Social Welfare Workforce and Orphans + Vulnerable Children (OVC)

Around the world today, there are 153 million children who have lost one or both parents, according to UNICEF. Approximately 34 million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and nearly half of them were orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

In 2013, the Institute of Medicine’s Summary Evaluation of PEPFAR reported that efforts to provide comprehensive economic and psychosocial support to children living with or affected by HIV over the past decade have not achieved sufficiently broad coverage. A social safety net capable of addressing issues such as poverty; gender inequality; access to education, proper nutrition, and medical care; and protection from violence and sexual exploitation are critical for these vulnerable children and their households. In low- and middle-income countries, however, the public health and welfare systems are severely overstretched and unable to deliver these much-needed services.

Social welfare workforces that provide care and support for vulnerable populations, especially children, are all too often some of the weakest and most poorly funded. Current social welfare workforce staffing plans lack clearly defined strategies and realistic implementation mechanisms due to funding constraints, while the absence of accurate human resources data and cost projections, coupled with ineffective, sometimes corrupt, systems for recruiting, hiring, and promoting workers, further impedes efforts to bolster the workforce. In addition, existing educational opportunities are outdated and unable to meet the demand for this high-stress, often under-appreciated workforce.

AIHA’s Social Welfare Workforce Strengthening Program and Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Programs

AIHA’s Social Welfare Workforce Strengthening and Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) programs focused on developing competency-based training along a continuum ranging from community-level para social workers on up to those seeking Master of Social Work degrees. Technical assistance also focused on advocacy, policymaking, accreditation, and association strengthening to help build comprehensive, sustainable, and locally-driven capacity.

Our Response

AIHA has close to 30 years of experience working in close collaboration with governments and healthcare institutions around the globe to build sustainable human resource and institutional capacity to effectively address community health and social support needs. From 2006, when we launched our first social work partnership in Tanzania through the HIV/AIDS Twinning Center Program, to present day, AIHA had worked with local partners across Africa to strengthen their capacity to mount targeted, comprehensive, and community-based responses to the unmet needs of orphans and vulnerable children. Subsequently, similar partnerships or initiatives were launched in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Zambia. More recently, AIHA began working in South America in 2017, supporting USAID’s HRH2030 program in Colombia as a member of a broad-based consortium led by Chemonics International, and more recently on a USAID funded project in Kano, Nigeria, entitled Integrated Child Health and Social Services Award (ICHSSA 3).

In low-resource settings where HIV prevalence is high, community-based caregivers represent an untapped resource for addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. Whether they are employees or volunteers with local government authorities, NGOs, or private groups, these individuals are dedicated to helping the communities they serve. They are also familiar with the background and culture of the HIV-affected children they work with. Unfortunately, a lack of training, mentoring, supervision, and ongoing support hinders their ability to effectively engage, assess, and refer their clients to the appropriate community resources and service providers. As a result, many children and families are not able to access critical medical and psychosocial support, including housing and food assistance, healthcare, counseling, education, and basic safety and protection services.

AIHA’s efforts to address social welfare workforce strengthening have been implemented through specific projects, past and present including, but not limited to:


Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Nigeria

According to UNICEF, there were an estimated 13.8 million children and adolescents (0-18 years) worldwide who have lost one or both parents to AIDS as of 2019, 80% of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.  In Nigeria, there are an estimated 2.5 million orphans and vulnerable children due to HIV/AIDS. AIHA and our sister Nigerian organization, Twinning for Health Support Initiative (THSI-N), in partnership with the Society for Family Health (SFH), a Nigerian-based NGO, and Save the Children Federation (SCF), are implementing a five year project funded by USAID entitled the Integrated Child Health and Social Services Award (ICHSSA 3) Program. 

The goal of ICHSSA 3 is to integrate evidence-informed strategies to enhance OVC services, strengthen social services to OVC, improve OVC systems’ services and support in Kano, Nigeria, and in other state in Nigeria. Specifically, the objective of the ICHSSA 3 Program is “to ensure that OVC are cared for and protected by their households, communities, local and state government” through civil society and partnerships. Nigeria was originally selected because at the time of the USAID award, there was a significant risk among adult populations not on HIV/AIDS treatment (40%) and low use of ART among HIV-positive pregnant women (30%) – indicating a significant at-risk population that could benefit from pre-OVC and OVC services as part of HIV prevention and treatment programs. AIHA and our partner organization THSI-N have been working to deliver a full package of technical assistance activities to ensure that local and state governments have sufficient, high performing human resources to protect and care for OVC.

The Auxiliary Social Work (ASW) program is the safety valve that has been identified to provide both an immediate and long-term solution. Middle and lower-level manpower needs to be trained and provided with knowledge and skills to intervene in empowering children and families and communities to take control over their life situations and solve their own problems.

The demand for social services at the household level has grown which poses a big challenge for the available social workers, thus necessitating the need for the training of Auxiliary Social Workers to supplement the services of professional social workers.

Now in its fifth year, the ICHSSA has had much success, as described in detail here.

Supporting USAID’s HRH2030 Program in Colombia

From 2017 to 2021, AIHA supported USAID’s HRH2030 program in Colombia as a member of a broad-based consortium led by Chemonics International. Colombia is one of six priority countries in the United States Government Action Plan for Children in Adversity (APCA), an initiative designed to improve the well-being of children around the world, and it is the only country in Latin America to have an HRH2030 project supported via USAID. It was also the only HRH2030 program that directly focused on the quality and effectiveness of child welfare social services. The project responded to the need that arose from Colombia having endured over 50 years of warfare and violence that greatly impacted family life and the wellbeing of children.

In collaboration with the government of Colombia, APCA determined that support for the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (El Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, ICBF) and its ongoing efforts to provide violence prevention and protection services for more than eight million children, adolescents, and families would be the most effective approach to addressing childhood issues in the country. 

AIHA’s social work efforts contributed to the development of the social services workforce. These efforts were all focused on leaving the Colombian ICBF system with sustainable tools and trainings that will have long term impact to improve the quality and effectiveness of Colombia’s child protection services.  

To learn more about this project, read click here.

Project SMILE

With a similar mission to AIHA, Twinning for Health Support Initiative, Nigeria (THSI) replicated the highly successful Auxiliary Social Worker Training Program (known in other countries as Para Social Worker) AIHA piloted in Nigeria under an HIV/AIDS Twinning Center partnership with local social work training institutions in Enugu State from 2008 to 2014.

THSI collaborated with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) on the USAID-funded Sustainable Mechanisms for Improving Livelihoods and Household Empowerment (SMILE) program, a five-year project designed to scale-up care and support services for OVC in five states in Central Nigeria — Benue, Kogi, Edo, Nasarawa, and Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

SMILE worked to improve the well-being of 500,000 vulnerable children in the target states, along with 125,000 caregivers. Other key goals included improving Nigeria’s capacity to address the needs of vulnerable children at the state level by strengthening the technical and organizational capacity of local government authorities (LGAs) in close collaboration with the local bureaus of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare, and facilitating enhanced collaboration among CSOs and communities to better integrate and manage comprehensive care and support programs for vulnerable children, including household economic strengthening (HES) services.


Zambia Rising

In 2014, AIHA joined a consortium led by Save the Children to implement the Zambia Rising Project, a USAID-funded project to improve the quality of life for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC). Working in collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ), Zambia Rising aimed to strengthen social welfare systems, improve coordination among line ministries, and bridge the gap between government, civil society, the private sector, and other critical stakeholders. The consortium also included Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Management Program (CHAMP), Boston University / Zambia Center for Applied Health Research and Development (ZCAHRD), and the Training Resource Group (TRG).


Project STEER

As part of a consortium led by Save the Children, AIHA helped five states in Northern Nigeria to strengthen local capacity to provide much-needed care and support services to some 500,000 vulnerable children and 125,000 caregivers in the target states of Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau, and Sokoto through the USAID-funded Systems Transformed for Empowered Action and Enabling Responses for Vulnerable Children and Families (STEER) project. STEER was a 5-year project is designed to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS on Nigerian children and families by creating greater country ownership and leadership through strengthened governments, civil society, and families.

Under STEER, AIHA worked closely with Save the Children and its partners to bolster the professionalism of the social welfare workforce in Northern Nigeria, focusing on building the capacity of staff at CBOs, CSOs, local government authorities (LGAs), and other organizations throughout the region.

AIHA worked with state-level bureaus of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare, LGAs, polytechnic institutes, institutes of social work, and community service organizations (CSOs) in the five project states to train Auxiliary Social Workers (ASWs). Together with these stakeholders and the Nigerian National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), AIHA adapted the curriculum to the northern context and upgraded it to a certificate-level course.


Para Social Worker (PSW) Training Program

PSWCoverImageAIHA provided skills-based training in social work case management and child development to caregivers, empowering countries to strengthen human resource capacity to more effectively address the immediate needs of vulnerable children and families through the development of a previously underutilized segment of the workforce.

Although AIHA’s PSW training packages varied slightly from country to country based on local needs, the basic model included an introductory course approximately two weeks in duration. This course introduced key social work concepts and teaches practical skills in outreach and client identification, needs assessment, case management, child development, resource linkages, family support, counseling, ongoing service coordination, and avoiding professional burnout. Upon completion of the introductory course, participants underwent six months of supervised field work and mentoring before taking a follow-up course that focuses on specialized skills related to caring for vulnerable children and families. Topics covered included stigma reduction, collaboration with local governments, care and support for children living with HIV, HIV risk reduction, and addressing the needs of diverse family situations. In collaboration with local stakeholders, AIHA and partners also developed a four-day PSW Supervisors Course that trained selected individuals in key supervisory skills needed to assume oversight of PSWs at the community level.

To view the Tanzania Para Social Worker Training Manual & Curriculum, click here.

As a way to help bridge the human resource gap in the health sector, AIHA worked closely with Tanzania’s Department of Social Welfare and our partners at the Institute of Social Work and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Jane Addams College of Social Work and Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center to pilot a mid-level Social Welfare Assistant (SWA) Training Program in 2012. Finally, a total of 617 social workers were trained on competencies including leadership, disaster management, prevention and response to gender-based violence, comprehensive HIV/AIDS and other health care for key populations, and scholarly writing.

AIHA’s support to equip ISW and eleven other schools of social work in Tanzania effectively strengthened the quality of social work education through curricula standardization and faculty development. Starting with only one accredited school of social work offering Bachelor of Social Work in 2006, social work education in Tanzania has expanded to 12 schools of social work, each utilizing standardized and accredited social work curricula and other standardized tools including field practicum guide, and offering multiple degree programs from the certificate level all the way to the PhD level.