We need social workers more than ever

Woden Community Service 27 July 2020 10
Woden Community Service CEO Jenny Kitchin.

Woden Community Service CEO Jenny Kitchin says the ACT needs social workers now more than ever. Photo: Supplied.

As a diehard social worker, I find the Federal Government’s intention to double university fees for social work, as part of restructuring the higher education sector, incredibly concerning and very short-sighted.

A social work degree provides one of the soundest bases for students wanting to work in the human services and helping profession. The primary tenet of social work is viewing people as part of a much broader social system. This lends itself to always keeping an eye on the impact on people of bigger picture issues such as income security, housing and social connection.

Community service agencies, such as Woden Community Service (WCS), are always looking for social workers to join our teams and we can never get enough of them. Whether these social workers are students, graduates or have years of experience, they bring so much to the work we do.

Our services cover homelessness, mental health, family support, youth engagement and disability support. We would love to have social workers across all of our programs, but rarely do. At any one time we have, on average, about three per cent of our workforce with a social work degree.

The community and government sectors constantly try to recruit more social workers. Invariably there are not enough to fill the many positions we could offer them. We should be looking at ways to attract people to the profession, not deterring them.

An increase in tertiary fees is highly likely to dissuade potentially great social workers from taking up study in this valuable and highly sought after profession.

The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) says: “Social workers have been deemed essential workers during the current COVID-19 pandemic. We have had recent and ongoing royal commissions into aged care, disability, mental health and family violence, and what keeps coming up is that quality, professional workers are required in these fields.

“Social workers are essential, frontline services that are currently under-resourced, with a predominantly female workforce. A disproportionately large higher education debt for a profession that is there to assist the most vulnerable in society – and which is not a high-earning profession – is highly problematic.”

A social work degree can equip a graduate for a career in so many areas: policy development, counselling, frontline support and management, among others. Across the community, government and sometimes in the corporate sector, you will find trained social work people. Their focus on social justice and a desire to see people’s vulnerabilities as a product of a wider social system inevitably adds value to a host of workplaces.

When I did my social work degree, I had to go to Sydney to study as it wasn’t offered in Canberra. On returning to Canberra, many of us worked long and hard to support the establishment of a social work school at the Australian Catholic University (ACU).

Since then, many ACU graduates and those from other institutions have built up the social work workforce across Canberra. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for welfare support across the community. While this work can be done by workers with a wide variety of training, it’s social workers who can fill a key niche.

There appears no rationale behind the government’s arbitrary proposal to increase university fees for social work. During a time when support for vulnerable people is at its highest, why would the government make this decision?

Social workers, like many other trained people in the welfare sector, have so much to offer. Depriving students of a career choice that can lead, and support, our community is very worrying.

We can only hope this is not supported when our politicians get to vote on this issue.

Woden Community Service offers a wide range of services to the Canberra community, including food relief; mental health support; child, family and youth support; and disability services. If you or someone you know requires support, call WCS on 02 6282 2644.


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10 Responses to We need social workers more than ever
July Williams July Williams 7:34 am 02 Aug 20

University should be free for your first degree as long as you are an Australian citizen.

Sally Margaret Sally Margaret 6:03 am 02 Aug 20

Not mentioned, are the 1000hrs of unpaid practical work every student social worker is required to complete to demonstrate competence for our quals. Often students have to cut back their hours in paid work or give it up completely in order to fulfill this requirement. I have seen this have an impact on student’s resilience as financial and relationship issues can arise as a result.

    July Williams July Williams 7:35 am 02 Aug 20

    Sally Margaret Just like nursing students.

    Jordana Martin Jordana Martin 8:14 am 02 Aug 20

    Sally Margaret yes. This was absolutely brutal for me. I had only 3 days I didn’t work in 6 months (including weekends) whilst on prac because I needed to pay rent, eat, pay bills... every spare minute not at prac I was working in my paid job to afford myself the right to exist.

    Thommo Tomtom Thommo Tomtom 9:41 am 02 Aug 20

    Sally Margaret same for most health professionals studies; occupational therapy, physio therapy, speech pathology. It is so hard and certainly creates an access issue for those wanting to become a health professional.

Steve Ross Steve Ross 2:34 pm 01 Aug 20

Social workers and light bulbs...🙄

Sarah O'Sullivan Sarah O'Sullivan 2:25 pm 01 Aug 20

The increase in the fees is twisted especially since social work is one of the highest used, lowest paid professions

    Sue Skinner Sue Skinner 7:04 pm 01 Aug 20

    Not low paid at all. A new graduate walks into $85k starting salary. Specialist social workers charge up to $250 per hr for counselling. In the ACT.

    Mikki Haitch Mikki Haitch 8:18 pm 01 Aug 20

    I can tell you as a social work graduated most positions are 'middle income' by Australian standards. There are of course high and low ends to average pay, but I wouldn't say it's a high paid profession. Social workers aren't in it for the money but I think it's worth considering how we as a society assign value to people who help the most vulnerable.

    Jordana Martin Jordana Martin 8:16 am 02 Aug 20

    Sue Skinner maybe in government roles? This is not reflected in the NGO sector at all.

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