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Qualifying for social work

I have read with absolute amazement that there is a fight for full recognition of “social workers” who have not gained the Social Work qualification and for six of these workers to be promoted to senior positions in the Child Care Board.

The long-standing challenge for the social work profession has been that a number of individuals are given the title social worker or child care officer when they do not hold the recognised social work qualification. Persons who are not qualified social workers should be referred to as social work assistants or social work aids and in the case of the Child Care Board, child care assistants.

It is wrong to use the title social worker or to give the family, other professionals or indeed personnel from the judicial system the impression that an individual has had the necessary training to make an assessment of vulnerable individuals, particularly children and families in crisis. We must also bear in mind that social workers also work with other professionals who often look to them for professional guidance when dealing with a challenging situation involving a child.

Professional social work practice embraces sociology, psychology, law and a wide range of topics, it also has a strong practical component that is linked to theory. A degree in sociology or psychology does not equip anyone with the competence to be a social worker.

There is no doubt that child care officers hold a great deal of responsibility; decisions made or not made can have a serious impact on the family and in some cases on the community. Society, including the judicial system must therefore have full confidence in the skills and knowledge of our Child Care Board workers. We must also have confidence that persons that supervises less experienced staff and make life-changing decisions have the recognised qualifications in social work.

Would anyone knowingly ask for legal representation from an unqualified individual calling themselves a lawyer? So why should someone not trained in social work be called a social worker and why do we have lower expectations of the skills and knowledge needed when working with individuals and families in crises?

We also need to recognise and value the hard earned qualifications gained by social workers. The University of the West Indies produces several qualified social workers each year. Are we going to ignore the need for employment of these individuals and have those lucky to find a job supervised or managed by someone not qualified to do so?

A degree is a building block for developing professional qualifications, for some it is evidence that the individual has the capacity to study, it is not evidence of ability to manage and it is definitely not evidence of ability to make appropriate social work interventions. If we allow unqualified social workers to manage social work staff, we will have social workers in crisis, in other words they would be running around like headless chickens, always busy and rarely confident about decisions made.

We cannot continue to ignore the value of training, management and professional practice; if we do we will continue to have families and indeed children with unresolved challenges and in crisis. Decision makers have a responsibility to ensure that staff with years of valuable experience attends professional Social Work training.

We also need to place equal value on the community that receives social work support, the powers that be and the University of the West Indies must set up a body similar to the Paramedical Council, to validate qualifications, standards and conduct of all who call themselves social workers.

— Boneta Phillips

One Response to Qualifying for social work

  1. Tony Webster August 22, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Hi Mr. Editor..Couldn’t find a template for a letter to you, so hope this fits-in…
    Dear Mr. Editor:

    The Sunday 19th August  edition of Brass Tacks Sunday, (B.T.S.) was very interesting. The panel was erudite; callers passionate; most comments based on actual experience. All hearts wedded firmly to the pressin need raise our world profile at The Olympics. The program might even have taken “Gold” for such a perenially-disussed matter of “National” concern. That is , if the very framing of the discussion, had been a little different.

    Except for a faint, late-in-the-innings  attempt by Ex-Cabinet Minister Lynch to remind us that Government needs to also allocate resources to other things like drugs for the QEH etc, there was little emphasis on separating our nations needs, from wants. All speaking and listening should have placed / appreciated greater emphasis, that the crucial social cohesion, and personal development of individual citizens, does NOT pivot on Olympic glory alone!. To remind us all that available finance (revenue, plus an increasing avalanche of loans) has never been more scarce. And the need to critically assign / allocate resources, should certainly not be inordinately guided by emotions alone!   I would be first to risk my heart bursting with national pride, if a couple of Golds” were to have arrived safely at GAI from London.   But the gist of the whole endeavor of the B.T.S.’s examination, was destined to come up a  little short, because it omitted the small matter of What REALLY is essential for National development, in current and foreseen circumstances. And what would be “Nice to have”.Like, what would be the opportunity cost (read cost/benefit analysis), of taking up $XX millions, for handing out to athletes, or other forms of sport, as against using this for some need that is more crucially need?. I ask this, as the whole discussion seemed to be based on the presumption that it is only success at the olympics, that defines the value of our young people doing well at sports. Which I offer was a lost opportunity to see the much larger picture.

    In case anyone might grab for their pen (or weapon) to deal with me as a presumed “Sports-Hater”, let me willingly and quickly confess that school sports were a very important part of my education in Grenada, carried over to many other venues outside  of school. And my proudest moment perhaps was a fling of the bat at GBSS second-eleven cricket. I lasted just that one match, (no I shall not quote my miserable score) but my human development was very much reinforced by the lessons of sport generally; of winning; of losing; and most particularly, the enhancing of my respect for any opponent. All of this, with nary a thought of representing Grenada (or Barbados) at the Olympics!!  What a feat for the Grenadians of that day: they could instill such valuable character-building attributes in youngsters,  with  just a few dollars of PAID school-fees, and not a thought of “Olympic Gold” ! And Mr Kirani James offers further proof, if any be needed!

    So sports YES,  but in its proper in its place amongst ALL other national development priorities. Forgive me if I sharpen the point, just a wee bit: Would any of the callers or panelists, publicly  state that given meagre resources, they would still display what I took to be something close to “irrational exuberance” in saying it would be a great  idea to “fund” a whole new set of national Sport Initiatives, if this could only be achieved by cutting back the Sanitation truck’s visit to once every two weeks? Or dialysis at QEH reduced to one-weekly?

    In the event that a Jamaican may now be reaching  for the proverbial sword, to explain to me (quite understandably and rightly) how absolutely wonderful every breathing Jamaican felt, when our “Lightning Bolt” returned with his amazing haul of “Gold”, consider this:  Jamaica is currently the third-most-indebted country in the WORLD.  They are now begging their American friends  to intercede on their behalf, in long-stalled negations with their other friends- the IMF!  Hey, does everyone know this?  What economic difference is there in Jamaica today, post-London?

    If we had the resources of Saudi Arabia, or those even of our Trinny friends- I would be the first to support most of the  Brass Tacks “outcomes”…spend money like it going out-of- style, and get our hands on three or four Golds In Rio. And tart-up our marketing efforts a bit. But that will not help in reducing the price of bread, or taxes, or  fish, or energy, – even assuming that these small things will always be readily affordable AND available.

    We need always to keep our “good eye” on our oft-inconvenient friend, reality. And to do a simple but very necessary SWOT and cost -benefit-analyses in everything we commit significant resources to. I struggle to recall the one thing from my precious  “A” level economics, which yet rings loudly in my ears:-
    “Economics is the study of the use of limited resources which are capable of alternative uses, to achieve chosen strategic outcomes”. (Not an exact quotation; I beg excuse for 68 years of cobwebs).

    These times..they be interesting indeed.

    Tony Webster


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