There seems to be little real recognition and appreciation for professional social workers in Malaysia these days. Why is this so? This is partly because professional social work is not a first choice, glamourous, high profile and money making profession.
On the contrary, it is often a misunderstood and misrepresented profession. Much more needs to be done and that too on an on-going basis , to educate key target groups like policy makers, employers, HR professionals, media, school and university leavers as well as social workers themselves about the growing importance of this vital service.
Defining social work
To be sure, we need to understand that social work is organised activities and programmes intended to advance the social conditions of a community, and especially of the disadvantaged, by providing counselling, guidance and assistance, particularly in the form of social services.
We in Malaysia cannot seriously claim to be aiming for developed nation status on the one hand when we are seen to be lagging in the provision of much needed social services.
A casual perusal of the main stream newspapers will give us an inkling of the range of personal, social and psychological issues confronting Malaysians, from all walks of life, on a regular basis.
What sort and type of professional service do we provide to care givers working with institutionalised children for instance? How do we assist the poor, people with impairments, the elderly and especially children with behaviourial problems?
Is enough being done and in a timely manner in this regard? Or have our centuries’ long, carefully cultivated core value systems begun to disappear and disintegrate in a very materialistic world?
Stand out by the depth of our compassion
Whilst we can take some pride, for instance, in our world class buildings and superhighways here in Malaysia, we should be just as concerned that we stand out by the depth of our compassion, the seriousness of our commitment and the quality and range of our services to those most in need. That, in the final analysis, is the true measure of a really developed nation.
In this regard, we should take proactive steps to provide more social services. We should also make a concerted effort to hire the right people with the proper education, training, attitude and empathy as professional social workers. Hiring unemployed graduates to be social workers by default may be seen as a good means to provide jobs for these candidates. But it begs the larger question: are we in the business to provide mere lip service where the provision of real, meaningful professional social work is concerned?
Make the profession more attractive
Then again, we need to review the salary scales and promotional opportunities for these professional social workers. They need to be on par with other kindred professionals if we are serious about our commitment in this regard.
One cannot realistically expect to pay staff, for instance, division two salaries and then have high expectations that these individuals will provide not division one but premier league services! In this sensible way, we may well attract more young people with the right qualifications, values and attitude to seriously consider a career in social work.
Social workers are great advocates for others
I believe that professional social workers by the very nature of their training and personalities are great advocates for others but often do not promote the good work they do every day and in every community.
This is, however, so necessary because the stories of their work need to be told, re-told and shared. True blue professional social workers are generally humble, committed individuals who work best behind the scenes and do not as a rule want the spot light to be shining on them.
Focus on the uplifting work they do
The mistake these social workers make is in thinking erroneously that this focus is for mere publicity. It is, in fact, a much needed focus on the uplifting work that they do sometimes under difficult circumstances. This noble work certainly helps to tell their story to a much wider audience.
In the process and over a period of time of such enlightening stories, social workers are able to bring much needed attention to the crucial work they do, highlight the uniqueness of the profession, enlist more stakeholders to get seriously involved and attract the right calibre of individuals to the profession.
Do not make the mistake on depending only on the print media. Do think of giving radio interviews from time to time. Also seize opportunities to appear on relevant television programmes and talk shows to draw attention to a particular cause.
I believe that many of us recognise that professional social workers do valuable work. However, many also do not believe that they will ever need the assistance of a social worker. This is, of course, far from the reality.
We all need help and assistance at some time
The existence of an extremely valuable 24 hour helpline provided by the Befrienders in many of our cities in Malaysia is a case in point. In large urban settings with thousands of people around them, some individuals can feel overwhelmed, lonely, lost and friendless! They have no one to confide to or to pour out their problems. This is where a helpful ear comes in to provide the needed calming balm.
The laudable work being carried out by the Malaysian Mental Health Association for instance, in just four areas – capacity building, suicide prevention, problem gambling and stress reduction is another example of such needed service to society at large.
The number of aged parents now being conveniently dumped in old folks’ homes is another sad reflection of our skewed priorities. Then again there are many programmes run by certain Christian groups to assist couples trapped in marriages that seemed to have run their course. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all need help and assistance at some time.