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Social service delivery system in Zimbabwe: The role of social workers in support to OVC's
Goodhope E Mukaro
December 02, 2013

In Zimbabwe at independence, social work was able to adopt an unambiguous commitment to the policies of social justice and equity in health care, relief and resettlement programs, education, and personal social services intended to be free of racial and discriminatory practices. However, social protection service delivery systems in Zimbabwe have deteriorated since 2000 because of the economic downturn which led to the majority of qualified professional social workers leaving the country for greener pastures. According to the final report on Institutional Capacity Assessment from the Department of Social Services (DSS) under the Ministry of Labour and Social Services of October 2010, Zimbabwe has one of the most comprehensive legal instruments for the protection of children. However, the report notes that not enough has been done to enforce these legal instruments mostly because of shortage of resources particularly human resources, including qualified, professional and registered Social Workers.

In November 2003, USAID, UNICEF, UNAIDS, and the World Food Program (WFP) launched the massive orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) Rapid Country Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning (RAAAP) Initiative in partnership with in-country donor offices, national OVC steering committees, and the Policy Project to assess current levels of support and care for children who have been orphaned or made vulnerable by AIDS in 17 sub-Saharan countries. According to the report from RAAAP produced for Zimbabwe in January 2005 there is disparity between the scale of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC`s) population and many other factors such as the relative strength of a well-educated, trained and qualified human resources base and the severe lack of financial resources to enable the scaling up of OVC interventions in local communities in Zimbabwe.

Vital Statistics in Social Protection System

According to UNICEF over 1 million children have been orphaned, mostly by AIDS in the country. About 3.5 million children are living below the poverty datum line, with a significant percentage of them malnourished. Cases of child rape were reported to have increased by 42% in 2009. In December 2012, the Zimbabwe Republic Police Victim Friendly Unit through a report highlighted that more than 2,400 children under the age of 18 were victims of rape between January and October 2012. There were 3,421 sexual abuse cases of minors reported during that period. There were also over half a million cases of child labour. These statistics indicate the collapse of the Social Protection system in Zimbabwe largely due to the shortages of resources and manpower particularly social workers in preventing and managing abuse of vulnerable groups. Social workers are the backbone for carrying out all the statutory tasks principally enshrined in the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act [2001] and the Social Workers Act 27:21 [2001].

According to the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act [2001], so far, only social workers in the Department of Social Services are responsible for carrying out statutory roles, such as placing children in places of safety and probation work. As already established Zimbabwe employs a very limited number of social work professionals under the Department of Social Services (DSS). In the last few years this arrangement has strained the few social workers in the DSS. This has been observed by other professionals involved in probation services, e.g. the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Services who note that Social Workers have not been able to carry out their statutory services like writing Probation Officers’ Reports and failing to turn up in court to represent vulnerable children in the justice delivery system. This has compromised the quality of service given to the vulnerable groups. The final report on Institutional Capacity Assessment from the Department of Social Services of October 2010 illuminates that in 2003 the country had about 3000 social workers. However, over 1500 social workers left for the UK and other countries since 2000. Birmingham City in the UK alone at one point employed 47 Zimbabwean Social Workers. The Council of Social Workers noted in its baseline survey that of those social workers that remained in the country, many are unaccounted for as they have joined the private sector or Non-Governmental Organizations, or are doing work unrelated to the profession.

Zimbabwe has however, seen a growth in Social Work training with the introduction of 2 additional Social Work training institutions. This means Zimbabwe now has 3 Social Work training institutions namely University of Zimbabwe (UZ), Women’s University in Africa (WUA) and Bindura University of Science and Education (BUSE). Despite the improvement in the production of qualified social workers at the three Social Work training institutions in Zimbabwe, the quality of social work practice remains low. This has been due to a confluence of factors which include continued brain drain of Social Workers leaving Zimbabwe, unregulated practice, poor quality training of Social Workers from the above mentioned institutions. The School of Social Work of the University of Zimbabwe has suspended the Social Workers Master Program. The lecturers at the universities of the mentioned institutions are holders of bachelor’s degrees in social work and some are recent graduates in Masters of Social Work without experience. Furthermore another problem that has exacerbated the social service delivery crisis is the continued freeze of recruitment in the Department of Social Services (DSS). In 2006 the then Director of the school of Social Work, Prof E. Kaseke, observed that the Department of Social Services should have 400 social workers yet it had just over 100 in post. The Department of Social Services, as the official government coordinating authority of all the country’s welfare programs, has also faced insurmountable difficulties in recruiting and retaining qualified social work staff in most of its social welfare and social work positions. The assessment noted that Zimbabwe’s social welfare system has a huge caseload and its professional staffing is wildly out of alignment with that of other countries in the region.

Social Worker Client Ratio

The Institutional Capacity Assessment by DSS noted that Zimbabwe was in a crisis situation where the ratio of Social Workers to the population of service users is wildly out of proportion. In Zimbabwe the ratio of children to Social Workers was in the order of 49 587:1 social worker.

This is in stark contrast with other countries in the region as outlined below:

  • South Africa: 250:1 social worker
  • Botswana: 1 867:1 social worker
  • Namibia: 4 300: social worker

Needless to say, lack of (adequate) personnel impedes effective implementation and monitoring of child protection legislation. A further indication of comparative study is given by figures offered by UNICEF on the number of Government social workers per 100,000 people. In summary, initial findings indicate that Zimbabwe currently has approximately:

  • 121 Social Workers in post in DSS, of whom 100 are in front line district posts;
  • More than 1 million children orphaned;
  • Significant levels of child abuse and neglect (but no additional data);
  • More than 3.5 million children living below the food poverty line

The information above suggests that the ratio of government care services to vulnerable children is very limited and hence unfavorable. While no reliable documents are readily available which show regional/per country ratios of social workers to vulnerable children in other countries, it is clear from the examples given above that Zimbabwe is in a crisis situation where the ratio of social workers to the population of children is concerned. While countries in the region have an acute shortage of Social Workers, their plight is nowhere near the desperate situation now obtaining in Zimbabwe. For instance in 2009 government allocated US$53, 5 million to social protection programs and in 2012 government specifically allocated US$25,7 million for social protection on the budget which falls far short in addressing the current crisis of the growing orphan and vulnerable children’s population.

In this respect one can note that we value the commitments made by the government such as ratifying international conventions such as the Convention on the rights of the child and enactment of legislation mentioned above that strives to protect vulnerable groups. However, the continued depletion of service delivery in the Social protection System in Zimbabwe has resulted in a continued increase of child abuse cases, an increase in orphans and vulnerable children. This therefore shows that there is a loophole between stipulations of the law and practice on the ground. As a result the government and all relevant stakeholders at large should promote and ensure that there is a revival of the social service delivery system so that protection of orphans and vulnerable children in our communities improves. This can be done by making available adequate funding for relevant organizations and government departments such as National Association of Social Workers, Council of Social Workers and DSS to ensure enforcement, abiding and respecting of all legal instruments that promote the social security system. It can also be done through retaining trained and qualified social workers from the diaspora so that they can help resuscitate the crisis of the growing orphan and vulnerable children’s population in the country.

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