In any society, social workers do very important work. This is doubly true in societies where people live with a great deal of stress and hardship as is the case in South Africa. The overarching aim of a social worker is to always help and empower people to deal with whatever problems they have in their lives.
What does social work entail?
Social work is a highly dynamic profession. This means that no one day is the same as the previous day. Social workers try to promote social change to improve society and the conditions people live in. Social workers will often intervene when people are in dire circumstances due to poverty, unemployment, addiction, abuse, disability, mental illness, and a great variety of other social problems.
The practice of social work is strongly underlaid by the principles of justice and human rights. Ideally, social work should be practised in close collaboration with agencies dealing with education, health, development, the law and business. Social workers often work for government bodies, but they can also work in private practices.
What are the roles of social workers?
Social work is a varied and extremely challenging job. It makes great demands both physically and emotionally on its practitioners, but it is also a very rewarding career. The role of a social worker always has as its aim to improve people’s lives, and to empower them to deal with the problems that they face. Social workers help people deal with interpersonal and social problems in practical terms. They always strive to promote human rights and to protect both children and adults from harm.
So, the role of a social worker can be described as someone who provides protection, support and assistance to individuals, families and children who are vulnerable, in need, or enduring a crisis. Your job will include the diagnoses and treatment of mental, emotional or behavioural issues. Also please note that you will have to live in the community you serve or travel in and out every day.
What are the requirements for students to be accepted to study social work?
- A National Senior Certificate with an average of 60% for English and a 60% average in at least four other subjects, or
- A Senior Certificate with an exemption, or
- A National Senior Certificate (NSC) with degree endorsement, or
- A Senior Certificate with exemption and a certificate in auxiliary social work with one year as a registered auxiliary social worker
- A police clearance certificate
- Acceptance by the South African Council for Social Service Professions as a ‘fit and proper person’
- Two testimonials from reputable persons like a religious leader or a school teacher.
Will social work suit everybody?
No, definitely not! Even if you think of yourself as a ‘people-person’, social work may not be the best career choice for you. In South Africa, a social worker needs a unique skill set to cope with the extremely harsh realities of the job.
Social workers in South Africa work in a society where violence is a daily fact of life. Social workers themselves are frequently exposed to abuse and even violence during the course of their work. Domestic abuse is rife and the rape of women and children is commonplace. Large sectors of society still live in poverty. Thousands of asylum seekers also have to be coped with.
There is a critical shortage of social workers in South Africa, so existing ones are overloaded. They face many challenges that impact their own mental, emotional and physical health. Violence, racism, xenophobia, language barriers, limited resources, poor facilities and not enough funding are problems they deal with every day.
However, there are benefits. A social worker who knows that they’ve made the world a little bit better, and have helped people to improve their circumstances, experiences significant job satisfaction.
So what is the essential skill set a South African social worker needs?
As said, social work is a demanding profession that needs a lot of skills and personal qualities. Here are just some of them:
- Empathy – You have to be able to understand other people’s situation and ‘step into their shoes’.
- Good communication skills are crucial!
- The ability to practise active listening to identify and understand your client’s needs.
- Excellent organisational skills to handle your busy schedule.
- The ability to practise critical thinking and evaluate situations objectively and without prejudice.
- The ability to practise effective self-care to avoid burnout in this demanding job.
- The ability to handle different cultures with courtesy and respect.
- Patience, and then more patience, and then yet more patience, in what can be extremely trying circumstances!
- The dedication and professional commitment to keep developing your skills and professional competence.
- Ongoing advocacy to work tirelessly to promote social justice and empower your often vulnerable clients who can’t speak up for themselves.
Where can I study to become a social worker?
Most South African universities offer courses and degrees in social work. The following universities are all institutions that offer social work qualifications:
- University of Cape Town
- University of the Free State, Bloemfontein
- University of Kwazulu Natal, Durban
- Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha)
- University of Pretoria
- University of the Western Cape
- University of Johannesburg
- University of Stellenbosch
- UNISA, Pretoria
- Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha
- Wits University, Johannesberg
- University of Zululand, Richards Bay
Apart from the various degree courses, there are also diploma courses on offer at some of these institutions. The South African College of Applied Psychology also offers social work qualifications. CEFA, which stands for Continuing Education for Africa, is an accredited private college and training provider that offers courses in auxiliary social work.
How long does it take to qualify as a social worker in South Africa?
This depends on the course that you do, and it can vary from 12 months for a diploma in auxiliary social work, to four years for a degree. You’ll be given this information by whatever training facility you decide to enrol with. If you already have a degree, you can also enrol for a two-year post-graduate degree in social work.
What will I learn about during my social work training?
A wide variety of disciplines and subdisciplines are covered in the various courses. These will include different specialities and combinations of subjects depending on the course that you’re doing. Here are just some of the many and varied fields that you’ll cover:
- Adoption and foster care
- Clinical social work
- Community development
- Crime prevention
- Ethical decision-making in social work practice
- Family guidance and development
- Forensic work
- Gerontology, that deals with old age, the ageing process, and the wide range of difficulties that the elderly have to cope with
- Health and mental health
- Human rights
- Legal and statutory aspects
- People with disabilities
- Probationary social work
- Social development
- Social policy
- Social work administration
- Social work intervention with children and young people
- Substance abuse
- Violence and abuse, particularly domestic abuse
Professional registration and conduct of social workers in South Africa
The practice of social work in South Africa is regulated and overseen by the South African Council for Social Service, and all social workers have to register with this council. This body lays down the standards of both the practical and academic training needed for the various qualifications.
Any students who are registered for any of the professional qualifications in social work are legally required to register from the beginning of their second year with the Council. Once registered, they are legally obligated to adhere to the Council’s professional code of conduct.
What do social workers earn in South Africa?
The salaries of social workers in South Africa normally range from about R7,323 to R31,302 per month depending on their qualifications. Starting salaries can vary from R7,323 and R17,528 per month. After five years of service, this would rise to about R9,301 and R21,255 per month. A working week is typically 45 hours long.
Social work is, first and foremost, a job and career that is fuelled by a passionate desire to help people and make their lives better. If this is your mindset, and you possess the skill set referred to above, social service could be the career for you!