Team Social Protection, it’s time to catch up with Team Child Protection!

Juliet Attenborough is a Senior Social Policy Specialist at Development Pathways. She has most recently acted as a policy advisor to Uganda's Expanding Social Protection Programme, as a Child Protection Specialist for a Multi-Country Programme Review for UNICEF Pacific.

Juliet Attenborough is a Senior Social Policy Specialist at Development Pathways. She has most recently acted as a policy advisor to Uganda’s Expanding Social Protection Programme, as a Child Protection Specialist for a Multi-Country Programme Review for UNICEF Pacific.

Before I dive into this blog, I want to clarify one point: child protection and social protection are not the same thing. I’ve had some awkward (and at times heated) debates about this in the past so I want to clear this up first. Simply put, social protection (or social security) is about preventing and responding to income-related shocks, crises and vulnerabilities across the life cycle. Child protection on the other hand is primarily about preventing and responding to all forms of violence against children.

Sure, there’s overlap: for example, social security is vital for income and economic strengthening, which in turn is a key strategy for preventing violence against children (see the INSPIRE package for more on this, click here). But they are different and distinct, both in terms of their approach and their objectives. So, getting back to the point of this blog: why am I so keen to see ‘Team Social Protection’ sit down for a catch up with ‘Team Child Protection’? Well, here are a few reasons for starters, and the fact that this week is International Social Service Workforce Week is a big hint….!

If you want to build a strong social protection system, you need a good quality social service workforce. While this isn’t a new point, I do feel like it’s gaining more recognition and traction among the social protection crowd. At a south-south learning exchange workshop I facilitated earlier this year, it came out clearly from Latin American case studies that strong and integrated social work systems were critical for delivering more advanced and coordinated inter-sectoral social protection systems. In these cases, social workers on the ground were pivotal in helping to connect recipients of social protection with a range of complementary services and support, particularly those who needed more intensive support to be able to benefit from (or even participate in) social assistance programmes.

I’m writing this blog from Uganda, where the National Social Protection Policy comprises two key pillars: social security, and social care and support. Unsurprisingly, for a country such as Uganda where social care and support is considered part of social protection, strengthening the social service workforce is a non-negotiable. So even if you convince yourself that you can almost get away with running a pilot cash transfer without investing too much in the social service workforce strengthening (however ill-advised and limiting I think it might be), you absolutely cannot and will not build a strong and sustainable national social protection system without that workforce in place and fully embedded in the social protection system. If you’re interested in exploring the role of social workers in social protection systems, the International Federation for Social Workers have a policy statement that is worth a read.

The Global Social Service Workforce sets out the role of social service workers in achieving the SDGs

The Global Social Service Workforce sets out the role of social service workers in achieving the SDGs

Team Child Protection is doing some really interesting work on strengthening social service workforces. The child protection sector is under no illusion about the importance of strong social service workforces to help protect children – they know it’s vital (see Roger Pearson’s new blog on the role of social service workforces in addressing SDGs related to violence for a brief overview). There is a lot of thinking and work happening in the child protection / OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) space that social protection colleagues can learn from. To get a snapshot of this work, I’d really encourage you to check out the Better Care Network’s library (they have a whole section dedicated to social service workforce strengthening!) While some of this work is already clearly joined up with other sectors like social protection, there seem to still be missed opportunities to collaborate through these investments to better support social protection objectives.

With limited resources, we need to make our investments work for both social protection and child protection. Child protection has always been woefully under-resourced. And social protection is still often dependent on donor funding, which seems to be on the decline at the moment (though I could be wrong on this – I haven’t crunched the numbers but would love to know if anyone else has). So we need to be smart, make every dollar count, and squeeze as much value for money out of our work as possible. Both social protection and child protection outcomes are served by having a well-qualified and well-resourced social service workforce (not to mention other sectors like health and education). So we need to be pooling knowledge, lessons learned and resources, and finding ways to amplify the value of our investments in social service workforce strengthening, not only within sectors, but across them too.

There’s some really cool work happening in this space, but it’s still highly under-valued. And both Team Social Protection and Team Child Protection (along with other teams I haven’t focused on here!) all have a vested interest in seeing a strong social welfare workforce in place. So…. Team Social Protection, if you haven’t caught up with Team Child Protection lately, then it’s time to pick up the phone! If you want something to help stimulate your thinking on what can be done to strengthen the social service workforce, this social welfare workforce strengthening framework might come in handy.

If you’ve already got a fantastic collaboration between social protection and child protection to strengthen the social service workforce, I’d love to hear how it’s going – while I haven’t come across many documented good practice examples, I know they’re out there! I’m also interested to hear whether there is better (or worse?!) collaboration in the humanitarian space, given that there is an increasing interest in the use of cash transfers in emergencies.

As someone who spends a lot of time floating around between Team Child Protection and Team Social Protection, I wish you all happy collaborating for a stronger social service workforce!

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