Guest Blog: Second Annual Global Social Service Workforce Alliance Symposium at the US Institute of Peace

Guest Blogger: Amanda Hirsch


The SSW symposium provided a forum for practitioners, government representatives, academics, and other experts from around the world to discuss current efforts (3) being undertaken internationally to expand the social service systems for the health and safety of children and families. The presentation was broken into three parts, each part discussing one component of the stride to strengthen the social service workforce.

  1. Planning: Dr. Jini Roby, a professor in the Department of Social Work of Brigham Young University along with Ms. Joyce Nakuta, Deputy Director of the Namibia Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare spoke on the topic of planning the social service workforce. Planning the workforce, they agreed, “takes a system”- a calculated outline of each potential worker and their respective responsibility. To be most effective, social service must work on a network basis from workers on the ground (ie child health workers who raise and mentor orphaned children) to policy makers that have the capacity to encourage funding of child health worker training programs- all positions are necessary for the job to effectively get done.
  2. Robin Sakina Mama, Dean of Monmouth University School of Social Work and Ms. Zenuella Sagantha Thumbadoo, Deputy Director of National Association of Child Care Workers, South Africa discussed developing the social work force. This component of the process deals with educating and training social service workers. Dr. Robin Sakina Mamma spoke about the issue of certification and degrees. Today, many countries in need of social service work are left at a disadvantage because they lack existing institutions that provide proper degrees for social work or do not yet have a place in  the workforce for professional social workers. With that, many do not receive enough of an education in social work to be effective and many do not have a chance to practice and/or use their degrees in their home countries of need.
  3. Natia Partskhaladze of UNICEF and the Georgian Association of Social Works discussed the issue of supporting the workforce. Dr Partskhaladze spoke about worrisome recruitment and retention rates that are particularly high in developing countries, such as her home country of Georgia. The social work profession was non-existent in Georgia as of fifteen years ago. After establishing a study program and professional network for social work in the year 2000, an organization of social workers has since been formed. Centered on retention and development, the organization strives to keep social workers in the workforce while encouraging Georgians to get involved in the field of social work through the development of academic and professional programs and support groups. This organization of social workers now boasts 600 members, making Georgia an example of what committed recruitment and retention efforts can do to create or revive a supply of social workers within a country in need.

In her opening remarks Deputy of the Child Protection Section of UNICEF, Dr. Karin Heissler, noted that social work uses data and lessons learned in order to make decisions about the social service workforce and influence policy- a concept that is very familiar in public health.

Public health is entirely driven by data and “lessons learned”- both are at the base of nearly all interventions and both are necessary when public health professionals must have a voice at the community or policy levels.

The process of “planning the workforce” described is similar to the process of planning an intervention in public health. Both require assessing an issue; anticipating the immediate, medium, and long-term needs to be addressed; and creating a system with which to achieve a goal at all anticipated levels.


twitter photoAmanda Hirsch is a summer Global Health intern for APHA. She is starting her final undergraduate year at the GWU Milken Institute School of Public Health. Her passion for global health began in rural Honduras, and she is particularly interested in disparities in healthcare systems that affect the Latino community. She intends to pursue an MPH degree with a dual concentration in Community-Oriented Primary Care and Global Health. You can follow her on Twitter at @amandahirsch12.

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