Rethinking social work as a profession

By Desire Mbabaali

Many people have come to associate social work with charity, Non-Government Organisation work and basically disadvantaged groups. However, social work is much bigger than that. According to the Canadian Association of Social Workers, social work is defined as, “a profession concerned with helping individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being. It aims at helping people develop skills and ability to use their own resources and those of the community to resolve problems.”
Social work is therefore concerned with individual and personal problems but also with broader social issues such as poverty, unemployment and domestic violence.
Though a number of universities in Uganda offer various courses in line with social work, there has been a general lack of professionalism in the practice.

According to Dr Janestic Twikirize, a social work and social administration lecturer at Makerere University, noted that 66.5 per cent of operations of social workers in Uganda is at community level, but only 52 per cent of social work practitioners have a background in social work training while 29 per cent are just occupying social work positions and identifying with it yet they are not social workers.

In her presentation at the inauguration ceremony of the National Social Work Steering Committee aimed at spearheading the streamlining of social work as a profession in Kampala last week, Dr Twikirize further highlighted that there has been persistent employment of non-qualified personnel in social work positions, a lack of professionalism in social work with 72 per cent of universities offering a generic curriculum.
“As professional social workers, we are responding to the need to have a systematic and organised delivery approach to the training of social workers,” she said.
Comparing the lack of focus on the education training of social workers but rather on their output to someone who tries to clean water off the floor without closing the tap, Twikirize says, theirs is a work of closing the leaking tap by formulating national minimum standards.

Passion Vs profession
In addition, Joseph Bemba, a former Development Studies student at St Lawrence University currently working with Training of Rural Women in Uganda, an NGO, notes that one of the big gaps in the training of social workers is the transformation of theory into practice by students.
“That is why students from university come into the field but need initial training before they can start working. It is because application of knowledge gathered in class to our daily life becomes difficult. Most of the books we use while studying have been written by people from outside Uganda and Africa. I think we need to teach topics relating to what we have here, and the problems we face as Ugandans,” Bemba adds.
Lucy Joyce Karabo, a public administration graduate from St. Lawrence University and founder of Girl’s Life Line, an NGO helping girls with menstruation challenges, points out that though social work is often out of passion.

“Some students who enroll for social work do so because they have failed to get a course to do at university. However, one should have a passion to better their communities and people. No wonder many social workers later turn into bank tellers, sales and marketing people because they have no passion or defining professional principles,” she says.

All is not lost
Last week, National Council for Higher Education, the regulating body for higher institutions, inaugurated a social work steering committee to: formulate minimum quality standards in the teaching of social workers, revisit the existing curricula so that it is able to address the real issues in the field of social work, among other roles.
Dr Pius Achanga, head of university affairs at NCHE and the 4C project coordinator, in his presentation at the inaugural ceremony explained the mandate of NCHE to maintain minimum standards in all courses of study at all universities.

“All universities must maintain the structure of the minimum standards of the courses of study as the cores which are the necessary body of knowledge, the ‘should know’ – which is the desirable body of knowledge that supports the core and the nice to know which is meant to compliment the knowledge domain,” he explained.
Prof Eddy Walakira, the head of department of Social Work and Social Administration at Makerere University, noted that the steering committee is made up of professional social workers, practicing social workers, government officials from Parliament and the Public Service ministry, UNICEF, NCHE and representatives from six different universities in the country.

“The committee’s expected outcomes at the end of the first year of appointment are: national minimum standards for the education and training of social workers, national level competencies framework for social workers in Uganda, a generic and standardised social work curriculum in Uganda, support the process of reaccreditation of all social work curricula offered by universities in Uganda,” he said.
As we grapple with professionalism in many jobs in the country, the move to have social work practice professionalised could not have come at a better time.

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