To serve vulnerable children, Zambia launches national guidelines for case management

Back row (left to right): Penelope Campbell, Daniel Sinclair, Jen Mulik, Nelson Nyangu, Patricia Muyamwa and Brother Isaac. Front row: Honorable Member of Parliament Joseph Munsanje, Honorable Minister Doreen Sefuke Mwamba, Permanent Secretary Ange

On February 28, the government of the Republic of Zambia through the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services (MCDSS) launched the Community and Statutory Case Management guidelines and handbook aimed at improving health, HIV and social protection service delivery for vulnerable children and adolescents (VCA) and their families. The guidelines were developed with the financial support of USAID and the U.S. Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the ACHIEVE project, while the Statutory Case Management handbook and tools were supported by UNICEF.

The guidelines are a set of tools that outline the principles, roles and responsibilities, and process of community case management. Further, they make provision for community cadres, often volunteers under the MCDSS, to play a central role in identifying and assessing children and referring them to specialized services close to their homes while monitoring progress against goals set with the adolescents and their families. This community approach responds to the vastness of Zambia as it aims to enable access to services using trained community welfare assistance committee (CWAC) members with detailed service directories. This known gap was echoed by all keynote speakers at the launch, including the Honorable Minister of Community Development and Social Services, Doreen Mwamba, who noted that children and adolescents in Zambia face multiple vulnerabilities such as household poverty, violence, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and child marriage, among others.

Mwamba said the Zambian government has in recent years made progress to strengthen National Child and Family Welfare systems that seek to address such vulnerabilities. She indicated that the launch of the guidelines and handbook bring standardization and a common understanding in delivery of services among key players across the child and family welfare sectors. This is an important milestone for the Ministry, as the guidelines may be used nationwide, she noted. “A strong Community Case Management system is required to ensure an effective delivery of service to children," Mwamba told the audience. "Zambia’s case management promotes the best interest of the child as a primary consideration when making decisions affecting a child.” 

Before the development of the guidelines, case management practice relied almost exclusively on the professional pre-service training that the social welfare workforce received from colleges and universities. To kickstart the implementation of the project, ACHIEVE Zambia conducted a needs assessment that identified specific gaps, such as the need for standardized materials to inform the ways in which social protection and health services are linked to VCA. Based on the assessment, ACHIEVE proceeded to support the update of the community case management guidelines and forms, including supervision and mentorship tools. The collaborative process also led to the development of standard operating procedures for identification and assessment, referrals and case conferencing. Now with these guidelines, Zambia’s social welfare workforce will benefit from tools and strategies that will greatly enhance their ability to reach populations who have not historically had access to these life-changing services. In addition, as of the end of September 2022, MCDSS had trained a total of 1,409 community, district and provincial officers in 36 districts with the technical support of ACHIEVE. 

“A strong Community Case Management system is required to ensure an effective delivery of service to children. Zambia’s case management promotes the best interest of the child as a primary consideration when making decisions affecting a child.”

During the launch event, ACHIEVE Project Director Jennifer Mulik commended the government of Zambia for the progress made in improving the welfare of vulnerable children and adolescents. Mulik pledged that Pact, through ACHIEVE, will continue to work with the MCDSS to disseminate the standardized guidelines, train and mentor service providers, support systems strengthening in public financial management and host technical working groups in collaboration with the USAID-funded Empowered Children and Adolescent Projects, or ECAPs. The launch of the guidelines comes at the right time, as over the next year, through ongoing support from USAID and cooperation with the MCDSS, ACHIEVE will contribute to the creation of a unified VCA management information system (MIS).

USAID Director of Health Daniel Sinclair encouraged the audience to use the guidelines and ensure that the important work contained in the documents makes it from MCDSS headquarters to the hands and minds of staff in the provinces, districts and communities. He emphasized that stakeholders must continue to work together to see to it that these guidelines translate into real services and benefits that positively impact the lives of vulnerable children in Zambia. “The COP planning process for 2023 is just starting and therefore the launch of these guidelines is timely, as they can be taken into account as we plan for how to support the country’s HIV/AIDS response over the next several years,” Sinclair said.