Created on Sunday, 27 June 2010 07:35
Written by Mohamed Fareez
“Are you a volunteer?”
This is a question often posed by people whenever I inform them that I am a social worker.
Well, a social worker is not a volunteer nor is he a superhero. A social worker is also not a counselor although he may have to do some form of counseling in his line of work. So, who exactly is a social worker?
This is a tricky question. In fact, I have often sat down to think about the best way to inform my family and friends about the work I do. After much research and deliberation, this is the definition that best suits me: A social worker is a salaried professional bounded by a code of ethics. This professional has to be equipped with both practical skills and theoretical knowledge to facilitate and empower vulnerable individuals, groups, and communities in coping with the demands of their social environment in various settings. This can be achieved through several means such as individual casework management, preventive, developmental, and remedial programmes as well as public policy.
Following a code of ethics, a social worker is responsible for providing non-discriminating and relevant services in protecting the interests of vulnerable groups of people. They also need to ensure that their professional values take precedence over their personal aims. And the key theme of client self-determination—where the social worker has to respect the ability of clients to be empowered to make their own decisions and resolve their own problems—is pervasive in our code.
But while the definition of social work is ever changing, two main aspects often stand out. First and foremost, social workers work with vulnerable persons and groups in the community. Vulnerable persons include families and individuals in financial crisis, disabled persons in the community, children at-risk of abuse and neglect, isolated elderly in the community, victims of family violence, and the list goes on.
Second would be the theme of “variety”, a term which often appears when we describe our profession. If variety is the spice of life, then in my opinion, social work must be the spiciest profession of all.
As a social worker you have to work in many different settings. There are social workers present in hospitals, at family service centres, social service organizations, as well as in government organizations such as the Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports (MCYS) where they play important roles in policy planning, execution and regulation among many other places.
But for me, as a social worker working in a Family Service Centre in Singapore, life is never boring.
Where else could you meet the Member of Parliament in the constituency for a networking meeting in the morning, work on managing the safety risks of a child protection case in the afternoon, and conduct a parenting programme for single parents in the evening?
I work mainly with individuals and families to collaborate and identify solutions to their problems, which spans a wide range from financial difficulties, children’s behavioural concerns, and marital issues to elderly and child protection situations. We also conduct programmes and group workshops by identifying groups of individuals who are facing similar issues. An example would be a group workshop for single parents with parenting concerns.
Negotiation and organizational skills come into play as well when I have opportunities to network with like-minded individuals from the grassroots as well as other community organizations. These networking opportunities allow us to more effectively implement collaborative programmes to support the elderly in the community through structured activities, regular outings and befriending.
Personally, I feel that social work is a wonderful profession where you get to facilitate impactful change in the lives of the vulnerable as well as for family and friends around me. I get to pick up life skills—such as mediation, listening, counselling and negotiation skills—which are relevant to personal situations and exchanges with my own family and friends.
That said, as a social worker, opportunities for personal and professional growth are aplenty. In line with their areas of interest, social workers may specialize in community work, social policy, psychotherapy, children and youth work, and many more.
Exchange programmes between local and foreign universities offering social work Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are also available. Scholarships under the statutory bodies such as the National Council of Social Service are available for those looking into taking these degrees on the basis of merit. There are also opportunities for those seeking mid career switches into Social Work, through Post Graduate Diploma programmes offered by universities such as SIM (Singapore Institute of Management) University.
For example, being interested in working with the elderly myself, I am able to pursue my interests and thirst for further knowledge after completing my degree in social work at the National University of Singapore. I am able to build up my skill set of prevailing theories of practice in gerontology through the many courses available in Singapore and abroad. Also, with the support of my agency, I am able to plan, implement and evaluate programmes for the elderly in the community.
However, the assumption that anyone can do social work would be a flawed one.
A social worker needs to be equipped with appropriate knowledge and skills to effectively identify difficulties faced by individuals, groups and the community as well as rigorously evaluate the success of his intervention.
The Singapore Association of Social Workers’ (SASW) Accreditation Secretariat recognizes and accredits only social workers with a degree or a postgraduate Diploma in Social Work, and with at least a year of supervised practice locally. In university education, social workers learn important theories of human development, interpersonal communication, community work and sociology in order to gain a better understanding of human problems and learn ways to address these issues at different levels of practice. This education serves as the base, where social workers continue to build up their expertise through relevant experience and further specialization.
Besides professional accreditation, I would say good leadership and analytical skills, a flair for programme planning and research, and most importantly, a healthy dose of passion to serve the less advantaged in the community is important for someone interested in pursuing a career in social work.
The journey taken is one that is challenging and demanding but as sociologist Margaret Mead once said: “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world.” I believe that being a social worker would put me in that one small group that could change the world.
About the Author:
Mohamed Fareez is Chairman for Publications in the Singapore Association of Social Workers (SASW) and has worked at a Family Service Centre as a social worker for more than four years. His main areas of interest are in working with the elderly (Gerontology) and in crisis management. With a deep passion for social work, he blogs regularly about the profession on his website at www.sgsocialworker.typepad.com
Related links: Singapore Association of Social Workers’ Website
, Singapore Association of Social Workers’ (SASW) Accreditation Secretariat
, Fareez’s blog