Social Work is a noble, helping profession that draws on an eclectic knowledge base to build inner resilience in people, equipping them to transform challenges and problems into positive functionality.
According to the International Federation of Social Work, (2014) “Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.”
For many years, social workers in Rwanda have been working in different fields to restore hope for vulnerable people and those in difficult situations. In the field of child welfare and protection, Social Workers have since 2013 been working hand in hand with psychologists to place children living in institutions into their families and other family-based alternative care through the Tubarerere Mu Muryango Program/ Let’s raise Children in Family (TMM).
Working under the supervision of National Child Development Agency and operating in Districts, the social workers and psychologists hold the position of “Child Protection and Welfare Officer”. Social Workers and psychologists are part of broader social services workforce, and work closely with a volunteer, auxiliary cadre at community level known as the Inshuti z’Umuryango (IZU)/ Friends of the Family, within the evolving child protection system in Rwanda.
As of December,2020 they have placed 3335 children and young adults living in institutions into family-based care through a careful process of child assessment, family tracing and assessment, preparation, support and monitoring in order for reintegration to be successful.
In general, social workers explore and work to address the cultural, social and economic causes of the problems that children face, while psychologists focus on individual, emotional and social integration issues, and provide support that is more focused on the individual.
Besides reintegration of children living in orphanages into protective family-based care, the social services workforce prevents and respond to violence, abuse, neglect, exploitation and all other forms of child abuse in addition to addressing family issues for the best interest of children. In addition, they facilitate access to different services for families and children through advocacy, collaboration, alliance building and referrals.
The importance and value of the social services workforce was further amplified during this critical period of the COVID-19 pandemic, Child Protection and Welfare Officers continued with innovative ways of ensuring critical child protection service delivery to vulnerable families and children, even during lockdown periods, before they were rightfully recognized as essential service providers.
Umutesi Florence, a social worker by profession, working as a Child Protection and Welfare Officer in Gasabo District, one of the Districts that have many child protection issues in Rwanda said: “Despite challenges, we managed to carry on our work with various interventions that saved many children from dangers.”
Umutesi and her colleagues are supported in their work by the Inshuti z’Umuryango (IZU), who are child protection volunteers present in every village across the country. Through household visits, Inshuti z’Umuryango provide first line prevention and response support through identifying and handling child protection concerns in their villages on one hand. On the other hand, they refer them to District Child Protection and Welfare Officers as well as other suitable social service providers and law enforcement professionals for professional and statutory support.
Kevin (his real name is not displayed for his protection), a 12 years old boy is one of many children who can testify to the centrality of the social service workforce that was demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. His case is typical of the multidimensional protection issues that often converge on children, mostly from poor backgrounds.
In November, 2020, he got lost in Gasabo District where he had gone to look for a job after he clandestinely left his family in Rwamagana District to escape family conflicts.
Kevin was seen in Ubumwe Village, Rukiri II cell in Remera Sector when he was moving from one family to another requesting for a job. One alert family sheltered him and informed Inshuti z’Umuryango who carefully talked to him to get all needed information that could help in taking him back into his family.
“After getting all basic information about him we worked with the District Child Protection and Welfare Officers to make sure the boy is safely re-united with his family,” Said Emmanuel Ntakirutimana, an IZU who reported the case.
Thanks to Inshuti z’Umuryango and Child Protection and Welfare officers, Kevin is now temporally living with his brother’s family in Gisozi Sector while Umutesi and her colleague in Rwamagana District are assessing and preparing his family for a sustainable reintegration. This is just one example of the many success stories of children’s lives being transformed and preserved due to the tireless efforts of social services workforce.
According to Umutesi who worked with IZU to assist Kevin, Inshuti z’Umuryango have helped them to handle many of such cases that arose during Covid-19.
“Handling most children’s cases requires us to visit their families regardless of where they live. During Covid-19 such visits were very limited or prohibited,” she said.
“In this case Inshuti z’Umuryango have been our right hand especially in collecting reliable information about children and their families which enable us to take the right decision,” Umutesi added.
As social workers celebrated the World Social Work day on 16th of March under the 2021 theme: “Ubuntu: I am Because We are – Strengthening Social Solidarity and Global Connectedness”, it was very imperative to recognize their invaluable contribution to building a strong nation in which children are well protected and safe. Indeed, social workers and other social services workforce embody the African value of Ubuntu, facilitating social development globally, and specifically in Rwanda where they are the unsung heroes of child welfare in general, and protection in particular.
The organization of the celebration of the World Social Work day in Rwanda is done in partnership with Rwanda National Organization of Social Workers which is a Non-Governmental Organization: registration number N° 631/RGB/NGO/LP/04/2020. The Rwanda National Organization of Social Workers is grateful to the support and collaboration of key partners like MINALOC and MIGEPROF as line ministries as well as UNICEF and NCDA as technical partners. It is very imperative to recognize their invaluable contribution to building a strong nation in which children are well protected and safe in families through linkages with community resources.