KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 11 – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Malaysian Association of Social Workers (MASW) are calling on lawmakers to table the Social Work Profession Bill.
“Social workers hold the edges of society together. They protect and prevent children and their families from experiencing violence, promote social justice, reduce the effects of discrimination, address inequality, and contribute to the eradication of poverty”, said Robert Gass, the UNICEF representative in Malaysia.
Between 2020 and 2022, the Social Welfare Department recorded 18,750 cases of child abuse. Social workers responding to social issues such as these must receive adequate resources, training and support, as well as proper recognition and investment.
Enacting the Social Work Profession Bill acknowledges the role of social work in community development in line with the government’s vision for Malaysia Madani.
The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has made promising steps in taking the country closer to enacting the Social Work Profession Bill.
Setting up the Children’s Development Department, and the recent coordination meeting for the preparation of the Social Work Profession Bill demonstrates their commitment to social work and enhancing child protection systems.
UNICEF and MASW stand ready to support the government as they take strategic steps to address social issues through empowering social workers.
“Social work is unique because it deals with human problems within the societal context. Guided by professional values and ethics, social workers utilise their knowledge on human behaviour, social systems, law and policies to assist clients in navigating complex structures like the court system, as well as providing psycho-social care and support, said Dr Teoh Ai Hua, president of MASW.
“The decisions they make may impact a client’s life forever. That is why they need to be trained and supported, so that they can confidently support their clients. Social workers care for others, and they in turn need to be taken care of.”
Some of the challenges social workers still face in their current practice in Malaysia:
- Social work is unregulated as a profession affecting service demand and investment. By comparison, social work is regulated in the Philippines (1965), Singapore (2009), Thailand (2013), and Indonesia (2019).
- There is a shortage of social workers in Malaysia. According to statistics by the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU), there is an estimated one social worker for every 8,576 people in Malaysia. In comparison, the social workers to population ratio in other countries are 1:490 in the United States of America, 1:1,040 in Australia, 1:3,025 in the United Kingdom, and 1:3,448 in Singapore.
- There is limited public understanding of the role of a social worker. It is often thought that social workers carry out charity or voluntary work. As a result, their work is not valued, or given due recognition or investment.
Social work is not regulated or recognised as a profession by law in Malaysia. While the drafting of the Social Work Profession Bill began in 2010, it is yet to be tabled in Parliament. Adopting this legislation to regulate the profession of social work is critical to:
- Public interest: It informs the public of professional standards, expectations, and consequences for non-compliance.
- Public monitoring: Helps the public to identify professional social workers and ensures their competence.
- Public safety: Prevents harm through competent and ethical social work practice.
- Service quality: Prescribes qualifications and competencies for effective social work.
- Professional status: Recognises social work as a valued profession, encouraging recruitment and retention.
“By establishing social work as a profession, we expect more people will be interested in the profession, eventually addressing the current shortfall, and raising standards among the social workers labour force in Malaysia,” said Dr Teoh.
“This will improve availability of social workers to people who need them the most. When individuals are cared for and supported, their communities flourish, and as a result, the country prospers.”
Heroes Among Us
With the recently launched Heroes Among Us campaign, UNICEF and MASW outline a vision for Malaysia where every child and vulnerable person will have timely access to qualified and competent social workers, when required.
The campaign seeks to raise awareness of the critical role that social workers play in the lives of children, families and communities in Malaysia.
“Heroes Among Us is a call to action to demonstrate our support of social workers and to value their work. Social workers make sure that no one gets left behind. Today we are saying, let’s not leave our social workers behind. Support social workers. Support these heroes among us and the adoption of the Social Work Profession Bill,” said Gass.
In Malaysia, trained and qualified social workers are employed by diverse government agencies such as the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, and its Department of Social Welfare at national, state and district levels, the Ministry of Health, and the National Anti-Drugs Agency.
They also work in civil society organisations (CSOs) such as in shelters for survivors of intimate partner violence.
Through the Heroes Among Us campaign, Unicef and MASW shine a light on the critical and indispensable contribution of social workers in Malaysia.
Adopting a Social Work Profession Bill would bring the country closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and its commitment to leave no one behind.