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SA has a 77% social worker shortage - Mike Waters

DA MP says 68 498 social workers required, but only 16 164 registered

South Africa has a 77% social worker shortage

South Africa is in the midst of a serious social worker shortage, according to a recent reply to a DA parliamentary question.

South Africa currently needs 68 498 social workers but there were only 16 164 registered with the South African Council for Social Services Professions as at June 2013. This represents a 77% shortfall and could affect the implementation of crucial welfare and social legislation.

According to the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini:

  • 66 329 social workers are required to implement the Children's Act;
  • A further 743 social workers are required for the Older Persons Act; and
  • 1 426 social workers for the Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act.

Worryingly, the Minister also revealed that her Department has not conducted any costing to determine the number of social workers required to implement other welfare legislation currently in place, which is a serious oversight and likely to cripple the implementation of those acts. 

Social workers fulfil a significant role in government's efforts to provide social welfare services in South Africa. Minister Dlamini's unsupportive attitude and defamatory remarks towards them in the past has only worsened their work load and discouraged others from entering the field.

The DA has in the past recommend that the Department of Social Development implement various measures to address the shortage of social workers: 

  • Improve the social work career path, by making it more attractive and lucrative;
  • Create better support networks for students pursuing a social work degree and for qualified social workers;
  • Increase the amount allocated for bursaries. There was an increase from 4 200 to 5 574 social work graduates in the 2010/11 financial year. This is not fast enough if the goal is to reach 66 329 social workers;
  • Maximise government outsourcing of services to good NGOs working in the field; and
  • Contract-manage the funded NGOs effectively to ensure accountability.

Social workers render an important service to vulnerable communities. Women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly in particular, who are abused, at risk, abandoned or neglected, are dependent on specialised social work professionals who are able to dedicate sufficient time to provide comprehensive support given the current shortages and extensive demand.

The Department has to address the current shortages as a matter of urgency if it is ever going to adequately address the issues facing South Africa's vulnerable citizens.

Statement issued by Mike Waters, DA Shadow Minister of Social Development, August 26 2013

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