Recognition as professionals hindered but social workers labour on

What has happened to the proposed Social Workers Profession Bill?

There has been no news about the Bill despite plans to table it in Parliament by the end of this year.

The Act, once gazetted, aims to elevate the status of social workers to professionals. It is also intended to improve efficiency in the management of social workers.

While there was a change in government earlier this year, those familiar with the matter told Twentytwo13 that the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry was briefed by stakeholders about the Bill in April.

Perikatan Nasional is said to be supportive of the Bill.

In June, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun said the ministry is expected to table proposed Bills on sexual harassment and recognition of social work as a profession by the end of this year.

A ministry spokesman declined comment yesterday, saying: “Wait for a statement from the ministry.”

Efforts to give recognition to social workers have been in the pipeline for some time.

In October 2017, former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he hoped the proposed Bill would be tabled after being delayed for five years.

Zahid had said the matter would be presented to the Cabinet and then tabled in the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.

Joanne Melissa Wong, head of programmes at Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), said the function of social workers in Malaysia was being hampered as their role is not recognised.

“In the US and the UK, social workers are allowed to accompany victims when they go to the police station or when they see a magistrate,” said Wong.

“Rape victims, for example, need someone to accompany them when they lodge a police report as they may not know how to make a report or need help to translate.”

There are times when social workers are allowed to accompany victims here. But she said that was not always the case.

“Recognising the role of social workers is not just about creating awareness on their existence but to know the number of social workers we have in the country,” said Wong.

According to the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu), there is one social worker for 8,576 Malaysians.

This is a far cry compared to the US (1:490), Australia (1: 1,040), UK (1:3,025 and Singapore (1:3,448).

Suriana Welfare Society chairman James Nayagam said politicking in the country had resulted in social services being neglected.

“In other countries, the role of social workers is recognised. When a child needs to be brought to court or when they require counselling, this function is outsourced to a licensed social worker,” said Nayagam.

Nayagam has been a proactive advocate for children’s rights, including abused children for the past 35 years.

“In this country, the government welfare officers are overloaded (with work) and only a few cases are looked into, resulting in many other cases (including child protection) being delayed.

He added certain jobs can be outsourced and less burdensome for government officers if there were licensed social workers.

“I have studied the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand systems on licensed social workers. They work together to complement the government and children have a better protection system.

“But in Malaysia, we are Jurassic in our practices and underdeveloped in this area. The cases keep repeating year after year,” he said.

Nayagam said social workers played a vital role if a child needs to go to court, meet the police or needs to go to the hospital.

“But it gets frustrating if we all have to go through one system and there is no alternative.”

The former Suhakam commissioner added many claim to be social workers but not all have the qualifications to be one.

“There are not many institutions here that offer courses. Having a qualification will boost social workers and change people’s perception,” he said.

“Our society must view social work as a recognised profession. This will spur people, including parents, to encourage children to take up the profession.”