progress to the next grade. 

A daily routine was designed working together with the family, since they were struggling to assign chores in the household. The children are following the daily routine on their own, without supervision, and a sense of independence has developed.

Mother takes her medicineMrs. Zondo was linked to the community care giver for support in adhering to her medication plan. A pill box was issued to her, and this has worked well and she is now adhering to her treatment independently.

Asabonga has passed her first term and using her Child Support Grant money, she has been able to apply to the local university. Vamsile has been motivated by seeing her siblings attend school and has enrolled herself to write her supplementary examinations.

The family is now eating from the food garden which assists them to adhere to the budgeting plan that was designed. The family is able to save money and they are now debt free. Home visits are still being conducted to the family to monitor progress. Vamsile has been of great support to her siblings as she was motivated by the CYCW to help them.

The changes in this family show that they have achieved greater security through managing their resources and caring for each other in a process introduced and supported through the Isibindi program. The younger children are attending school, the older children are completing school and looking forward to post-school studies, while the mother is maintaining her treatment schedule and her health is stable. All the children help with the food garden which helps to feed them. The family is being supported to access external sources and to use these resources to support the family in caring for each other. This story is one of success attributed to household economic strengthening. More than 4,400 CYCWs throughout South Africa, like myself, have been trained through the PEPFAR-funded Isibindi program to help more families achieve greater security and improve overall wellbeing. More information can be on the NACCW’s website.

*names have been changed

Tata Sudrajat's picture

Improving Children’s Lives in Indonesia through a Trained Social Workforce

Guest blog submitted by Tata Sudrajat, Director of Families First Signature Program, Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik - partner of Save the Children; member and Ambassador of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Febi, age 11A hospital without doctors would leave children without medical care. A school without teachers would leave children without education. What about a community without social workers? Where would that leave children?

We were able to see firsthand in Indonesia when we started our program, Families First, in 2005, a year after being hit by the largest tsunami in decades. This emergency shed a harsh light on the nearly non-existent social service system in the country at the time.

A staggering 500,000 children were living in orphanages and religious schools across the country, the largest number in the world. But out of these half a million children, 90% had living parents.* The majority of institutions were privately owned and completely unregulated. We found that children were living in poor conditions and at high risk of suffering neglect and abuse (physical and sexual).

While social work was taught in universities and accepted as a profession, the social work practices didn’t meet professional standards. The few social workers that existed were institution-based (working in orphanages) rather than part of a broader child protection system in local communities.

In fact, the overall child welfare system almost entirely focused on providing support through institutions. For families who were not able to provide for appropriate care, shelter or education, putting their children in institutional care was the only way to receive help.

This worrying situation for children was the start of our program Families First. Since the tsunami, together with the Indonesian Government and other partners, Save the Children has been working to create a whole new system of childcare, professional social work and support from scratch.

Together with universities, social work organizations and the Government, we have established a system for licensing of social workers to get social work recognized as a profession. By 2015, 485 social workers had been certified.

Through a new Standard of Care Act, a paradigm shift has been achieved, changing the focus from institution-based to family-based care. This shift has allowed the social workforce to start working directly with families to help them develop parenting skills and access services, without sending their children to orphanages. It has also led to the Government redirecting 35% of social assistance funds to be delivered to children in families instead of to children in institutions.

We are now seeing results at scale. In 2016, close to 52,000 children were kept from being put into orphanages unnecessarily. It is our goal to scale up the program to keep increasing the number of trained social workers along with the number of children being cared for in their family or community where we know they will be better protected from violence and receive better overall care than in institutions.

Gilang Susalit, social workerComing back to my question about what happens to children in a community without trained social workers, the answer is simple. It leaves children unprotected by their communities and by the state, without appropriate care. Children are potentially exposed to more violence, neglect, abuse and unnecessary institutionalization.

But our program in Indonesia shows that change is possible. When governments start promoting and prioritizing the social service workforce by shifting program and finance to the families, investing in their training, establishing legislation-backed standards, social workers become empowered to do their job – playing a key role in protecting the well-being of children, families and their communities. We know children’s lives improve as a result. Dedicated, motivated and trained social workers and para professionals will help every last child thrive and live free from violence.

Learn more about Families First through this video and this immersive website with figures, facts and stories from children, social workers, orphanage owners and others. Blog originally published online by Save the Children.

*Survey by Save the Children, Government of Indonesia and UNICEF in 2007

Photos courtesy of C J Clarke/Save the Children. Photo captions:

Febi, 11, and her brother Ahmad were sent to an orphanage in Bandung Province, Indonesia, when their parents lost their income and couldn't afford to send them to school any more. Febi misses her family and friends. Gilang, a social worker, is working with the family trying to improve their situation so that Febi and Ahmad can return home.

Social worker Gilang Susalit talks with Febi, 11, and her mother

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Advocacy that Moves the Social Service Workforce to the Fast Lane

by Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Imagine a world where no child is subjected to violence, no child lives on the street, no child is forced into labor.  In 2010, many of us came together to imagine such a child-friendly and child-centered world. Our brainstorming about what it would take to make this world a reality led to the launch of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance.

Now with nearly 1,000 members, the Alliance allows individual voices to be amplified in calling for increased investment in the social service workforce. Instead of one small beeping horn in a massive traffic jam, we become a thunderous blast of sirens making everyone stop, take notice and give us the right of way. For optimum performance, this workforce needs routine maintenance, and upgrades, in the form of training, development and support.

You and I know that the social service workforce plays a key role in solving many of the problems our society faces. This workforce is essential for children and families to be healthy and supported, but to achieve a truly child-friendly world necessitates greater investment at all levels.

Securing that type of investment and political will requires strong advocacy. We need to make a strong case for why tight national budgets should be geared toward strengthening the social service workforce. In fact, we do not believe that the United Nations 2030 agenda or the SDGs can be accomplished without the social service workforce. Why not? That’s where building our case comes in.

Gary Newton, former US Government Special Advisor for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, spoke at the Alliance’s 3rd Annual Symposium in June 2016 about how we need to show a direct connection between a stronger workforce and better outcomes for children and families in order to win political support and increase resources. He suggested that advocacy for social service workforce strengthening should focus on preventing violence against children, and, conversely, advocacy for the prevention of violence against children should focus on strengthening the social service workforce. 

Social service workers are the intervention to end the epidemic of violence that 25% of the world’s children faced last year. They are also critical supports to children with disabilities, who are four times more likely to face physical violence and five times more likely to face sexual violence, according to the WHO. We need clear and compelling statements like this to build political will and global momentum for strengthening this workforce.

We must be more effective advocates. Our advocacy tactics must meet the same evidence-based standards applied to other interventions. This requires more and better data – both qualitative and quantitative.

Alliance Ambassadors Begin Their Role as Advocates

Ambassadors from Uganda develop their action plansIt also requires individuals and organizations becoming workforce strengthening champions. A group of dedicated advocates has been selected to be Ambassadors for the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. They are charged with advocating nationally, regionally and globally for a strengthened workforce. It’s a tall order and they can’t do it alone. This first cohort of Ambassadors from seven countries took part in a training and orientation earlier this month. They discussed advocacy strategies and promotional tactics and reviewed existing materials about the workforce. They are now developing action plans for advocacy and promotion through development of key messages and outreach to existing and potential collaborators across sectors.

Their work is already underway. A zero draft of Kenya’s Children’s Bill 2016 has just been released and neglects to include the workforce. Jennifer Kaberi, National Coordinator, Children Agenda Forum, Kenya, is gathering examples of how the workforce has been referenced in other country’s similar bills in order to effectively advocate for inclusion of workforce-specific language into Kenya’s bill.

They Ambassadors acknowledge that their task is not an easy or quick one, but they expect the relationships they form to have an increasing impact over time. As one example, Pat Maquina, Senior Mentor, National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW), South Africa said “I look forward to seeing that the strengthening of the social service workforce addresses the root causes of social injustice against children and families left vulnerable and destitute.”

“As part of the Global Partnership to End Violence against children, we are acutely aware of the level and extent of violence experienced by children. Governments, communities and families all have a role to play in preventing violence and its associated harm,” said Jane Calder, Regional Advisor for Child Protection in Asia, Save the Children, Thailand/Asia region. “As an Ambassador for the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, I’m excited to be a part of the call for more social workers and para professionals to be employed, trained, resourced and given the status and the tools in the form of legislation and policy that will enable them to do the job – the job of contributing significantly to the current and the future health and well-being of children, families and their communities, with the goal of ending violence against children.”

One suggestion raised by this new group of Ambassadors is the creation of an advocacy toolkit that anyone can use to rally support for social service workforce strengthening and the Alliance will be working on developing such a toolkit. If you have materials to share that could be included in the kit, please let us know. How have you effectively advocated for the social service workforce? We invite you to share promising practices as well as challenges you’ve faced on our discussion board.

It’s not necessary to be an Alliance Ambassador to be an effective advocate for strengthening the social service workforce. We can all be better advocates to cultivate greater support for this effort. Doing so will benefit all of us and in turn benefit our children, families and communities.

Get Involved and Learn More

Today is the final day of Social Service Workforce Week. You can read the blogs from each day this week, then join the discussion online. Amplify your voice by becoming a member of the Alliance and join in advocating for a stronger workforce, sharing resources and tools, exchanging promising practices and supporting greater investment in this workforce. With more than 1,000 members, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance works toward a world where a well-planned, well-trained and well-supported social service workforce effectively delivers promising practices that improve the lives of vulnerable populations.

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Day Four Blog: Engineering Case Management Approaches

by Global Social Service Workforce Alliance
Read blogs from other days of Social Service Workforce Week

The process of case management is complex. It requires a well-engineered design that includes special attention to the social service workforce, or those ever-important tires that keep the car going, as referenced in the Social Service Workforce Week Day One blog.

Case management ideally helps to ensure the coordination of quality services to enable vulnerable children and families to find solutions to the challenges they face. It is often criticized for being an individualistic method of working in settings where a community approach is paramount. An effective case management approach is community-based and promotes meaningful engagement of community members, family members and children. At the same time, it is important to determine when and if case management is the best tool in the tool box for a social service worker to use or when other approaches, programs and services can be added or are better suited to meet the needs of vulnerable populations. 

The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance uses the power of a network to bring people together across organizations and countries to fill critical gaps in information and evidence and galvanize support for workforce strengthening initiatives that will ultimately better support families and communities to provide safe and nurturing environments for children. The Alliance has been reaching out to our members and partners to identify if there are gaps to be filled in coordination, development and dissemination of tools and resources related to case management. 

Case management word cloudIn a recent conference call on case management, 33 participants from 19 countries shared their wide-ranging definitions of case management. Given the breadth of programming, from coordinating services specific to children on the move or children affected by violence, for example, the range of definitions is not unexpected or unusual. There were a few definitions that seemed to capture many of the key elements emphasized by others. For example, Save the Children uses the definition: “the process of assisting an individual child (and their family) through direct support and referral to other needed services, and the activities that case workers, social workers or other project staff carry out in working with children and families in addressing their protection concerns.” The 4Children project uses the definition “the process of identifying, assessing, planning, referring, and tracking referrals, and monitoring the delivery of services in a timely, context-sensitive, individualized, and family-centered manner." Most definitions had some common key words, as featured in the word cloud.

Good case management is dependent on workers who have the right skills, abilities, ethics, values and behaviors to carry it out, along with the right type of supportive supervision or mentoring to help guide them through the many challenging aspects of providing quality case management. Many types of workers may be responsible for integrating case management approaches into their work, from social workers, child protection officers, para social workers, social welfare officers, children’s officers, community case managers, social auxiliary workers, social welfare assistants and so on. Many of these workers tend to receive in-service training and on-the-job mentoring and support, which is critical given the complex nature of the work. 

Many on that conference call noted interest in having increased access to tools and resources to plan training and provide ongoing support to those carrying out case management. Examples of resources discussed include standard operating procedures (SOPs) and guidelines, tools to monitor and evaluate a case management system, tools that support case worker performance or measure competencies, and/or tools that aid supervisors to provide supportive supervision. Many guidelines and resources already exist, for example:

  • The Case Management Toolkit:  A User’s Guide for Strengthening Case Management Services in Child Welfare was developed by USAID. The toolkit provides a framework for analyzing current systems, procedures and practices at both the case level and system level. It does not promote a specific model of case management; rather, it outlines the beneficial aspects, processes and strategies of case management that have shown improved outcomes for children and families. Good practice examples from seven countries in Europe and Eurasia are provided.
  • Interagency Guidelines for Case Management and Child Protection:  The role of case management in the protection of children is a guide for policy and program managers and case workers. It provides a general framework of agreed principles, considerations, steps and procedures for effective child protection case management developed by the Child Protection Working Group (CPWG)’s Case Management Taskforce in line with the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPMS).
  • Case Management Practice within Save the Children Child Protection Programs analyzes the practice of case management within Save the Children’s child protection programs. It explains the fundamental components of a good case management process, looks at the organization’s understanding and practice in case management, highlights examples of promising practice and identifies actions that should be taken to improve the quality of case management work for the benefit of children, families and communities.
  • The Child Protection Case Management Framework provides standard procedures, assessment and planning tools and guidance in the delivery of case management services. It represents the efforts of the Malawi Department of Social Welfare and Case Management Desk with support from UNICEF Malawi. It highlights core competencies, values, ethics and knowledge required of case managers.

There are a vast array of other tools and resources on case management in existence. Many are available on the Alliance resource database under the workforce theme of case management. At the same time, there may also be gaps in availability of tools such as those that help to assess worker competencies and point toward additional training or mentoring needs.  

Do you have more case management tools to share with your colleagues or are you interested in learning more about what is available? Are you interested in joining a new thematic interest group on case management to contribute to the exchange of information and development of knowledge on this topic? Let us know by posting a comment below or contacting us here.

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Building a Roadmap for the Workforce Strengthening Journey

by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Read blogs from other days during Social Service Workforce Week

Going on a road trip without a map is a little bit like planning to provide social services without knowing much about the people providing those services. Just like you need to know the roads, distances and locations in order to drive to a new destination, decision makers need comprehensive data on the social service workforce in order to adequately address a population’s need for social services. And they need to pair this with stories and analysis of people’s travels along the way to have evidence of whether the map is functioning effectively.

Data on the workforce assists decision makers in understanding employment trends and workforce needs and in identifying the policies, budgets and training systems that need to be in place to produce a well-planned, developed and supported social service workforce. This data helps to build the roadmap for the journey that will need to be undertaken in order to have the right people with the right skills in the right place to meet current and future needs of vulnerable populations.

Once the roadmap has been charted and the journey begins, stories and analysis of the travel need to be assembled to ensure the map is accurate and useful, as well as if any changes need to be made. This is where building a growing evidence base comes in and forms an important part of refining the journey to a strengthened workforce.

The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance aims to bring together people across its membership, including policy makers, academics, donors and practitioners, to help identify needs for data collection and develop tools and resources that can inform decision-making on social service workforce investments and programming. Along those lines, we have embarked on several projects in recent years.

State of the Social Service Workforce Reports

The Alliance has compiled annual State of the Social Service Workforce Reports to highlight social service workforce strengthening data and approaches by examining and analyzing unique initiatives in particular countries and identifying common challenges and trends evident across locations.

  • 2016 Report CoverThe first State of the Social Service Workforce 2015 Report explores the diversity of the social service workforce within and across 15 countries in different regions of the world, recognizing the variety of functions, titles and types of education and training in both government and nongovernment work settings. It also reviews the availability of professional associations and councils to support the workforce. It takes a more quantitative approach to collating information on the workforce, combined with worker profiles and stories of change.

Evidence Review

While data is critical, evidence of what is working is also important. The Evidence Base on the Social Service Workforce: Current Knowledge, Gaps and Future Research Direction report reviews the current state of evidence on strengthening the social service workforce around the world. This report, along with The Evidence Matrix for the Social Service Workforce, are a culmination of a process undertaken by the Building Evidence for Social Service Workforce Strengthening Interest Group (BEIG) of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. They hoped that by organizing the current state of evidence, we can all better understand what data is available in what locations and what more is needed in order to improve the map of the way forward.

Having a good road map requires collecting the data points necessary to guide the future journey. It also allows you to look back and see how far you’ve come.  As Maury Mendenhall, USAID, wrote in her blog for our first annual SSW Week in 2014, “My hope is that in the very near future, we will be swimming in data. We will have the evidence we need to make a case for increasing investments in the workforce and workforce strengthening - and we will be able to target investments, to achieve the impact that we desire.” As we look at the work of our many members in more than 86 countries, we are all, indeed, a few steps further on that journey.

Get Involved

In what ways do you think data and evidence could best inform workforce strengthening initiatives? What data and evidence about workforce strengthening can you add to the evidence matrix?

  • Add your feedback by posting on the discussion board or in the comment box below. Share your reports or research with others by sending it here.  
  • Tweet to show your support for the social service workforce. Some sample tweets you can use today are:
    • It’s a long journey to strengthen the social service workforce. We need a good map. #workforce2030 #SSWWeek
    • Improved evidence of what works = an improved social service workforce. #SSWWeek
Anonymous's picture

Navigating Speed Bumps Ahead: Principles and competencies that drive the para professional workforce

by Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Read blogs from other days during Social Service Workforce Week

There can be many bumps in the road if volunteer or paid workers and employers don’t have a clear set of guiding principles as well as a specific set of skills, knowledge and behaviors to move the work along. These skill sets, or competencies, may be adapted within social service programs to ensure that children and other vulnerable groups get the services and support they need.

Competency frameworks can provide a way to navigate the roadmap of a multi-faceted workforce comprised of many types of workers, including the important role of para professionals, and help to identify the smoothest potential path ahead. For each type of worker, the competency framework can provide a menu of options or a structure from which to both design and fine tune programs and worker training and development. Competency frameworks can:

  • provide a clearer picture of expected actions, behaviors and functions
  • aid recruitment by helping to define the skills and behaviors needed for the job
  • shape training and education programs
  • enhance performance management and development, providing a basis to monitor and evaluate work and form constructive feedback as part of supervision
  • highlight steps for career progression

After initially forming in September 2013, the Alliance Interest Group on Para Professionals identified the need for a competency framework for para professionals. These frameworks help to outline the functions and competencies of para professionals and can be used to provide program guidance, accountability and ultimately inform both training and supervision. They are aimed to be broad enough so that specific countries or programs could adapt them to be contextually and culturally relevant. 

After many drafts and wide input, development of the first full draft of guiding principles and two sets of competencies was developed in March 2015. The first is a set of generic competencies for para professional social service workers that may be useful in areas where specific professional groups are not present. In addition, a more specific set of competencies geared to Child and Youth Care Workers (CYCW) included competencies for both basic level and more advanced workers. These frameworks are a menu of competencies to be selected as appropriate to each program.

The group discussed how best to validate or test these two sets of competencies. The generic and CYCW competency frameworks were reviewed with local para professionals and supervisors in Kenya and Uganda in June and July of 2015. In addition, during their development, the competencies were discussed and reviewed by conference audiences in the Philippines through a session entitled Developing Community Social Service Workers: The Role of Para Professionals and the Work of the Alliance Interest Group on Para Professionals in partnership with the Philippines-based Child Protection Network and in South Africa through a live webcast entitled Development of the Child and Youth Care Work Profession and held in collaboration with the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW).

In September, the first edition of “Para Professionals in the Social Service Workforce: Guiding Principles, Functions and Competencies” was completed and circulated.

Since then, the group has been working on developing functions and competencies specific to two new groups of para professionals – para social workers (PSW) and para professional community development workers (CDW). It should be noted that the names used for these workers vary from country to country. Validation exercises will take place for each set.

  • Validation of PSW competencies took place last week in DRC, led by 4Children
  • Validation of CDW competencies will take place in Ethiopia with assistance from USAID and the Ethiopian Society of Sociologists, Social Workers and Anthropologists (ESSWA).

During the validation exercise in DRC, workers provided valuable feedback on how to apply the competency framework and improve training. One PSW said, “Ce serait bien d'avoir une formation holistique avant le recrutement et plusieurs autres formations en cours d’emploi. [It would be good to foresee a comprehensive pre-service training of PSWs, and then tailored on-the-job training to address any specific needs.]”training

The group has also been gathering stories of ways that the competency framework has been used so far.

One example is the Care and Courage: Using Isibindi to Strengthen Child Protection in Zambia project. UNHCR entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NACCWto replicate the Isibindi model in a custom-designed model for refugee children in Zambia at the Meheba Refugee Camp. This project was designed to train refugees in the Meheba camp as entry-level CYCWs to provide basic care and protection to children in the camps.

Other ways our network has used the principles and functions and competencies are listed below:

  • UNICEF West Africa Regional Office translated the document for a conference of 11 French-speaking West African countries in Benin, West Africa in April to use as a model to develop training guidelines for para professionals.
  • The Child and Youth Care Work competencies have been used to realign the Basic Qualification in Child Care (BQCC) training in South Africa, which is a training that is a part of the minimum standards of child care and required for all those working with children.
  • Due to their use in French-speaking countries in West Africa and the validation exercise in DRC, the full document has been translated into French, with support from Translators without Borders and International Social Services.
  • Since they were released in September, there have been 400 downloads of the Guidelines and Competencies documents from the Alliance website.

Send Your Feedback
How are you using the para professional guidelines or competency framework in your work? If you have had experience using the first edition document in any way, please let us know by posting your responses to our discussion board. The interest group also values your feedback on ways the framework can be strengthened, particularly before the final edition later this year. Add your feedback in the comment box below!

(Image courtesy of NACCW)

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Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Full speed ahead to a stronger social service workforce

by Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Read blogs from other days during Social Service Workforce Week

This week, during the third annual Social Service Workforce Week, we’ll review how the social service workforce is a vital component of making the social service system not only function but generate the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children and families. The social service workforce is the vital group of competent, caring workers who provide desperately needed services to the most vulnerable. They are the heart and the brains of a system responsible for supporting families and reducing violence against children.

To strengthen the social service workforce, it is necessary to look at the workforce within a systems context. The workforce is a micro-system nested within the larger system that requires its own set of interventions and support. At the same time, the workforce plays a key role at the macro, mezzo and micro levels and acts as the ever-important glue between the various components of the system, including legislative and policy environments, national institutions and structures, community and family support systems, financing and budgeting systems, programs and interventions. Their role in ensuring smooth linkages, collaboration and coordination between and among system components strengthens the system as a whole.

car without wheelsWhen Jini Roby spoke at the Alliance’s 2nd Annual Symposium in June 2015, she compared the workforce to the tires on a car. While you can have the fanciest, most expensive engine and make of car, if you don’t have wheels, you will go nowhere. You also need to have the right number of wheels, with the right tire requirements for the vehicle and the right amount of air and ensure that they are well-maintained. Yet, if the garage and the mechanics you rely on are not competent and well trained and supported, you can end up with tire problems that make it impossible to drive that wonderful car. Similarly, without investing in filling open positions, providing quality training and retaining workers by providing supportive supervision and high quality work environments, the social service system as a whole will be riding on deflated tires.

Within the social service workforce, there are many cadres that must work in synergy. Particularly at the national and global level, it is important to come together for a unified, coherent vision of strengthening the workforce in order to strengthen the entire social service system. Collaboration is vital. If the front tires want to go forward and the back tires want to go backward, we’ll be stuck in the same place. All four tires are dependent on each other, just as all cadres of the social service workforce rely on each other. By working together, our advocacy efforts and investments will help us to go full speed ahead. Our blog on Friday will highlight how and why we must be better self-advocates.

The car’s many other micro-systems must also be in good working order to move the car forward. Without making investments in routine maintenance, one part breaks and the whole car is no longer drivable.

Similarly, cars operate most effectively when in alignment with other dynamic components of transportation systems. The social service workforce operates within a social service system that consistently affects and is effected by developments in health, justice, education, gender, community development, immigration, labor and humanitarian sectors to name a few. With committed investments, however, we can grow and move forward, or to build on the analogy, ensure we have the sleekest design and newest technological advances that are maintained and work in coordination in all future year’s models.

When it comes to ensuring that our systems work for children and families, we must all commit to being drivers and not simply passengers in the car. When all parts work together, including the very important tires, we’ll reach our destination of strong, healthy families in a world truly supportive of children.

Discussion Question
Why do you think the social service workforce is a vital component of making the social service system function and generate the best outcomes for vulnerable children and families? I invite you to share promising practices as well as challenges you’ve faced on our discussion board.

Get Involved- Social Service Workforce Week 2016
Today kicks off the week’s celebration of social service workers. Each day will be launched with an e-mail to our members and mailing list and include a blog, links and sample tweets. Tomorrow, on Day Two, we will highlight the development of competency frameworks for community workers who help to prevent and address violence against children. On Day Three, we will feature the importance of data and evidence to build a strong case for workforce strengthening. Day Four will focus on case management approaches and ways groups are strengthening the workforce to better support families. Friday will focus on ways that we can all be better advocates for the workforce.

We encourage you to get involved through the following methods:

  • Become a member
  • Share promising practices as well as challenges you’ve faced on our discussion board
  • Join the conversation this week on Twitter! Use #SSWWeek, tweet the messages below or tweet us @SSWAlliance to tell us about your programs. 
  • Post a message on our Facebook page on your Facebook page using the message below.
  • Review the range of documents on the Alliance resource database
  • Send your recent reports or documents to with a short description to add them to the resource library and disseminate them to this network.
  • Share the daily blogs and emails with your network.

Drafted Social Media Posts
Below are some social media posts you can share on your Twitter and Facebook pages to help promote today’s blog and Social Service Workforce Week:

  • A strong #socialservices system requires a strong workforce. Join us & @SSWAlliance in celebrating #SSWWeek. /social-service-workforce-week
  • Social service workers are the intervention to #ENDViolence against children! #childprotection #SSWWeek /social-service-workforce-week
  • Today @SSWAlliance launches Social Service Workforce Week #SSWWeek. Social service workers are the tires that make the social service system go! These competent, caring workers provide desperately needed services to the most vulnerable people, including strengthening families & reducing violence against children. Read how in today’s blog:

Thank you for joining us this week as we celebrate the work of those who have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others. We look forward to continuing to exchange promising practices and innovative ideas in the shared spirit of strengthening the social service workforce.

Denise Phelps's picture

Utilizing Mobile Technology to Strengthen Social Service Delivery

By Denise Phelps and the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

Graphic depiction of % of social workers who think mobile technology would help them in their jobsAn estimated 90% of people around the globe own a mobile phone. Experts predict that there will begin to be a shift toward global smartphone ownership, and as a result, developing nations will invest less in landline infrastructure and instead focus on broadband internet access. Despite this shift, most social workers and others in the social service workforce still do not have access to data in the field. As most practitioners spend their time away from an office or computer, making visits, this is problematic. A recent study in the US found that an overwhelming majority of social workers surveyed thought that mobile technology would help them do their jobs better.

The high rates of mobile phone ownership combined with the predicted increase in smart phone ownership among people in emerging markets has contributed to an increase in projects utilizing mobiles for health (mhealth). Over the last several years, the health and development sectors have been using mobile phones as a tool to support patient well-being, such as helping to diagnose patients, providing remote education to community health workers, monitoring worker performance, and providing patients with important health information and reminders.

While many of these same tools can be utilized in the social services field, they are currently more predominantly used in the U.S. and Western countries and on a much smaller scale than in the health field. The growing importance of technology use within the field is exemplified by the U.S. National Association of Social Work’s creation of standards on ethical use. 

It is important to understand how new technology can improve services provided by the workforce as well as how it can make the job easier.

Framework for planning, developing and supporting the workforceThe mhealth movement has shown that there are a variety of ways that both the workforce and its constituents can benefit from the adoption of new mobile technologies. The Alliance’s State of the Social Service Workforce 2016 Report reviews progress over the last five years toward planning, developing and supporting the workforce.


Available, accurate data about both the workforce and the people you are trying to serve is a key part of planning. The lack of real-time data creates gaps in available evidence to make data-based decisions toward strengthening the workforce. The health sector has recently increased emphasis on developing and implementing human resource management systems and linking them to various tools for workers. Open Source Human Resource Information Solutions is one of the platforms being utilized, and some countries, including Malawi and Tanzania, are working on integrating information about the social service workforce into these platforms.


The University of Buffalo in New York, USA, developed an app for social workers that helps keep workers up-to-date on advancements in the field on everything from substance abuse to mental health services. They focus on evidence-based and promising practices that are most relevant in the field.

Ventura County, California, has developed a solution that uses a variety of software to provide child welfare workers with mobile technology to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of carrying out their tasks.


An SMS text-based data entry system was successfully piloted in Tanzania to help support para-social workers’ efforts to document their work with orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). Para-social workers were able to submit data via text that was automatically entered into the Department of Social Welfare’s OVC database.

Care Community Hub is an mHealth program in Ghana that combines virtual peer-to-peer support with improved connectedness in order to improve motivation and well-being for frontline health workers involved in maternal, newborn and child health service delivery.​ The program aims to increase data collection and reporting through additional support to workers.

Social service workers around the globe can benefit from mobile programs, which can also be an efficient way to reach currently underserved populations who typically reside in remote areas while increasing real-time data.

How are you using mobile technology to strengthen your work? Join the discussion to share your ideas and successful approaches.

Romola Thumbadoo's picture

Social Service Workers Celebrate International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous people are remarkably resilient and are claiming their rightful place on the global stage; further, they have much to offer workers and learners in the social services. 

On August 9, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples will be celebrated with a focus on the right to education. As the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) related to Education and Intergenerational Transmission states, “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.” The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was passed on September 13, 2007, by an overwhelming majority of the United Nations General Assembly. The UNDRIP ensures that indigenous peoples' rights to cultural integrity, education, health, and political participation are protected.

According to United Nations reports, indigenous peoples are recognized as being among the world’s most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalized peoples. Spread across the some 90 countries, they number roughly more than 370 million. While they constitute approximately five percent of the world’s population, indigenous peoples make up 15 percent of the world’s poor and one-third of the world’s extremely poor.

One example of a group promoting the rights of indigenous peoples is the Circle of All Nations, an informal, unfunded, global eco-community dedicated to supporting indigenous wisdom, respect of Mother Earth, racial harmony and peace building, and social justice. Circle of All Nations has explored the value of traditional Indigenous approaches to child care, racial harmony and justice issues, in order to facilitate reclamation, increasingly mindful that these strategies might not only be critically important to indigenous peoples, but also to others. Indigenous restorative practices such as talking, healing and sentencing circles, can also strengthen an increasingly dehumanized criminal justice system.

Indigenous Circle of Courage principles, conceptualized in the form of a Medicine Wheel grounded on the ideas of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity, inform multiple aspects of the Isibindi Safe Parks child and youth care work of the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) in South Africa.

Many now realize that it is critically important and mutually beneficial for meaningful bridges to be built with indigenous peoples. Education at multiple levels, particularly for social service workers, can contribute to such a process. Increasingly but still too infrequently, social service workforce training is being developed by and with indigenous peoples.

For more information please take a look at:

by Romola Thumbadoo, Circle of All Nations, Canada