Call for more social workers in Western Cape as they are overseeing up to 100 cases at a time

The need for more social workers addressed in the province in assisting victims. file image

The need for more social workers addressed in the province in assisting victims. file image

Published May 19, 2024


Cape Town – Social workers in the province are overseeing up to 100 cases at a time and the Western Cape Department of Social Development has a ratio of one social worker for every 5000 people.

These are the shocking numbers MEC for Social Development Sharna Fernandez’s office has revealed.

“The Department has a ratio of 1 social worker per 5 000 people; in rural areas this ratio becomes 1 social worker for 2500 people,” the office said in response to a question.

Children’s rights activists, whistle blowers and a social worker who spoke anonymously with the said there was a backlog in hiring staff members and that they had to deal with between 80 to 100 cases at a time.

They said there was a shortfall of over 140 social workers but the department would not confirm this.

Instead, they revealed the number of social service professionals employed by the department included 745 social workers, 274 social auxiliary workers, 92 supervisors, 22 managers, 29 policy developers and 10 policy managers.

“The department also funds or subsidises over 1 200 social service professionals on varying levels at non-profit organisations (NPOs), and over 700 child and youth care workers at NPOs across the Western Cape,” it said.

When asked about the case load per social worker they stated: “The national norm is 60 cases per social worker, but in reality social workers have higher case loads due to the high demand for social services in relation to the limited staff component.”

When asked about the shortage they indicated that it was a great challenge to comply with the requirements of the Children’s Act and social work norms and standards, and that is why outside organisations assisted.

“Shortages also lead to non-compliance with 24-hour response times to the Form 22s reporting of child abuse and neglect (mandated under the Children’s Act),” it said.

“Partner NGOs play an integral role in assisting DSD to lessen the burden of the demand for services, but they too have challenges with social worker shortages.”

A social worker who spoke anonymously about working conditions said they would be heading for disaster if there were not more boots on the ground.

“We have a lot more than that even though our norms and standards say we should have 60,” said the social worker who works in Cape Town. “I would say on average social workers sit with between 80 to 100 cases. Foster care workers sit with an average of between 200 to 300 cases depending on the area you work.”

The department responded: “We definitely need more manpower and facilities, but we are currently reviewing our operational structure within the department to address the case loads and our chief director is looking into our staffing issues.

“Our hours are from 7.30am to 4pm but sometimes we have to work late and that time varies depending on the nature of the case and how quickly we can find a placement for either the child or adult because we do both.

“Some of the staff serve after hours, so after pulling an eight hour shift they work on after hours, but they take turns, one week on, one week off.”

Lucinda Evans and founder of Philisa Abafazi Bethu, which advocates for the rights of women and children and is a registered baby saver, said the lack of social workers in the province was an injustice to victims, especially minors.

“We had a vacancy for a social worker at our organisation, I received nearly 50 applications from other provinces for this position,” she said.

“There are social workers who are sitting at home for four, five years and cannot get a job, whose CVs I am sitting with. It is criminal what the Department of Social Development is doing in terms of the ratio.

“The Children’s Commissioner is to advise on policy, what has she been doing for the past five years when the ratio per social worker and child is what it is.

“If the ratio is one person per 5 000 people, then the children’s commissioner and MEC allowed this under their watch; what does it mean for protection of children like Joshlin Smith who could have been one of the other 4999 cases and now Joshlin is not there, she is missing. Is this the future of our children?”

The office of Children’s Commissioner Christina Nomdo said it was unable to comment on the issue of social workers as it was for another department to respond.

Whistle blower Zona Morton said accountability was important as the numbers and feet on the ground impacted lives.

“This is not even about political will as it should not be politics that drives services to communities,” she said. “It is more about people holding office being appointed to do jobs and not delivering their mandate. We as activists should start holding those in offices accountable.

“If the Children’s Commissioner has no powers then what is the use of a commissioner? They are caught up in the political fight and not the ethos of serving.”

Morton said not placing two social workers at each of the province’s 181 police stations to assist with children’s cases, was an injustice to victims.