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Conference Highlights Importance of Strengthening the Social Service Workforce

Over three days in September, 400 attendees from 35 countries came together to discuss achieving “Equity, Equality for All Girls, Boys and Youth” at the Regional Psychosocial Support (REPSSI) Forum, held in Arusha, Tanzania. In discussing ways to enhance wellbeing for vulnerable children and their families, participants shared promising practices and innovative approaches to address some of the greatest challenges facing their local communities and nations. The Forum highlighted the ways in which designing and implementing programs that combat these challenges requires a strong social service workforce.

Keynote speakers including Tanzania Minister of Health Hon. Ummy Mwalimu; REPSSI CEO Noreen Huni; Jake Glaser, Ambassador of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation; and representatives from the Southern African Development Community pointed to the importance of multi-sectoral collaboration and highlighted evidence depicting the high cost of inaction on lives and livelihoods.

Case Management working group sessionSeveral sessions throughout the Forum spoke to the importance of social service system strengthening with an emphasis on workforce strengthening. As co-host of the Forum, the Alliance presented three panel sessions. During a session on case management approaches to strengthen the social workforce, three presenters shared the key role of the workforce in providing services for children and families impacted by HIV/AIDS, family separation and disabilities. Case studies from Kenya, the East and Southern Africa regions and Namibia featured the usage of innovative tools and resources on integrating case management into violence prevention programs, and using case conferencing and supervision to strengthen the workforce and improve service delivery. Both sessions also shared the current work of the Interest Group on Case Management, including small group discussions to review a document outlining core case management concepts and principles and an assessment tool that is being designed to review and compile existing case management tools into a compendium that will be located on the Alliance’s website.

A third session hosted by the Alliance shared tips and examples for developing an advocacy campaign to advocate for greater workforce-supportive policies nationally, regionally and globally. The Alliance shared some of the worksheets and steps for creating an advocacy campaign that are included within the new Global Advocacy Toolkit.

Speakers on the Alliance’s panels included Alliance Ambassadors, Alliance staff and 4Children colleagues who shared country case studies and regional approaches. The Alliance also hosted an information table during the Forum to share publications and information with participants. More than 50 new members from 13 countries became members of the Alliance network during the Forum, and many also joined the Interest Group on Case Management.

Additional sessions included a review of the Minimum Standards on Comprehensive Services for Children and Young People in the EAC, focusing on five key strategies to ensure the provision of comprehensive services, one of which is the social service workforce. A session on enhancing country ownership and strengthening systems on psychosocial programs highlighted how community health is improved through social service system strengthening.

In offering closing remarks, the Alliance challenged participants to remain engaged, build on discussions and make progress toward workforce strengthening. In its role as a convener, the Alliance stands ready to provide a platform for ongoing learning from colleagues around the globe, exchanging best practices across borders and deriving new and innovative approaches. The Alliance shares in the aims of the Forum to generate political will, convene people across roles and sectors, and advance knowledge through the exchange of promising practices.

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The Role of the Social Service Workforce in Responding to Human Trafficking

logo for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, July 30The World Day Against Trafficking in Persons was established in 2013 by the United Nations in order to raise awareness and promote the rights of the nearly 2.5 million people in modern day slavery. Out of the UN’s efforts to combat human trafficking, the Blue Heart Campaign was born, an awareness raising campaign being joined by the governments of many world nations, including Peru, Switzerland, Brazil, Nigeria, and Lebanon.

This global problem affects every nation in the world, with the most vulnerable members of society being targeted as victims of trafficking. Many have been made vulnerable by poverty and conflict, but no matter the reason, when victims are trafficked, social workers and other social service providers play a critical role in raising awareness of trafficking and aiding survivors.

“Our law clinic represents clients who are survivors of human trafficking. Social workers play a key role in many of our clients' efforts to recover from the trauma of trafficking and to build a secure future life,” says Suellyn Scarnecchia, Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Human Trafficking Clinic. “Social work case managers who help both our minor and adult clients, connect our clients to essential resources like cash assistance, housing, education, English language training, employment, transportation, and counseling. Many of our clients receive counseling from social work therapists in individual or group settings as well. We teach our law students that the skill of working with other professionals, like social workers, is essential to their clients' success. Serving victims of human trafficking is truly an interdisciplinary enterprise.”

Human trafficking robs its victims of their most basic human rights, and members of the social service workforce, being grounded in protecting the rights of others, must be trained and ready to respond to trafficking in their communities.

Learn more about international NGOs working to combat human trafficking:

Download resources related to human trafficking from the Alliance database:

Nicole Brown's picture

Regional Conference in Africa Allows Social Workers to Share Innovative Approaches for Working with Families & Communities

IFSW Africa Regional Conference 2017Many people are not aware of the myriad of issues that social workers and others in the social service sector help individuals and communities to address. During the Social Work, Education and Social Development 2017 Conference more than 200 practitioners, government representatives, researchers, students, association members, and NGO, CSO and FBO staff came together to discuss innovative national, regional and global evidence-based approaches in social work. Held June 25-28 in Livingstone, Zambia, the conference was jointly hosted by the Association of Schools of Social Work in Africa (ASSWA), the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW, Africa), and Social Workers’ Association of Zambia (SWAZ).

Presentations encouraged dialogue on approaches to providing services to address HIV/AIDS, childhood marriage, gender-based violence, social protection, child protection, gender equality, family-based care, environmental sustainability and protection, and other issues affecting vulnerable populations that require a well-planned, well-developed and well-supported social service workforce.

The conference is one of several regional conferences organized with support of IFSW annually, leading up to the IFSW Global Conference in June 2018. During opening remarks, Ruth Stark, President of IFSW, challenged attendees to think of their role globally. “Research shows that for every $1 spent on social services, the return to the local economy is $3. We have an incredible contribution to make to our communities and global communities. Our profession is a borderless profession.”

To emphasize the global nature of the profession, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance supported the conference and coordinated a panel session on ‘Identifying effective social service workforce strengthening and case management in initiatives in Zambia and beyond.’ Presenters from Zambia Rising Project at Save the Children, the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, Christian Alliance for Children in Zambia, Expanded Church Response and Luapula Foundation joined the Alliance in presenting on roles and responsibilities in case management, embedding case management into communities and building consensus in uses of case management. Participants also discussed alternative care case management systems as a component of the broad integrated case management system within the child and family welfare system.

I took part in a panel presentation on how to advocate for a stronger workforce. During the panel I shared the new Global Advocacy Toolkit for the Social Service Workforce that the Alliance developed with WithoutViolence. The toolkit provides evidence-based tools for developing messages, determining key audiences, creating outreach plans and monitoring success of efforts to advocate to policy-makers and stakeholders for greater funding and support for the social service workforce.

I also attended several of the more than 100 abstract presentations. Some of the highlights for me included learning from Genious Musokotwane from Girls Not Brides who reviewed how social workers in Zambia are also involved in providing safe spaces for girls freed from childhood marriages to be able to complete their schooling through grade 12. The organization is trying to work with communities to overcome religious and cultural beliefs that allow girls to marry as soon as they reach puberty so that more girls can finish school and delay pregnancies. In 2016, 16,000 girls nationwide dropped out of school due to teenage pregnancy; annually 15 million girls are married before they turn 18.[1] 

Representatives from social work councils in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe provided detail on how the councils were established, their role in supporting the profession and the sustainability of both the council and association through dues and fees related to registration and licensing. As the only three countries among the 54 countries in Africa with a council and association, there was great interest from other participants to learn how to begin the process in their country. “Contribute your voice as practitioners through involvement in your national association and give visibility and credibility to the profession, learn from each other and validate the work of others,” stated Noel Muridzo, IFSW Africa President.

In another session on social protection and legal frameworks for policy development with Southern African Development Community (SADC), examples from Kenya, Zambia and Mozambique were highlighted. “SADC leads the continent in range, reach and number of social protection programs,” said Vince Chipatuka, Southern African Social Protection Experts Network Coordinator. The session sought to inform social workers and development practitioners on current developments within the region in order to enhance policy interventions at the national level.

As a network, the Alliance fosters the exchange of ideas, tools and best practices across countries. For many at the conference, this was the first such opportunity to learn from others working in the same field in another country. More than 20 conference attendees became members of the Alliance to continue this discourse with colleagues globally.

The Alliance’s participation in the conference was supported by the GHR Foundation’s Children in Families project. The GHR Foundation is supporting the Alliance and other organizations working in Zambia that are helping to strengthen the workforce to support vulnerable families and provide family-based care for children.

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Celebrating Families, Education and Well-being on International Day of Families

by Hassan Khan, Vice President and Executive Director, Asia Pacific Forum on Families International (APFAM)Logo for International Day of Families

This year’s observance of the International Day of Families on May 15 focuses on the role of families and family-oriented policies in promoting education and overall well-being. In particular, the goal of the day is to raise awareness of the role of families in promoting early childhood education and lifelong learning opportunities for children and youth.

The day will highlight the importance of all caregivers in families, and the importance of parental education for the welfare of children. It will focus on good practices for work-family balance to assist parents in their educational and caregiving roles. Good practices from the private sector in support of working parents, as well as youth and older persons in the workplace, will also be highlighted.

The day also aims to discuss the importance of ‘knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development’ (SDG4, target 4.7).

Families and family-oriented policies and programs are vital for the achievement of many goals and targets of the Sustainable Development Agenda. In particular, families have a unique role in supporting the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

In the 2030 Agenda, Member States commit to “strive to provide children and youth with a nurturing environment for the full realization of their rights and capabilities, helping our countries to reap the demographic dividend, including through safe schools and cohesive communities and families.” 

Indeed, cohesive, stable, supportive and well-functioning families are primary educators for young children. Primary caregivers educate and socialize children and youth and ensure their well-being. Parents, and often grandparents, have a vital role in safeguarding good quality education, starting with early childhood and extending throughout their children’s and grandchildren’s lifespan.

Early childhood spans the period up to eight years of age. It is essential for physical, social, cognitive and emotional development of children. Early childhood education (target 4.2) is essential to prepare children for primary education. Beyond that, research indicates that early childhood learning lasts a lifetime and brings about many benefits. 

In particular, early stimulation and interaction with parents and caregivers ‘jumpstart the journey of brain development and a lifetime of learning.’ The first years of life are crucial for children: how they are parented and cared for affects their brain function for the years to come. Investments in early childhood care, education and development also help to reduce disadvantages for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, the returns of such investments are highest among low-income children and serve as a stepping stone out of poverty and exclusion.

As the components of early childhood development include education, health and nutrition, protection and stimulation, safe, nurturing, responsive and stimulating family environments are crucial. In fact, girls and boys with involved and supportive parents tend to have high attendance records, positive attitudes toward school work, achieve better grades and have higher career aspirations. 

It is vital for parents to support their children on their lifelong educational journey. Programs that support parental education and development of parental skills are often an untapped potential toward the achievement of SDG4. 

Similarly, the educational role of grandparents in families should not be overlooked. The number of households where grandparents are primary caregivers for their grandchildren is on the rise mainly due to external migration of parents. Thus, grandparents take on a role of a caregiver and an early educator for children and youth in their families. 

Working conditions of parents affect their ability to play an active role in their children’s education. In fact, in order to be good educators in families, parents need family-friendly policies ensuring work-family balance so that they can be productive employers and involved parents. Policies encouraging corporate responsibility and family-friendly work environments are essential here and have already shown improvement in workers’ productivity and dependability.

The private sector plays a role in supporting training and education of young people, be it through internships or on-the job training. Some enterprises also support intergenerational exchanges where both youth and older adults are mentors or mentees, learning new skills in intergenerational settings.

To increase awareness of the role of families in promoting early childhood education and lifelong learning opportunities for children and youth, APFAM is extending the one-day focus over a 12-month period. Over the course of the next year, the role of families in supporting education and well-being for youth will be championed by organizations globally.

The social service workforce is central to the success of families in improving children’s education and wellbeing. These workers play an enabling role as the wellbeing of individual family members and the community as a whole is at the heart of social service programs.

To learn more and show your support, contact APFAM

Nicole Brown's picture

Environmental Justice, Community Organizing Focus of 34th Social Work Day at the United Nations

 “On behalf of 3 million social workers in 124 countries represented by the International Federation of Social Workers, I welcome you to Social Work Day at the United Nations,” said Suzanne Dworak-Peck. “Social workers are experts in leading communities…to achieve common goals.”

She joined organizing co-chairs Shirley Gatenio-Gabel Professor at Fordham University and International Association of Schools of Social Work Representative to the UN, and Dr. Robin Mama Sakina, Dean of Monmouth University and IFSW Representative to the UN, in opening the April 17, 2017 event to a sold-out crowd of practitioners, professors, students, NGO representatives, associations and other supporters of the social work profession. Attendees from throughout the United States, Canada, Italy, Australia, China and remote participants viewing the live webcast took part in the annual event that shines a light on the significant impact social workers have on the local and global community and provides a platform for social workers to engage on shared goals of the United Nations.

“Our local issues need to be linked to global trends. We must commit to aligning our practices…to achieve the sustainable development goals,” said Gatenio-Gabel in her opening remarks. She referenced the dynamic, innovative, people-centric work of social workers toward ‘Promoting Community and Environmental Sustainability.This was the 2017 theme, which relates to the third pillar of the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development. Throughout the event, panelists shared examples of local and global activism toward achieving these goals under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda for 2030.

His Excellency the Honorable Ambassador Masud Bin Moment, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations, shared Bangladesh’s environmental goals and steps the country is currently undertaking. He called upon the international community to recognize the need and take action toward environmental sustainability. “Social workers can motivate local people to carry out the SDGs,” he stated, encouraging those in attendance to be an active, local voice.

John Ennis, Chief of Information and Outreach, Office of Disarmament Affairs, United Nations, also challenged social workers to think about how they can be involved in the SDGs. He shared his experiences as a social work practitioner and prior roles in international development. “In my experiences, governments tend to act when civil society is leading the way…Social work plays an enormous role in a country’s socioeconomic development…Today, social issues are more interwoven into other issues.”

Stressing the combined impact of social issues and environmental issues on indigenous peoples, Roberto Borrero with the NGO Committee on the Rights of Indigenous People, spoke about the need to raise these issues at the international level. He highlighted that the SDGs specifically reference indigenous peoples and progress is being made toward inclusion but there are still great challenges and opportunities to do more.

“Today’s history is not written,” said Terri Klemm, Associate Professor and BSW Program Director at Centenary University. She stressed the importance of local community organizing and that taking a stand for the local community’s interest requires skills learned through social work. “Activism is self-care.” She shared her own personal environmental social justice interests and the ways in which she has mobilized individuals in the community to rally around preventing the detrimental impacts of fracking.

Similarly, MSW Student Elizabeth Gustafson shared the ways in which she used her community organizing skills she has learned through her MSW course work and field placements. As a macro-focused student, she emphasized valuing both macro- and micro- level practice.  When she joined activists at Standing Rock, North Dakota, for several days in November 2016 she noted that she learned that “Change at the global level is as important as at the policy level.”.

Anna Maria Campanini, President of the International Association of Schools of Social Work, echoed this comment. She agreed that there needs to be greater collaboration and integration between micro and macro-level social work to support provision of services to individuals and also incorporate a policy perspective to create positive change for clients at the systems level. She concluded by saying that “social work can promote peace and culture in communities. The UN and social work can both benefit and have a greater influence upon development.”

Following the event, social work students then participated in a student-led event to continue discussions on how they and the profession can support the SDGs and promote community and environmental sustainability. The events served as a call to action for the profession to continue to take a stand for the best interests of their fellow community members in order to have a combined global impact.

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World Social Work Day Reinforces Need for a Strong Social Service Workforce to Attain Our Global Goals

(Originally appeared on the Frontline Health Workers Coalition blog, March 21, 2017)Infographic on achieving SDGs

Today we mark World Social Work Day to increase attention and political will for greater planning, development and support to the social service workforce. Celebrated the second Tuesday in March annually since 1983, World Social Work Day celebrates the achievements of social workers and other vital cadres of the social service workforce in improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities where they live and work. The social service workforce, comprised of social workers and many other paid and unpaid governmental and non-governmental workers, is often undervalued and doesn’t receive the national and global recognition and support needed to ensure an appropriate number of trained workers are available to meet the needs of their communities. 

Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 calls for ending all forms of violence against children. Approximately 1 billion children worldwide have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence in the last year alone.[1] This places a huge burden upon the social service workforce. The consequences of physical, psychological and sexual violence against children can be as high as $7 trillion.[2] In the East Asia and Pacific US, the cost is equivalent to 2 percent of the region’s GDP.[3] Social workers and others in the social service workforce play a vital role in preventing and addressing violence. Collaboration with other allied workforces is necessary to link children to services, including health care, mental health and psychosocial support, HIV-related services, child protection, legal assistance, and government benefits they may be entitled to.

In 2013, UNICEF launched the #ENDViolence initiative and developed the Ending Violence Against Children: Six Strategies for Action.[4] Community volunteers, para professional workers, child and youth care workers, child protection officers and social workers, among other specialized frontline social service workers, have an important role in implementation of these strategies. They live and work in the community and are first responders in helping vulnerable children and families. During the 34th regular session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, Maria Santos Pais, outlined the importance of strengthening multisectoral partnerships and mobilizing significant resources to meet violence-related targets set in the 2030 Agenda.[5] Data has been gathered through national child protection surveys in 14 countries to document the magnitude, nature and impact of violence against children. The data is intended to inform policy, planning and budgeting.[6]

Yet the social service workforce needs greater planning, development and support to ensure the right number of workers with appropriate training are positioned to meet the needs of vulnerable populations. In Indonesia, for example, the current ratio of 1 social service worker for every 38,551 people is inadequate.[7] To raise the profile of these workers, the Association of Social Workers in Indonesia is launching a campaign to time with World Social Work Day to attract more social work students.

In Cambodia, there are only three higher degree programs for social work students.[8] Limited university level training has resulted in a lack of recognition and support for the social work profession from communities, NGOs and the government.[9] Social Services of Cambodia is partnering with other NGOs on a year-long advocacy campaign, launching this month, aimed at increasing public understanding and appreciation of the social service workforce.

In the United States, the National Association of Social Workers is the largest social work association in the world, with 120,000 members. Their month-long advocacy campaign, “Social Workers Stand Up,” demonstrates how social workers stand up for vulnerable groups. The campaign includes proclamations, public service announcements and infographics aimed at promoting national legislation of interest to the profession.[10] Advocacy campaign materials and ideas were shared during a recent webinar hosted by the Alliance.

The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance aims to support this work through bringing together groups and individuals in order to provide a forum for discussion, sharing of promising practices and tools, and exchanging innovative approaches toward advocacy, all with the aim of strengthening the social service workforce. To aid members’ efforts in effectively advocating at the national level, the Alliance is creating an advocacy toolkit. As part of this work, it has developed an infographic aimed at depicting how a strong social service workforce is vital to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

When these workers are best positioned to protect the youngest, most vulnerable members of the community, the global community benefits. Let’s support the social service workforce in ensuring that a childhood free of violence is not a dream but rather a reality for all children.

Established in June 2013, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance currently has 1,200 members across 100 countries. Learn more on how to support efforts to strengthen this important workforce at

[1] World Health Organization, Global Health Observation data, http:///

[2] Paola Pereznieto, Andres Montes, Lara Langston, Solveig Routier. ODI and ChildFund Alliance. The Cost and Economic Impact of Violence Against Children. 2014.

[3] Estimating the Economic Burden of Violence against Children in East Asia and the Pacific. UNICEF 2015.

[5] Human Rights Council, 34th Session, February 27 - March 24, 2017, Agenda item 3, Annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children.

[6] Centers for Disease Control and Together for Girls Violence against Children Surveys (VACS).

[7] Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. State of the Social Service Workforce Report. 2015.

[8] Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. State of the Social Service Workforce Report. 2015.

[9] Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. Review of Legislation and Policies that Support the Social Service Workforce in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. 2016.

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The Role of National Associations in Organizing Social Workers to Advocate for Women’s Rights

Social workers at the Women's Marchby Dina L. Kastner, MSS, MLSP, NASW Senior Field Organizer

As we celebrate and mark International Women’s Day, one must also consider and reflect upon the best ways to advocate for women’s issues globally. Social workers are a natural fit for organizing. Social workers have long organized to improve living and working conditions. One such renowned social worker and women’s rights advocate is Jane Addams, who worked in Chicago, Illinois, through the settlement house movement in America to promote social and economic reform. In the US, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) supports women’s rights. One of the bylaws-mandated committees of the association is the National Committee on Women’s Issues. They are tasked with developing, reviewing and monitoring programs of the Association that significantly affect women.

The NASW Code of Ethics calls on social workers to be engaged in social and political action. “Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.”[1]

I have worked at NASW since 2003. One of my first projects was to organize social workers for the March for Women’s Lives in April of 2004. It was an amazing experience. I worked with staff across the association to bring together hundreds of social workers to march in support of reproductive choice. We had social work staff and other professional staff working together to mobilize our members.

I have also organized social workers for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. The purpose of this March was to commemorate the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s original March on Washington for jobs and freedom and to work to fulfill his dream of equality. I worked closely with the DC Metro Chapter of NASW to mobilize social workers for the Anniversary March. We had social workers come in from across the country.

In January, hundreds of social workers, both women and men, joined NASW to participate in the Women’s March on Washington in Washington, DC, and across the country. The reasons for marching were varied, but at one level people marched to show that women’s voices matter and that government leaders should put women’s issues at the forefront of the political agenda.

The energy for the March was electric. NASW set up a platform for individuals to sign up for the March. The platform allowed for 500 registrants, and we surpassed that total a week before the March. NASW chapters organized social workers to march in their states and some even organized buses to travel to Washington, DC. They joined an estimated 500,000 marchers.

We had marchers at the Washington, DC event from as far as California and Oregon and as close as DC.

NASW President-Elect, Kathryn Wehrmann, said the March was a “life transforming experience.”

The Women’s March on Washington had an international reach. There were at least 673 marches held on the same date around the world. Our voices were heard.

Continuing the Momentum

You may ask what happens after marching. Well, marching is a critical organizing tool. It helps bring people together and allows us to stay connected with them. After the March, we sent an email to people who signed up to march and invited them to join the NASW Advocacy Listserv. The Listserv helps individuals send letters to their members of Congress on key legislative issues. We have also connected individuals to their local chapters to help continue the work of organizing for social change.

Social workers can be involved in social change efforts with clients, in their communities, in their country and across the world. One way to do this is to join an association or organization that promotes change efforts you believe in. Associations and organizations often have ways to engage their members to influence change. You can also contact your representative body in your nation to educate them about social work and the work that you do. You can become an expert resource for your elected officials. You may want to attend town hall meetings that your representatives host. You can write letters to the editor of your local or national news outlets. See NASW’s Advocacy Resources here.

The main thing is to stay engaged and let your voice be heard. Social workers are experts in individual, group and community interactions. We can help bridge the gap between elected officials and the clients that we serve.

NASW is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the United States, with 132,000 members. NASW works to enhance the professional growth and development of its members, to create and maintain professional standards, and to advance sound social policies. We serve our members through our National Office and 55 Chapters.

[1] National Association of Social Workers. (2015). Code of Ethics, p. 27.

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Global Goals Require Gender Equality and a Strong Social Service Workforce

by Molly Fitzgerald, Plan International USAAt Plan International we fight every day for a future in which girls and young women can enjoy the same opportunities and have the same ambitions as their brothers.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cutting across all sectors. This new agenda reflects an increasing awareness among the development community that vibrant societies and economies rely on thriving health, education, environmental and social sectors. With International Women’s Day upon us, now is an ideal time to take stock of the important role the social service workforce will play in achieving these goals, particularly in advancing rights for women and girls.  

Gender equality features prominently in the SDG Agenda. SDG 5 is dedicated solely to gender equality, because women and girls’ inequality remains a significant barrier to achieving all the other SGDs. In addition to ending discrimination against women and girls, SDG 5 sets specific targets around social welfare including: the protection against violence and harmful practices including child, early and forced marriage; assurances for access to sexual and reproductive health services; and equal and full participation in economic, political and public life. We must all be concerned about the global status of women and girls’ equality.  As participants, advocates, members or beneficiaries of the social service workforce, we recognize that a stronger workforce is better equipped to address and advance these issues. They are vital members of their communities, helping women and girls recognize and fully achieve equal rights.

Unfortunately, the global status of women and girls lags far behind on most of these important targets. Globally, an estimated 35 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence.[1] A third of girls living in the developing world marry before age 18, and one in nine marry before the age of fifteen.[2]

Regional and country variations reveal even greater gender disparities, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where girls and young women account for between two thirds and three quarters of new HIV infections among adolescents.[3] Poor health and social outcomes result from failures in other social sectors to achieve targets for gender equality. In Malawi for example, females have less control over household resources, lower wages, less political participation, and lower enrollment in secondary and tertiary education.[4] Malawian adolescent girls (ages 15-19) are 10 times more likely to be forced into marriage than boys.[5] Female youth are less knowledgeable about HIV and are less likely to use condoms than young males of the same age.[6]

These converging factors enhance vulnerability to HIV infection leading to worse health outcomes -- Malawian adolescent girls and young women are more than twice as likely to be HIV positive.[7] Girls also experience higher rates of malnutrition, shorter life expectancy and poverty, further undermining equal participation in the education, labor and social sectors.  

These inequalities place a heavy burden on the social service workforce. Morbidity and shorter life expectancies related to HIV, malnutrition and widespread poverty increase the demand while also contributing to the challenges faced in meeting the workforce needs. As the leading cause of death in Malawi, AIDS has contributed to a 12 percent prevalence of orphaned children.[8] While tradition encourages community and extended family support for orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi, poverty compounded by recent draught in the country makes this challenging. Approximately, one fifth of all Malawian families are providing care for orphans and vulnerable children; women and girls often carry the brunt of this burden.[9] Even with a large proportion of volunteers and community support, the social welfare workforce struggles to meet the demands. Efforts to meet the demand have included economic, educational and caregiver support to strengthen families.[10] Given the massive human resource gaps in the formal health and social service workforce, strengthening the capacity and coordination among services is a priority.

Plan International implements gender equitable programming for girls and women. Through the USAID funded One Community, led by Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Plan has also been tasked with DREAMS, PEPFAR’s new initiative to reduce new HIV infections among vulnerable adolescent girls and young women.[11] DREAMS addresses positive sexual health behaviors, increases access to sexual and reproductive health services, and creates an enabling environment for AGYW by supporting caregivers, addressing harmful community norms and practices, and creating safe spaces for AGYW in schools and in communities.[12]

Women and girls have an important role to play in closing this gap in strengthening the social service workforce. Representing more than 52 percent of the population in Malawi, and as essential actors in the social service system, certainly the best way to do this is to promote their welfare and protection.[13] This will reduce the demands on the workforce and services; it will also secure the health and well-being of families and communities as key components of a strong social welfare workforce.

Without assuring the welfare and protection of women and girls, we will never be able to achieve and sustain a strong workforce.

Photo caption and credit:
At Plan International we fight every day for a future in which girls and young women can enjoy the same opportunities and have the same ambitions as their brothers.
Plan International / Erik Thallhaug

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Sparking a Global Movement Toward a Stronger Social Service Workforce in 2016

As we reflect on 2016, we thank you for your efforts to strengthen planning, development and support of the social service workforce over the last year. You, our members, are the "sparks" and the reason that the Alliance exists. You have helped advance our collective mission of promoting the knowledge and evidence, resources and tools, and political will and action needed to address key social service workforce challenges and better support vulnerable children and families. This newsletter highlights some of the progress we’ve made together this past year.

Convene and Connect

Advance Knowledge


  • Daily blogs during Social Service Workforce Week in September generated discussion, shared promising practices and illustrated innovative approaches to ‘Build the Case for a Stronger Workforce.’
  • A cohort of eight Alliance Ambassadors are working to inform strategy and influence policy at the local, national and regional level in support of social service workforce strengthening efforts. Following an orientation and training in September, they began their two-year terms.
  • This year, the network grew to more than 1,100 members from 88 countries who are actively working to raise awareness and garner support at all levels for the social service workforce.

Why Be Involved in 2017

Looking ahead to 2017, we are energized by the many opportunities to convene members to exchange innovative approaches, advance knowledge of promising practices and amplify our voices by working together to advocate for greater recognition and integration of the social service workforce. We hope you will join us in the following ways:

  • Join our new interest group on case management (being launched early 2017)
  • Download the second edition of Para Professionals in the Social Service Workforce: Guiding Principles, Functions and Competencies, which will include new competencies for para social workers and community development workers after validation exercises in Ethiopia and DRC (early 2017).
  • Join our collective global advocacy efforts on World Social Work Day (March 2017)
  • Use our new advocacy toolkit aimed to assist members in outreach efforts (April 2017)
  • Attend our 4th Annual Global Social Service Workforce Strengthening Symposium (May 2017)
  • Participate in select conferences and events with us, including the 3rd Africa Regional Joint Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development (Zambia, June 2017) and the REPSSI Forum (Tanzania, September 2017)
  • Take part in Social Service Workforce Week (September 2017)
  • Share information for inclusion in the 3rd State of the Social Service Workforce Report (December 2017)
  • Participate in webinars on key topics related to strengthening the workforce

Join Us in Amplifying Social Service Workforce Strengthening Efforts

The purpose of the Alliance, as a network, is to bring together members across borders to exchange ideas, share tools and advance promising practices. There are many ways you can engage with one another and the global community to help strengthen the workforce in 2017. The coming year offers a renewed opportunity to build upon our many successes, and we look forward to working together over the coming year to continue to strengthen our sector and improve the lives of vulnerable populations. More information on ways to become involved in upcoming activities will be shared throughout the year. We hope you’ll join us on our journey toward strengthening the workforce in 2017 and beyond.

Our work is made possible by: USAID, PEPFAR, 4Children and GHR Foundation.

Betsy  Sherwood 's picture

Social Service Workers in Haiti Promote a More Inclusive Society for Children with Disabilities

Guest blog submitted by Betsy Sherwood, Head of Programs for CBM Country Office in Haiti & Ambassador of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance

December 3rd is always one of my favorite days in the calendar year - it’s the day those of us in the disability and human rights sectors come together to celebrate International Day for Persons with Disabilities. In many countries where I have worked, this tends to be a very inspiring day, one meant to reflect on the achievements made by persons with disabilities and to advocate for more progress in the coming year.

This year’s theme is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want” – drawing attention to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals within the 2030 Agenda, a global framework for development.

While significant efforts have been made since the UN started celebrating this day 24 years ago, we cannot ignore that children with disabilities still remain one of the most marginalized and excluded groups in society. 

Here in Haiti, many children with disabilities face daily discrimination and are often not able to realize their full rights to education, family, and healthcare. To the dismay of many of us in the social service workforce, children with disabilities remain less likely to attend school, access medical services or have their voices heard in society.  

While the statistics and stories can feel daunting, there are many promising initiatives happening around the globe to promote the rights of children with disabilities. There are also important ways that those in the social service workforce can work to ensure that all children, including those with disabilities, have the opportunity to live up to their full potential.

Philogene meets with studentsIn my daily work, I have the privilege of collaborating with a motivated group of local social workers who have dedicated their professional lives to working on behalf of children with disabilities in Haiti. This week, I sat down to chat with my colleague, Philogene Edmonds, to learn more from him about his experience as an advocate for children with disabilities. Philogene is a Social Worker by training and serves as Program Coordinator for CBM-Haiti, guiding all of our programs related to child protection and inclusive education. Since the January 2010 earthquake struck Haiti, he has worked tirelessly to ensure that children with disabilities have equal access to all essential services. Below are a few highlights from our conversation:

Q:  What role can social service professionals play in improving the lives of children with disabilities?

A: We have a critical role to play as it is often on us to advocate for and defend the rights of those who are most vulnerable. I have witnessed firsthand how our workforce has been able to bring attention to the needs of children with disabilities. Here in Haiti, we have had positive influence on key child protection and education actors, using our professional knowledge to encourage them to build programs that are more inclusive for children with disabilities. After the earthquake, we advocated for disability inclusive child-friendly spaces, we trained frontline protection workers on the rights of children with disabilities and we pressured education actors at all levels to work on inclusive education initiatives.

As social workers, we also have very specific skills and training that allow us to work effectively with families. I’ve learned that one of the most important ways I can support a child with a disability is by also providing good support to their family members. By encouraging parents and caregivers of children with disabilities through counseling and coaching, I have seen many positive results. For example, I’ve watched parents become more confident and develop better coping mechanisms, I’ve seen children become more integrated into their families, and ultimately, in the communities where we have worked. I’ve noticed less children with disabilities being abandoned or placed in institutional care. Now, we just need to do a better job of tracking and documenting our successes – those in academia need to join alongside us to help us develop evidence and show what works best in the field.

Q: How has working with children with disabilities impacted you as a professional?

A: I have learned so much since I started working with children and adults with disabilities. I now am more open minded and always understand that no matter how tough a situation seems, there is potential and hope. I have become much more creative, often being forced on the spot to adjust interventions to ensure that a child with a certain type of disability is able to participate. I have become a much better listener and communicator. Sometimes I need to take a few extra steps, or rework the things I am trying to say to ensure that I am effectively communicating with the person I am working with, sometimes the work takes longer, but this process always helps in building trust. I’ve also had the privilege of working closely with people from the deaf community and thanks to them I have learned new ways to communicate.

Philiogene at a school with childrenQ: What advice would you give to a social service professional who is hesitant about working with children with disabilities?

A: Well the first thing I realized, when I too was initially hesitant, is that you don’t have to be a “disability expert” to work with children with disabilities. At first, sometimes the disability itself can be overwhelming and you forget to focus on the child – their needs, their dreams, their ambitions. I suggest not to get caught up in “curing or fixing” the disability and focusing instead on ways in which you can make their immediate environments more accessible and accommodating. Ask yourself how in your professional role you can support their teachers, family members, siblings, and neighbors to ensure that this child feels safe and included. As professionals, we already know how to connect with families and communities, this is what we are good at, so don’t be scared.

Also, it’s really important to always use a strengths-based approach! I find most days I am blown away by what the children I work with are capable of and how, when given the chance, they are able to adapt and succeed in ways many of the people closest to them never thought possible. At the end of the day, even when you are feeling hesitant, you will have to overcome those feelings. We as a workforce have a mandatory obligation to work with all children. Start to explore some of the many resources out there on working with children with disabilities and look for mentors in the field.

While the social service workforce still has hurdles to overcome here in Haiti, it is always inspiring to sit down and chat with Haitian professionals who are working tirelessly to improve the lives of children. This December 3rd, I encourage all members of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance to reflect on how you and your organization can better support children with disabilities. I also encourage you to take time to learn more about how to promote disability inclusion in your existing programming by exploring resources developed by organizations such as CBM and other leaders in the disability field.  

CBM is a Christian international development organization, committed to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities in the poorest communities of the world irrespective of race, gender or religious belief. Based on its core values and over 100 years of professional expertise, CBM addresses poverty both as a cause and as a consequence of disability, and works in partnership with local and national civil society organizations to create an inclusive society for all. For further information, please visit