The social work practice needs to be renewed to make it relevant to current issues facing the South African society.
This was one of the resolutions that came out of the Social Work Indaba hosted by the Department of Social Development at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban recently.
The theme for the Indaba was Revitalising social work practice in South Africa.
Social workers who attended the Indaba raised their concerns and challenges, including the increasing number of poor immigrants and catering to the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people – one of the most misunderstood sector of society.
One of the social workers who attended the Indaba, Mapule Mboweni, said she was excited about having a platform where social workers could talk about their challenges.
“This is a breakthrough for us as social workers because we have issues but no platform. At least if there is a platform, solutions will be implemented on a short-term, medium and long-term goal.
“We really appreciate what the Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini is doing. We are not saying that solutions will be created overnight but there is a way forward,” said Mboweni.
Minister Dlamini convened the Social Work Indaba to understand the challenges faced by practitioners and to work with the practitioners to come up with ways to improve the delivery of social services in communities.
In her address, she reminded social workers that the delivery of social services was a right guided by the South African Constitution.
While admitting that the profession was facing challenges, Minister Dlamini also commended social workers for performing ‘exceptionally’ in some areas.
The Minister singled out the performance of social workers in assisting the families of those who died in the Marikana tragedy in 2012 and, recently, the support given to families of South Africans who lost their lives in the Synagogue Church of all Nations building collapse in Nigeria.
During both these incidents social workers provided psychosocial support to families of the deceased.
Minister Dlamini also stressed the importance of extending, not just social security to the needy, but also welfare services.
“As social workers, therefore, we have a critical role to play in helping society to heal through the provision of psychosocial services.”
Mentorship & supervision
Supervision was identified as one of the major reasons why practitioners are unable to provide quality social services to communities.
According to the department, social-work supervisors are appointed but they are not enough to effectively mentor the estimated 19 500 practitioners in the Public Service.
Currently, the ratio of supervisor to practitioner ranges from 1:10 to 1:13, depending on the area they are in, leaving many practitioners working without supervision.
The department also said social workers deal with a high workload. The current ratio of social workers to the population countrywide is estimated at 1:5000 – well above recommended levels.
Social workers also experience stress, which may sometimes lead to depression, because of the traumatic situations they are often faced with.
The Indaba recommended that practitioners must be debriefed and counseled consistently to help them deal with some of the situations they faced.
Meeting the priority target
The department has rolled out a scholarship programme funding students who want to study social work at universities in order to meet the 55 000 social service practitioner target set by the National Development Plan.
Since the scholarship programme started, about 8 000 young people have graduated and more than 3 500 have been absorbed into the Public Service.
Social Work Veterans' Forum
Attempts to improve the quality of service delivered by social-work practitioners also include the Social Work Veterans’ Forum.
This initiative provides young and upcoming social workers with an opportunity to learn from their veteran counterparts.