A social worker’s contribution to the world is invaluable. They sometimes risk their own lives to help hundreds and even thousands at a time.
Now local social work professionals are to receive a major boost, thanks to a new exchange programme that has been established by South Africa and the UK.
The United Kingdom/South Africa Social Worker Exchange Programme was officially launched at OR Tambo International Airport’s Southern Sun Hotel at the beginning of February.
South Africa’s Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority and the Skills for Care from England partnered to establish the initiative. Not only will the two countries exchange social workers, but they will be involved in various research projects as well.
Speaking at the launch, Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini said that social ills such as poverty, gender-based violence and HIV/Aids have put a lot of pressure on social workers around the world.
“This situation compels us to seek and explore ways of increasing both training and capacity in the social work profession, to ensure that we meet the demand for such services,” she said.
Dlamini named a number of objectives, including the annual exchange of social workers for up to a month at a time; the gathering of informed professionals and others to swop ideas and experiences at the end of the exchange month; the establishment of a peer support system; and the recording and sharing of outcomes of the programme with those looking to further develop social work services in both countries.
“Among other outcomes, we want to increase the knowledge, awareness and understanding of how social work services in each country are designed, delivered and serviced,” added Dlamini.
Some of the research topics will explore themes related to recruitment of social workers, attracting entrants to the profession and the delivery of services that take whole family issues into account.
Dlamini said her department is working closely with the Association for South African Social Work Education Institutions in a quest to produce quality professional social workers who will be fully prepared to participate in the exchange programme.
However, she is also determined to retain social workers in the country by improving remuneration.
“We have introduced the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD), which is aimed at preventing the mass exodus of social workers from South Africa to other countries,” she said.
“The OSD for the social development sector seeks to improve the remuneration of social service professionals through benefits such as a unique salary structure, improvement in career paths, increased promotion opportunities and recognition of relevant experience,” said Dlamini.
Making social work more attractive
The social worker profession in South Africa is not the most attractive job to the youth of today. Consequently, there are not enough qualified workers.
Margaret Kusambiza, director of the Eastern Cape NGO Coalition, said the profession is known to be stressful, yet its workers remain underpaid.
“Many are forced to leave the country because of poor working conditions and low salaries here,” she said. “We don’t have enough facilities for social workers, nor do we have counsellors who can help them through their stressful jobs.”
Kusambiza said the NGO sector particularly suffers from a lack of funding as their workers migrate to social working jobs in the government, which pay a better salary.
“The NGO sector cannot compete with what the government pays. So when developments like this exchange programme come along, it will attract government social workers. We want to see to it that social workers in NGOs and government receive the same pay,” she said.
Kusambiza said that Africa has to learn the value of social work first before the profession can be taken seriously, especially the psychological aspect of it.
“We have not yet got to the point where we see the value of social workers. We don’t appreciate the value of psychology.”
She believes the exchange programme is a step in the right direction and is optimistic about its success.
“I feel the two countries are going to take this seriously,” she said.