May, 2020, Phnom Penh – One in two Cambodian children is reported to have experienced a severe beating, one in four suffered from emotional abuse, and one in 20 had been sexually assaulted. Many children are trafficked, forced to work, separated from their families and unnecessarily placed in residential care institutions. For many, school closures and growing economic vulnerability caused by the pandemic will increase the threat of child labour, child marriage, child trafficking, teenage pregnancy, and violence.
In time likes this, social workers can be a lifeline for children and families, defending their health and well-being. But in Cambodia, there are too few individuals in the social welfare sector and the majority have no formal social work training.
To respond to this urgent need, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) to train new social workers and ensure that trained staff are available to effectively handle cases of risk and harm. This is part of UNICEF’s efforts to build a child protection system in a country where the absence of a child protection law makes a coordinated response across the country challenging.
Before Covid-19, UNICEF was supporting MoSVY to deploy 17 social workers in five provinces. However, during the pandemic it has become critical that social workers are available in all provinces to effectively address cases of violence and for those children left separated, unaccompanied or needing psycho-social support. MoSVY and UNICEF worked closely with the National Institute of Social Affairs (NISA), which runs academic courses in social work, to recruit 20 of their graduates into social work for deployment in all the remaining 20 provinces. They were also provided with 2.5 days of further training before their deployment.
The training, run over two and half days, features expertise from specialists in the social sector from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth (MoSVY), Social Services Cambodia (an NGO specializing in social work training and support) and UNICEF. Trainees will also get regular coaching support from SSC, including case reviews. These graduates from NISA, fresh from the special training, will be deployed as formal social workers in all 20 provinces in Cambodia – starting a historic trend. They begin initially with a four-month contract, with at least one responsible for each province. Expanding this programme allows more of Cambodia’s children to access services closer to them, both during COVID-19 and beyond. These social workers work closely with child welfare staff at the Provincial and district level to prevent and respond to children at risk of or experiencing harm.
Lysa Aline, 31, is in her fourth year of a bachelors in social work at National Institute of Social Affair (NISA) and working at MoSVY. She attended the training for formal social workers. “I always look for any relevant opportunities to develop my capacity in social study and work. This workshop on social training was a good chance for me to take the opportunity to learn more, not only from the MoSVY staff but also the specialists from UNICEF Cambodia. They have significant experience in social work building up Cambodian society,” explained Lysa, “I really enjoyed the training and I have learnt a lot from it so far. I have interacted and exchanged ideas with others in the class.”
Mr So Samath is 28 years old, also a fourth-year bachelors study in social work at NISA and working at MoSVY. “I am very happy to join with this training because I can study and learn from the senior trainers with great experience,” said Samath.
As the new social workers go out into the provinces, they will play a crucial role in raising awareness on COVID-19 preparedness and response in communities – helping reduce the risk of a second wave. Their responsibilities include family reunification of children in the state and NGO-run orphanages, as well as continual monitoring of children undergoing reintegration. The social workers will support existing government and NGO staff to help orphaned or abandoned children for family reunification or place them in family-based care such as foster or kinship care. They will help bridge the data gap by collecting information and reporting on the situation of children across Cambodia. Reliable, significant data is critical to powerful action, and it will help to consolidate the Child Protection Information Management System being built that will enable better interventions.
These individuals form an integral part of the child protection system. They will work closely with the Commune Committee for Women and Children and NGOs to identify vulnerable children, enabling them to prevent unnecessary family separation by referring them to appropriate services, including family counselling and family income generation.
“To become a good social worker is my dream since I was young. I know it can help youth and society,” said Lysa, who is helping to begin this historic new chapter in Cambodia’s child protection system.
“Social workers are the backbone of any effective child protection system”, said Lucia Soleti, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection in Cambodia. “Strengthening the social service workforce is a programme priority for UNICEF Cambodia as social workers play a critical role in identifying, preventing and managing risks, and responding to situations of vulnerability and harm. We aim at supporting the government to have at least two social workers in every province and in every district of the country to protect children from all forms of violence, access justice, and receive quality care.”