Over 150 government, academic, and civil society representatives from across Africa, Vietnam, and Haiti gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, met this month (November 2010) to share lessons learned and to plan efforts to strengthen the social welfare labor force in Africa that cares for vulnerable children and families. Funded by USAID and PEPFAR, the Social Welfare Workforce Strengthening Conference raised the profile of this very important but neglected issue.
The conference highlighted the paralyzing workforce shortages and challenges of the thousands of children and families impacted by HIV/AIDS needing services and the stark impact on having a functioning social welfare system. Many countries participating in the conference are continuing to grapple with over-burdened, understaffed, and fragmented workforce. Much more needs to be done to ensure that this important workforce is trained and supported.
Social workers, and the social welfare workforce are change agents who work on prevention of problems, recovery and development at individual and family level, community level, and national level. The work includes community mobilization, psychosocial support, advocacy, developing and reforming policies, and other activities.
A major issue for the social welfare field is securing significant and sustained financial commitments from governments. Discussions in several sessions centered on the widespread urgency of convincing ministers of finance of the need for a larger budget for the social welfare workforce. A point raised by some conference participants is that If a minister believes social work or social welfare imply welfare handouts and dependency rather than development of service systems, community mobilization for prevention and education, then sustained financial commitment is unlikely.
Social workers John Williamson with USAID and Stephanie Asare, NASW member, hosted different discussions on alternative terminology and definitions. Williamson suggested that there are at least two options we might consider as an alternative for identifying this workforce, as we continue to work for its development across the African continent: The Social Development Workforce; or The Social Protection Workforce.
The final day of the conference was devoted to having participants discuss next steps when they return to their home countries. Attendees worked in country teams and came together at the end of the day for a lively closing ceremony. Each country team was recognized and awarded certificates amid clapping, cheers and songs. NASW assisted in the planning and convening of this conference at the invitation of USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and Management Sciences for Health (MSH).
To review the concept and objectives of this conference see http://www.ovcsupport.net/files/CONCEPT%20NOTE.pdf .
For more information about related work for orphans and vulnerable children world wide please see www.ovcsupport.net .