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In the last two years, Parliament has passed a number of laws affecting children, such as the Child Justice Bill and the Children’s Act. This legislation is rights based and predicated on a model of developmental social welfare that emphasises strengthening the capacity of families and communities to prevent abuse or behavioural problems that may lead to crime.
Effective implementation of these laws requires a range of social service practitioners working together in communities to deliver a holistic set of services. It includes social workers, child and youth care workers, early childhood development practitioners and probation officers. Currently, there is a critical shortage of all these practitioners. The Department of Social Development (DSD) is responsible for ensuring that there are a sufficient number of appropriately trained social service practitioners to deliver the services required by the new legislation.
As part of the plan to develop the profession, the DSD published a draft Social Service Professions Bill for comment in January 2008. The Bill defines the categories of practitioner who are to be registered; establishes the South African Council for Social Service Professionals; and provides for the establishment of professional boards for each occupation group. The boards will be responsible for regulating professional practice; setting standards for education and training and criteria for registration; devising codes of ethics; and advising the Minister on issues such as recruitment and retention strategies.
Former members of the Children's Bill Working Group recognised that it is essential for social service practitioners to engage with the draft Social Service Professions Bill, and to advocate for improvements. Based on their experiences in the Children's Bill campaign, the members wanted to harness their collective energies through a co-ordinated campaign, and approached the Children's Institute for support. As a result, the Social Service Practitioners Advocacy Network (SSPAN) was established in October 2008.
The first challenge is to raise awareness about the new legislation: A new section has been created on the Children's Institute website to host information about SSPAN and the Social Service Practitioners Bill. The project team is developing a range of materials that explain the content of the Bill and raise key questions that need to be discussed by the different occupational groups.
Workshops in the Free State, Limpopo, Western Cape and the Eastern Cape have attracted a range of practitioners from child and youth care workers, to early childhood development practitioners, probation officers, social workers, youth workers and community development workers. More provincial workshops are scheduled for May. A meeting of sector networks and national organisations is planned for May when representatives will discuss how to deepen the consultation on the Bill, and develop common messages and effective advocacy strategies.
This two-year project is funded by the D.G. Murray Trust. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.