Social services to be improved
The government, Hagar International and Save the Children are teaming up to address the country’s lack of social workers, hoping to beef up the social service sector and deal with the growing number of children in residential care facilities – informally known as orphanages.
Almost 49,000 children – representing one out of every 100 Cambodian children – are living in residential care facilities and the vast majority of them, according to a study released last month by Columbia University, have a living parent.
With funding from USAID, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation and the NGOs they are hoping to increase “the percentage of children living in safe, nurturing and family-based care” by creating Cambodia’s first Social Work and Training Standards.
“Social workers are an essential part of the recovery process. They work directly with clients, their families and communities and they provide both the glue and the oil to make the whole system work,” said Micaela Cronin, the CEO of Hagar International, at the program’s launch yesterday.
“Therefore it is crucial that organizations and their staff, working in the social work sector, have the right set of tools, training, systems and standards to guide their work.”
The initiative is one part of Family Care First (FCF), an effort led by 50 organizations, both local and international, aimed at addressing the social services sector holistically through a variety of efforts and reducing the number of children in residential care facilities.
Of the children in residential care facilities surveyed in Columbia University’s study, nearly 75 percent said they were there either to gain access to education opportunities or because their families did not have the resources to care for them.
FCF plans to work with the government on programs that will research why families split and what can keep them together, start village-level social work efforts, spearhead campaigns to stop donors from supporting residential care facilities, bring young people into the field and address foster care as well as domestic adoption.
Nim Thoth, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, said he was eager to work with the NGOs to fill in any policy gaps and increase their capacity to address the country’s issues with orphans and family separation.
“We have seen progress, but we are not satisfied. We are committed to increasing child protection so that they can live in the community with their families in a better way so that they are loved and understood,” he told the group.
“We lack the resources, both human and financial, and what we need the most is the knowledge of social work. We want this knowledge to reach everyone so they can protect and care for all children.”
Cambodia has no accreditation of social work service providers and a severe shortage of qualified social workers. Only a handful of universities have social work programs.
The Royal University of Phnom Penh has a social work focus, but only trains about 20 students per year. Since 2010, only slightly more than 100 social workers have graduated in the field from the university.
Hagar also said officials in Cambodia lack consistency in how they apply certain social work practices. Although the government has created a baseline for social work standards, it is considered informal and enforcement of it is almost nonexistent.
All the groups involved said they were excited by the ministry’s support of the project and eagerness to participate in capacity-building exercises that will help them address persistent childcare and family problems.
“We are thrilled to highlight the Multidisciplinary Advisory Group as an important example of the Royal Government of Cambodia working to build a system that protects its children and keeps them in the care of families, not institutions,” said Bianca Collier, a project director for Save the Children.
“We appreciate that this work is being done in collaboration with a wide range of committed organizations and look forward to seeing the impact of the social work and training standards on children throughout the country.”
Robert Common, a child protection specialist at Save the Children, said the government is hoping to reduce the percentage of children in orphanages by 30 percent in the next few years through efforts to solidify the social work sector and family services.
“Social work is one of the fundamental pillars of building a protective welfare system for both families and their children,” he said.
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