Bringing Social Support Services to Vulnerable Children in Rural Parts of Colombia

More than one-quarter of Colombia’s population lives in rural areas that account for 94 percent of the country’s land mass. It’s not an easy life for people living in remote communities such as this one in Huila Region. HRH2030 is supporting local efforts to bring social support services to children and families who need assistance.

Colombia’s government is committed to providing social support services to the country’s children – and to past generations of young people affected by long-term violence and unrest – but delivering the targeted assistance needed by families living in rural communities is a challenge that defies a one-size-fits-all approach.

“There are several challenges associated with providing support to families in rural communities,” explains Juan Barco, project director for HRH2030’s social service workforce strengthening activity in Colombia, which is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“These include a high geographic dispersion of families, infrastructure deficits, illegal armed groups, lack of internet connectivity, and newly arriving refugees from Venezuela, among others. Taken as a whole, this presents a huge challenge in the design of care and prevention services,” he continues.

“After 50 years of armed conflict, one of the most significant challenges that we have as a country is to rethink our idea of Colombia as a nation by redefining our customs and strengthening our social structures. In that sense, the social service workforce has a leading role to play in the process of rebuilding Colombia as a country at peace,” Barco says.

This puts the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar – ICBF) on the front lines when it comes to providing much-needed social support to rural communities.

As the country’s largest provider of social support services for the protection of children, ICBF implements socio-educational programming in 33 departments and 211 zonal centers across Colombia’s rural territories. ICBF staff promote family and community wellbeing through early childhood interventions, services for children and adolescents, nutrition strategies, protection services, and other social support services targeting families and communities.

USAID’s HRH2030 program has been supporting ICBF since 2017 with the overarching objective of increasing national, regional, and municipal-level human resource capacity to provide child abuse prevention and protection services. In late 2018, the HRH2030 team worked closely with ICBF to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the existing services they provide to families in rural settings.

Representatives from ICBF’s Zonal Centers and an HRH2030 consultant meet to discuss the Rural Families and Communities Modality and how best to coordinate its integration at the local level.

“In addition to the assessment, we also held participatory meetings with technical and operational teams from the Families and Communities Directorate at the national, regional, and local levels to gather their input on how to best design a new prevention model,” explains Susan M. Gallego, American International Health Alliance’s social welfare technical expert for the HRH2030 Colombia activity.

 “This research helped ICBF gain a better understanding of social services practices and the needs of families and communities at high risk,” Gallego says, noting, “The research also showed opportunities for improvement in coordination strategies between all these levels, which is critical for their various stages of planning, service provision, follow up, monitoring, and evaluation.”

Together, this body of work formed a basis for developing a new Rural Communities and Family Modality designed to address the unique and complex challenges faced by rural communities in Colombia The evidence-informed intervention includes a comprehensive package of violence prevention strategies, family support guidelines, and solutions to support community empowerment and wellbeing.

The team also provided guidance for the redesign of the follow-up process for families and communities, which is being developed at the national level and will be linked to the prevention and protection services. The prevention component proposes bio-psycho-socio-educational strategies based on the strengths and needs of ethnic groups, urban and rural families, families in high vulnerability communities, and families with children with disabilities. These targeted modality changes will allow for higher quality prevention services through an improved direct intervention process along with increased engagement with families and communities that had previously lacked support. 

The findings and recommendations were reviewed, evaluated, and adopted by ICBF’s new administration.

“The current state of violence in Colombia, especially against children and adolescents, poses an enormous challenge,” Barco says. “It calls for the integration of strategies that support these vulnerable groups, the redesign of services that can better accommodate new realities across Colombia’s different regions in the post-conflict era, and the development and implementation of new tools that will strengthen family and community structures.”

With ongoing support from USAID, HRH2030, and AIHA, ICBF will be able to provide better services for the most vulnerable families and communities in the country and improve care strategies to reduce family violence rates in the country. 

Community workers and the socio-educational training coordinator from ICBF’s Rural Families and Communities Modality do a walkthrough of the La Esperanza neighborhood in Huila Region.