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Social Worker in South Africa Explains It All Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Marcia C. Schenck, United States Aug 9, 2006
Child & Youth Rights , Globalization   Interviews
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Patricia Anderson, Program Director, James House

Patricia has been with James House for the past 12 years. She studied Child and Youth Care at University and began her career as a field worker going out to communities. The case load of an average social worker in South Africa is extremely high, about 300 cases each, but the salary is very low. As a result, many NGOs, such as James House, have been founded. At the moment Patricia organizes and oversees the implementation of the four programs James House operates: Family support (Isibindi Program), Life Center, Residential and Foster Care, and Reunification. She trains and teaches the staff, monitors the Team Advisers and evaluates the work within the programs. She also represents James House to the outside, negotiates with the government and meets with the management.

Since James House was restructured last year, the emphasis in her work is on the smooth running of the new and more hierarchical structure. She is now in charge of strategic thinking, the new middle structure, the Team Leaders, and oversees the implementation within their programs. This is not yet working as the Team Leaders still have to undergo more training and coaching. In the mean time, Patricia still needs to check files and oversee court procedures. A typical day of work for her contains staff meetings and Team Leader supervision, but her working hours must be very flexible. She also still goes out into the communities or she has to go to conferences or to external meetings. The continuation of one’s own education outside of the regular work week is essential. The National Organization of Child Care Workers (NACCW) has monthly meetings where all staff within a region must attend.

Patricia is normally in her office from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, but working longer hours is routine and often she is there till 11.00h at night. Nevertheless her salary is only R 13.500 and R 9.500 net per month, which is a true NGO salary: if she was working for the government in the same position she would earn about R 25.000 per month. Because James House is a fairly small NGO she is flexible when it comes to vacation and she is always the one to set her own agenda and determine her own schedule. In terms of a dress code, there are no rules; however, decent dress is required because every staff member is a role model for the children. Speaking of being a role model, Patricia says she has to live her life as a role model at all times because she cannot permit a double standard.

The rewards Patricia receives from her job are the acknowledgement of her work and the climate in James House. She feels like her work is valued and she can help and reach people with it. Patricia is most frustrated about the drawbacks within the staff. Sometimes their attitude is tiring and their knowledge quite poor. She also comments on the difficulties of working with people who speak at least three different languages and are of various cultural groups. She is Afrikaans-speaking, has studied in English and learned to understand Xhosa. But the barriers are not only marked by language but are also visible in different attitudes towards work and diverse approaches to problem-solving.

According to Patricia, you have to be an extremely self motivated individual and make yourself happy in the job. It really all depends on the personal attitude. Management and organizational skills, a background in Child and Youth Care as well as in Social Work are desirable for the job. But most of all you have to possess leadership skills. How you interact with people can make all the difference in the world.

Career development in the field is going in a new direction with a different approach. Now a lot of the jobs are given to selected and committed individuals from the communities themselves, who undergo ongoing training and often also study via UNISA while working. “Developmental assessment” and “family preservation” are the new key terms. In the future Patricia predicts another shift towards community-based NGOs although the government takes on more responsibility as well through increased funding.

All in all, the field of Child and Youth Care Workers is growing tremendously with the new approach to try and care for children who need help in the communities. Schools countrywide will hire Child and Youth Care workers, which will lead to a vacancy of 500 jobs for this year.

In terms of career preparation Patricia suggests acquiring a BA in social work and a Masters degree in Child and Youth Care Work because this will give you enough specialized knowledge to deal with court procedures, etc. However, Patricia emphasizes that theory and applied knowledge or implementations of programs are two very different matters.

Anyone interested in this field should read, “Child and Youth Care” a monthly magazine issued by the NACCW. Moreover Patricia recommends “The circle of courage”, “The Other 23 Hours”, “Developmental Assessment” and anything by Eric Erickson concerning child development.

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Writer Profile
Marcia C. Schenck

I am a junior studying International Relations, History, and African Studies in the United States, Mount Holyoke College. I was born and raised in Germany and South Africa.
I love learning more about South Africa. I volunteered at a local NGO and interned with the Department of Social Services and Poverty Alleviation last summer. This summer I spent in Geneva at the International Labor Organization. I am passionate about travelling, reading, and writing.
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