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The social work profession in South Africa : Quo Vadis?

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The overall aim of this study was to research the status of social work in South Africa by examining what factors contribute towards social workers in South Africa leaving their country to seek employment in the UK. Further, current frustrations, problems and needs of social workers in South Africa and those working in the UK were investigated. The benefit of the study therefore was to evaluate the status of the social work profession at present, and to expand future professional services. The study utilised both the qualitative and quantitative research methods. The research was undertaken in two phases utilising three different sample groups. The two phases were: (1) Phase One - in which the researcher quantitatively researched social workers frustrations, problems and needs in South Africa and (2) Phase Two - in which the researcher qualitatively explored the difficulties, experiences and accomplishments of South African social workers who have relocated to the UK. In sample group 1 in Phase One of the study, eighty social workers who had applied to work in the UK were selected. While, in sample group 2, in Phase One of the study, eighty social workers who were remaining in South Africa, were randomly selected. In sample group 3, in Phase Two of the study, thirty social workers were derived from the social work relocation list of a known Recruitment Agency. The research tool was a mailed questionnaire for the two sample groups in Phase One of the study. Reasons to relocate or remain were asked of both sample groups, along with their suggestions for improving the image of social work in South Africa and contributing to its survival. In Phase Two of the study the researcher chose the qualitative method of data collection, namely focus group interviews. Within the focus group interviews social workers in the UK were able to share their experiences of relocation. Focus group thematic questions guided the group discussions to generate a rich understanding of the social workers' experiences and beliefs. In this study, research evidence was provided on the concerns plaguing the profession such as safety and security, service conditions, poor salaries, staff turnover, lack of supervision and support from agencies, ineffective graduates/educators, curriculum change, and continuing education. Alongside this research results also indicated that culture, family, social ties and climate were significant factors preventing social workers from leaving the country. Recommendations were made by social workers to improve the image of social work as a way of contributing to its survival. These recommendations included a unifying role to be played by the Council of Social Service Professions to tackle cogent issues such as service conditions; staff development/training in accord with the need for continuous professional development; relevancy of training curricula to the new developmental paradigm; competent educators; research, and using auxiliary workers in service delivery. These recommendations need to be incorporated into policy/plans set up to address relevancy, image and survival issues facing the profession. Other general recommendations for the profession to survive, was the need for a partnership to be established between employers, workers and educators working together to create new supportive structures and develop knowledge and skills on an on-going basis. A further component to consider in addressing the exodus of social workers was for policy-makers, employers, educators and the South African Council of Social Service Professions (SACSSP) to prevent any further under-valuing of the profession and its practitioners. Social workers need to be presented as valued and crucial role players in our newly developed democracy.


Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Durban-Westville, 2004


Social service--Vocational guidance., University of Durban-Westville--Dissertations., Theses--Social work.