Jean-Claude works as a social worker for a small community-based orphan care program based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In this capacity, he is responsible for assessing the welfare of children and families, helping them to identify and access essential services and resources, organizing support groups for children and their parents and guardians, investigating allegations of child abuse, mediating family conflicts, and developing and implementing case plans in an effort to keep families strong and together.
Following the earthquake last year, Jean-Claude’s very full job description was further stretched to include negotiating temporary placement and locating caregivers for nearly 150 children who lost contact with their families or whose parents were killed in the earthquake’s aftermath. As a social worker, particularly a social worker in an environment devastated by natural disaster, political turmoil and disease, Jean-Claude has a critically important and almost impossible scope of work. Yet when asked what he considers to be the most difficult aspect of his job, Jean-Claude explains, “Everyone thinks they can do my job, but nobody wants to.”
Around the world, social work is one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated professions. While we recognize that social concerns have a tremendous impact on health, education, economic and other development outcomes, we rarely recognize the skills and expertise of those professionals who address these concerns. Like the health sector, the social service sector struggles to attract and retain qualified workers. Vacancy rates for established professional and para-professional positions within Africa range between 50%–60%, and half those employed leave their jobs within five years (as compared to seven years for healthcare workers). These statistics indicate a global crisis within systems of care and support for vulnerable children and a serious threat to global development.
This past November, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, under the auspices of USAID, funded a global conference in South Africa to highlight this crisis and explore strategies for addressing the crisis at a country level and global level. “The Social Welfare Workforce Strengthening Conference: Investing in those who care for children” brought together teams from 18 countries to share experiences, promising practices, and develop concrete action plans. Each team included representatives from relevant government ministries, non-governmental organizations, donor organizations, social work training institutions, and professional associations, which provided an opportunity for multi-disciplinary problem solving and team building.