Speech by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, at the Conference of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Durban
28 Sep 2011Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen
This is a very historic day in the revolution against poverty and is accompanying social ills in our society. I make this assertion alive to the reality that this is the first ever conference of the National Association of Social Workers, which will add its voice in the public discourse on how to maximise our efforts against poverty, underdevelopment and disease. Notably, it comes a few days before we launch the Social Development Month in October, during which we will encourage all South Africans to reach out and make a difference in the lives of the needy and the poor.
The discussions in this conference are therefore crucial in outlining clear and workable strategies of working together to meet the high demands for social services. More specifically, we must discuss how the social work profession can position itself to respond to the pressing challenges of our times.
This gathering is indeed an important milestone due to the participation of diverse cadres in the social development sector, apart from social workers themselves. The magnitude of our societal problems requires us to rise above professional insecurities and unite to bring about hope amongst the hopeless, and help improve their lives for the better. Our social fabric is raved by poverty, disease, gender-based violence as well as alcohol and substance abuse, amongst others.
The severity of these challenges can only be addressed by a united cadre of workers in the social development sector. This means we must understand that all role players in the sector have a major contribution to make – from community development workers, child and youth care workers, auxiliary social workers and social work professionals.
We need this pool of workforce to complement one another as we grapple with the problems facing our people on the ground. The spirit that resonates in the deliberations of this conference must take into account the magnitude of the responsibility we have towards humanity as well as the expectations that the millions of poor South Africans have on us. As government, we have a responsibility to work with important stakeholders such as the NASW, to give life and meaning to the hopes and aspirations of our people. Social work in its own nature has a huge potential to minimise the impact of poverty amongst the poorest of the poor.
This is largely because the profession finds its roots in the principles of social justice, thus playing an important role to shield the poor from a myriad of social ills. We must continue on this path to channel our efforts towards promoting human rights and protecting the poor. In the light of shortage of social workers in South Africa, we must find creative ways of reaching out to the people with the human resources that we currently have at our disposal. Amongst other things, we have a partnership with the Association of South African Social Work Education Institutions (ASASWEI) through which these institutions continue to train and produce social work professionals as much as possible. In this regard, greater attention is also given to the quality of social work education as well as the preparation of students for the field work beyond their studies.
But we are of course alive to the fact that social workers alone are not enough to deal with the many social problems we confront. It is for this reason that we have undertaken and committed to train 10 000 Child and Youth Care Workers in the next three years in collaboration with the National Association for Child and Youth Care Workers (NACCW).
Through this initiative, we are hoping to reach out to as many child-headed households as possible. Essentially, this is in line with our desire to build a caring society for all our people, especially children. We move from this premise inspired by the words of our icon, uTata Nelson Mandela, when he said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children”.
These words propel us to put our people first, particularly children, ahead of our own individual and organisational aspirations. The social ills we face have led to dysfunctional families in many communities. The compounding effect of the HIV and AIDS pandemic as well as poverty are the biggest threats with dire and immediate impact on many children, some of whom are forced by circumstances to head their own households.
I am glad that we also have social workers from the NGO sector with us here today. Let me take this opportunity to highlight that more than 60% of our work as the department in relation to welfare services, is done by our partners in civil society. This includes services to older persons, people with disabilities, children as well as victims of gender-based violence and substance abuse.
It is therefore important we these partners, some of whom are represented here today, understand our mandate as well as the goals we seek to achieve. In particular, we will rely on social workers who work with vulnerable groups to ensure that the norms and standards that govern services to specific vulnerable groups are adhered to. I mention this because social workers have a professional and ethical duty to ensure that the rights of the people they serve are protected.
Ladies and gentlemen, the shortage of social work professionals remain an issue of great concern to government. As part of our efforts to bridge the skills gap, we have currently opened invitations for matric learners to apply for our social work scholarship. The closing date is end of October 2011. We presently have 4 735 students in our programme who have enrolled for social work studies in various institutions of higher learning. We will set aside R256 million for the scholarship programme in the next financial year. As we recruit, preference will be given to deserving learners in rural areas including those living in child-headed households, those living in places of safety, dependants of war veterans as well as learners in no-fee schools.
Our aim is to ensure that all our recruits view this noble profession not only as a profession of choice, but a vehicle for them to make a difference in the lives of others. The institutions of learning constitute an important foundation from which disciplined, committed and socially-conscious graduates must emerge. These centres have both the necessary time and space to inculcate a culture of dedication towards the course of serving the vulnerable members of our society. We owe it to this country to produce professionals who will abide by the code of conduct of the profession, who understand that it is actually a privilege to help the helpless, thus undertaking to make a difference in the lives of the poor. These attributes must find their way in the academic content that is fed to students in a quest to sensitize them of the expectations that society has on them.
As part of their training, there must be sufficient mentoring in a quest to groom all graduates into wholly professionals that understand the bigger picture – which is to improve the lives of the poor for the better. We are in a process of convening a workshop for retired social workers, so that we can allow them space to further make a meaningful contribution in the sector. My belief is that as pathfinders in the sector, they will play a key role in mentoring the current generation of social work professionals, while also instilling the spirit of commitment and dedication among young social workers.
Programme director, as we advance the drive to beef-up our capacity, we must try by all means to retain the current pool of professionals we have in the public service. Most of those who previously left government to foreign countries such as the United Kingdom we largely attracted by attractive salaries. We have since made it our priority to create better working conditions for social workers in line with our Recruitment and Retention Strategy. We already have the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) for the social development sector which seeks to improve the remuneration of social service professionals. The most notable and important elements of the OSD is a unique salary structure, improvement in career paths as well as recognition of relevant experience. We are confident that this will go a long way to help us retain social work professionals.
I must highlight that indeed social workers perform one of the most difficult duties especially in a country with high levels of poverty such as ours. As a social worker myself, I know it is not easy. We thank you for serving the people of South Africa, especially the most poor and vulnerable. We owe it to the heroine of our struggle, uMama Charlette Maxeke, who was a social worker herself, to make a contribution in building a prosperous nation through this profession. I also want to thank all cadres in the sector, including child and youth care workers, auxiliary social workers and community development workers, for their contribution and hard work. As I said earlier, let us work as a collective, together with our colleagues in civil society, and continue to serve our nation. The ultimate test of our partnership will be the extent to which we succeed in rooting out poverty and vulnerability among our people. Lastly, I thank you for choosing me as the Patron of this Conference. I wish you fruitful deliberations.
Issued by: Department of Social Development
28 Sep 2011
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