Where Are the Social Workers?
One of the Batho Pele (or “People First”) principles on which government prides itself is “access”. When public officials are inducted into their work portfolios, the eight principles that can be found on a simple yet clearly constructed poster in every government department, are prioritised.
The heading in bold blue against a sunny yellow background is clear: “Eight Batho Pele Principles to Kickstart the Transformation of Service Delivery”. Beneath the heading, a statement that the “public service will put these principles into practice without delay”. That was in 1997. New posters still regularly arrive in government buildings. The public is promised.
The access-principle is interesting in that it promises equal access to all citizens from public servants and services. Strong words indeed. Yet in this time of Covid-19 when families find themselves struggling with loss of work and mounting debt, an increase in family violence that is directly related to lockdowns and despair – where is the access to help? Where are social workers? Where is the support?
Increasingly God and prayer become the proxy for lack of services and real in-time support for those who need help. Increasingly conversations end with: “We must keep praying, God will find a way!” But where are the social workers?
A social worker from a local municipality recently shared with me his workload and the geographic area covered by his portfolio.
While his workload within the family sector included statutory work like dealing with court matters, such as the removal of a child from a family, his work also entailed education in matters of family, for example providing information to families and constituent members on access to services and issues of law.
His administrative workload included more than a hundred clients on his schedule at any given time. These were set targets in terms of performance.
Added to this load his area included three smaller towns linked to a bigger town. Travel distances were up to 100km one-way. Added to this he has to attend district and sometimes provincial meetings. He was also expected to manage a personal continuous development plan and so was expected to attend training sessions. This ensured that he was updated on legal, operational and administrative matters.
He felt tired. Unmotivated. Disillusioned. Much like his other three colleagues who faced similar circumstances while servicing a rural, mostly poor community of more than 160,000 people. Unsurprisingly, the conversation ended with “We must keep praying, God will find a way!”
Is this really where it ends? When there is limited or no access to services – pray? Are we really expecting God to provide services to the suicidal, the hungry, the drug-addicted, the abused, to those who have lost hope? Surely not.
If we are serious about supporting people from the sphere of government closest to the people, then we must ask where are the professionals who provide holistic family-focused support and services? A skilled prosperous nation can only be built on skilled, supported and productive people in the areas where they live and raise families.
So let’s not make God a proxy for a dysfunctional state. Where are the social workers?