Challenges in Developing Social Services

18.11.12

In many countries there are too few social workers to meet the needs of the community.  Social work is often an undervalued and under-resourced profession.  With high caseloads and few resources, social workers often feel able only to respond to the most serious of crises.  And often the only response they can give is to take children from families and place them in institutions.

Social workers often lack the tools and skills to carry out comprehensive assessments of children and families, in order to identify the best plan to ensure the child can be cared for in the family, without being at risk of harm.

Social workers often cite a lack of community based alternatives as a reason for placing a child in an institution.  Many say they would prefer an emergency foster placement for a child, but none exists, so their only option was an institution.  Their initial aim was to place the child in the institution as an emergency, whilst finding a better solution.  But once the child is in the institution, the social worker believes he or she is 'safe' and moves on to the next crisis.  As a result, an initial emergency placement turns into a long stay.

Social worker training in many countries is based primarily on theory and lacks sufficient training in how to implement that theory in practice.  Often social workers are given little professional supervision and ongoing training.  They often have to make a decision about a child on their own, without additional professional input.  This can be a heavy burden to carry.

Social workers often have limited access to resources such as transport and telephones.  As a result, some do little field work, whilst others use their own cars and telephones to deal with emergencies.  In some cases, social workers have been known to hitch lifts to deal with emergency child protection cases.

Often, social work teams are generic rather than specialised, so one social worker may be dealing with poor families, child abuse, older people and adults with disabilities.  It is impossible in this situation to provide the best support to children with complex needs.

Often social works lack specialist skills in identifying and addressing child abuse and neglect.  As a result, many cases go undetected until they reach crisis point.

With high caseloads and few resources, social workers feel able to respond only to the most serious of crises. The only response they can give is to take children from families and place them in institutions.

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