Training Social workers to respond to children in crisis


The Inspiration

How do we protect children from neglect and abuse? That’s a critical question in Egypt and around the world. I’m collaborating with UNICEF and Egypt’s Ministry of Social Solidarity to answer it. We’re trying to enhance the skills and capabilities of professional social workers — the people who often have the best chance of improving the lives of children in these situations.

The Process

The team at AUC includes Yasmine Saleh ’91, associate professor of practice in the Department of Psychology, and many students who have worked as interns and research assistants. Here’s what we do: We conduct assessments to determine the kinds of training that social workers need to be effective in serving children — for example, training in gender-based violence, alternative care, positive parenting and psychosocial support for trauma. Then we develop training courses with lots of hands-on activities, produce the materials to support them and lead the courses. We conduct evaluations of the training sessions to help ensure they are effective and improving social work practice. We also train new trainers so the work can spread far beyond us.

Saleh (left) and Forden engaging with social workers


We’ve trained more than 400 social workers in Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, Sharqiya and North Sinai; developed 33 days of training curricula; and certified nine local trainers. If we can sustain this approach, the potential impact of the project is huge: Social workers across Egypt will be better able to protect and support children, youth and families, and the changes that UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Solidarity are trying to implement will be embedded into the national system of social work training and practice.

93% of children aged 1 to 14 have been exposed to violent disciplinary practices by their parents or caregivers, including psychological and physical violence.

UNICEF, citing the 2014 Egypt Demographic and Health Survey, published by the Ministry of Health

The Next Steps

In the next two years, we plan to train and certify an additional 500 social workers. The chances of success are high. A recent call for a training of trainers on gender-based violence drew more than 300 applicants. We’re also supporting the ministry’s efforts to move from placing children in orphanages to placing them in alternative parental care and helping them create a new system to certify child protection social workers.

The Future

AUC is the ideal place to do this work. Our community psychology program — focusing on collaboration with community partners, creating positive social change and building professional practice skills — is unique in the region. We’re able to attract high-caliber students; they’re true partners in this project. AUC’s reputation for excellence means that our community partners welcome the chance to work with us, and trainees see our programs as prestigious. And the University is truly committed to community engagement. Work like ours is valued and sustained, which then helps us ensure that social workers and the children they serve are valued and sustained.

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