SA faces shortage of social workers

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
By: 
Gabi Khumalo

Vosloorus - Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya has appealed to social workers not to leave the country in search of better paying jobs abroad, saying skilled social workers were in short supply locally.

The minister said South Africa's acute shortage of social service professionals was hindering government's ability to meet the increasing demand for developmental social services.

"Over the past years, we have lost quite a number of social work professionals to overseas countries and other sectors due to highly competitive salary packages and better working conditions," he said.

Recognising the central role of the profession in the attainment of national priorities such as poverty alleviation, youth development, social crime prevention and social cohesion, government views social work as a scarce skill.

"It was difficult convincing government to prioritise the services rendered by social workers in the same way as they do with the nurses and educators. Most provinces need more social workers and each and every school should have a social worker," he said,

Minister Skweyiya said his department was continuously seeking ways to improve the working conditions of social workers, saying the department had recognised how significant and challenging the work of a social worker was.

"I recognise the many personal sacrifices that many of you make on a daily basis to help poor families access services," he said.

Minister Skweyiya was speaking during the World Social Work Day celebration held on Tuesday at Vosloorus Society for the Care of the Aged to acknowledge the important contribution the profession has made and continues to make worldwide.

Government has put in place a strategy to recruit and retain more social workers in the public sector.

Part of the strategy deals with offering bursaries to entice students into the profession, improving the working conditions of social workers and improving their levels of remuneration.

Social Auxiliary Worker and Social Work student Purity Ngema, who has been in the profession for more than 19 years told BuaNews that she was attracted to her field as she did not want to see children suffering the way she suffered when she was growing up.

Ms Ngema who works at Saun Salvador Home for the Mentally Challenged Children in Gauteng said social workers played multiple roles, which also included being housekeepers, parents and counsellors.

"People dump their family members at these homes and we have to play the role of parents to these children, get them identity documents and apply for grants on their behalf as well as make sure that they are well looked after," she said.

Ms Ngema agreed that low salaries and large workloads was the main reason behind the shortage of social workers in the country.