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