By Dr. Tapfuma Murove, REPSSI, Head of Advocacy & Communication
Advancing psychosocial support in the region
A major step forward for the region was taken on 3rd June, when SADC Member States adopted two key documents for the welfare of vulnerable children and youth across the region.
The first is the Minimum Package of Services for Orphans, Vulnerable Children and Youth (OVC & Y), which presents a holistic package of services to meet the needs of OVC & Y across the region. The second is the Psychosocial Support Conceptual Framework, which aims to ensure that the basic principles and quality of psychosocial care and support are consistently applied in the SADC Member States. REPSSI and UNICEF partnered with SADC and UNICEF in the process of developing these documents. In addition, SADC ministers mandated the SADC secretariat to develop a framework to address the unique needs of youths in the region, especially economic empowerment and life skills.
Delegates at the recent Regional Psychosocial Support Forum in May had an important opportunity to provide input to these two key documents.
First Psychosocial Support Forum
The first of its kind, the sell-out Forum brought together over 265 delegates from 19 countries. The Forum was co-hosted by REPSSI, SADC, UNICEF and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Delegates came from all over East and Southern Africa, and comprised senior government officials, civil society organizations, research and academic institutions, United Nations agencies, International Co-operating Partners and child and youth representatives.
The Forum provided delegates with an opportunity to share research findings, lessons learnt, experiences and key issues regarding the provision of services required for children and youth to grow and develop in a supportive environment.
Recommendations on the SADC documents
Forum delegates made specific recommendations on the finalization of the SADC Minimum Package of Services and PSS Conceptual Framework. Among them was the need to develop a clear roll-out strategy for implementing these two documents in member states, to include guidelines for implementing them among member states, an advocacy and communications strategy to popularize the documents, and a regional monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework.
Linked to this, recommendations were made to establish an online discussion forum on psychosocial support indicators and M&E for psychosocial support programming. This forum is to provide input to a SADC M&E Framework for the region, and REPSSI will be working closely with SADC to develop this Framework and the related implementation guidelines.
A regional community of practise
Delegates decided by consensus to re-convene the Regional Psychosocial Support Forum every two years. There was also an agreement to establish a regional community of practice on psychosocial support, which would allow for information exchange, advocacy, policy and technical guidance on psychosocial support issues in the region. Members would include regional partners, government, academic institutions, media and others. REPSSI is currently developing terms of reference for this initiative.
Other recommendations of the Forum
Further recommendations were made to design and implement PSS interventions in a culturally and contextually appropriate manner. There was a clear message from delegates that interventions which seek to build on existing cultural practices and indigenous approaches should be explored.
In addition, there were specific recommendations that tools be developed to address the psychosocial needs of young people in relation to sexual reproductive health and rights. This is important considering that youths and young people constitute a significant percentage of the region’s population. Youths are also a population at risk when it comes to HIV infection.
The need to strengthen capacities of the social workforce in the region was also emphasized, and governments were encouraged to allocate resources for this through their national programs. The current reality is that the state of social service workforce capacity in the region is inadequate to respond to needs on the ground. In view of this, it was recommended that national strategies need to address issues of remuneration and retention of the social services workforce including resource allocation for systems strengthening.
At policy level, it was recommended that there be ongoing analysis and review of child and youth focused policies to address existing gaps and alignment to the regional SADC Minimum Package of Services and PSS framework. High level advocacy with governments, civil society, international cooperating partners and communities is required to keep psychosocial support on child wellbeing agenda. The importance of child and youth participation in psychosocial support programming was highlighted as key to ensuring interventions that are responsive to the needs and situation of these specific groups.
More information on recommendations, presentations, photos and videos from the Forum can be found on www.repssi.org