Shortage of social workers ‘threat to well-being of society’

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The shortage of social workers in South Africa threatens the livelihoods and well-being of society, a social workers’ indaba has heard.

The country needs 16 000 social workers to provide over the next three years the services that children are entitled to in terms of the Children’s Bill. However, universities only produce about 300 social workers a year.

The two-day indaba is the first by the Department of Social Development to address the issue of social work, seen as a scarce skill in the country, and to propose measures to rectify the shortage.

Social work is among the professions that the Minister of Public Service and Administration, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, declared scarce in 2003.

Addressing delegates, Social Development Deputy Minister Jean Benjamin said social workers were a key strategic resource in addressing the needs and challenges of society.

She presented the draft Recruitment and Retention Strategy for Social Work, one of the department’s interventions in this regard.

She said a number of projects have been implemented from the draft document, including the improvement of the remuneration package for social workers in government.

"We have also implemented the new generic job descriptions, which provide opportunities for career paths for social workers.'

"Other than that the department has made provision for 190 scholarships for social workers to the tune of R2.8 million,' said Dr Benjamin.

However, Dr Benjamin said while these initiatives were "commendable', they were not enough.

Dr Benjamin attributed the main problem with recruiting and retaining social workers to the availability of more lucrative offers in other sectors within the country as well as abroad.

"One of the inabilities to retain social workers is further exacerbated by poor working conditions and the fact that social workers are multi-skilled and therefore are easily absorbed into other fields,' she said.

In order to improve the image of the profession, Dr Benjamin suggested that an extensive marketing and communication drive should be launched to explain how the profession operated.

She urged all stakeholders to take active steps toward resolving these challenges, as government could not succeed alone.

"The country is facing critical socio-economic challenges which require a concerted effort and commitment by all to meet basic services and improve livelihoods of the vulnerable, through interventions that have sustainable outcomes,' she said.

Among those in attendance were representatives from higher learning institutions, the South African Council for Social Service Professions and the Department of Education.

By Nozipho Dlamini -BuaNews

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