For more than 20 years Child and Youth Care Workers in South Africa have struggled for recognition by our colleagues in professions such as social work, education, and psychology. We have longed for the day when we can sit in an assessment meeting or a discussion on one of the children in our care and be treated with respect, “trust" and dignity by our colleagues “not as a social work assistant, or a nanny. Not as someone who cannot be trusted with confidential information about the child, yet in whose hands the life of that same child is placed 24 hours out of 24. We have wanted the status, salaries and service conditions which make it possible to be effective and deliver quality services to young people and their families. We have wanted quite a bit and we’re about to receive it. Are we ready?
Are we ready and do we truly understand the responsibility to children, youth and families which accompanies recognition as a profession?
The test which we face now, as individuals and as a profession, is this: has this been and is this truly about a better deal for the children and their families whom we serve, or has this been and is this about ourselves? For example, with the status of being recognised as one of the social service professions in South Africa, comes the requirement that “the client" is at the centre, and our full responsibility at all times therefore is to the child. This applies regardless of the environment or conditions under which we work.
The natural consequences of the status and recognition are for example, that we have to re-think demands such as “danger pay", we have to re-think behaviours such as going on strike, we have to realise that hitting a child as a punishment (whether deserved or not in our thinking) may result in both legal action and the cancellation of our registration (and therefore the loss of our job).
What has been accomplished so far?
The new Social Services Council was legislated for in 1998/99 and is now a reality.
The new Public Service Code of Remuneration (CORE), including the component for Child and Youth Care Workers in the Public Service, is now established.
Training and Education from a Basic Qualification to a Certificate, three-year Diploma and four-year degree is in place.
A new funding system for social welfare (including the child and youth care system) which will impact positively on the non-government services to children and youth has been introduced.
A new child and youth care system which gives full recognition to the role which child and youth care workers can play in a variety of settings, including schools and community is being introduced.
The final step in achieving our dream, and a requirement in the legislation, is the setting in place of a Professional Child & Youth Care Board under the Umbrella of the Council for Social Service Professions!
The Council has finalised the methodology for doing this, and national professional associations, or representative bodies, are now invited to submit the application on behalf of the profession, to the Council. This does not however mean that the organisation submitting the application becomes the Board “they merely process the application. The NACCW is likely to perform this function with respect to Child and Youth Care and they will be given details of criteria and how to set about the application. Once an application is received and assessed by the Council to meet the criteria, the Minister for Welfare & Population Development must approve the establishment of the Board. The process of establishing a board will involve appointments, as well as elections (from among child and youth care workers). Once the initial board is in place a democratic system of voting in new members will occur whenever Boards are to be re-elected.
Professional Boards are likely to be established within the next four months and will include Social Workers, Child and Youth Care Workers, Probation Officers, and Community Workers.
What will the consequences be when we establish the Board?
Firstly, the Board (at different levels) will register all child and youth care workers, assistant child and youth care workers, or student child and youth care workers. This includes all those who work for the government. From the time of implementation (this will no doubt be phased in), child and youth care workers will be unable to practise child and youth care work without a valid registration certificate, and organisations employing workers will be required to employ only registered child and youth care workers.
Registration will be available at different levels. For example, a child and youth care worker may be registered as a student (while studying at university or technikon), as an assistant child and youth care worker (if they do not hold the professional qualification of a degree/diploma but do hold the necessary qualification for this level of registration), and as a professional (if they hold the required degree/diploma for professional registration.)
Secondly, registration will be conditional upon having the specified qualifications set out by the Board. In turn, the Universities, Technikons, colleges and organisations offering qualification will have to submit their courses to the Board for accreditation.
Thirdly, registration will include a commitment to a Code of Ethics. Any child and youth care worker found to be breaking this Code, or practising without the appropriate registration, may be liable for prosecution and may be de-registered by the Board and Council.
Fourthly, child and youth care workers will be required to pay an annual registration fee set out by the Board and Council.
Lastly, our profession will finally be regulated in South Africa “and by child and youth care workers! There will never again be a situation where anyone can do this work, or where people who call themselves child and youth care workers can do this work in any way which they please.
So now the question is to be a board “or not to be?
In the next few weeks we should all be responding to the NACCW to indicate our support for an application or not. One of the key criteria to be met will be whether this application is supported by a majority of child and youth care workers in South Africa. You and I now hold the future of the profession and the future of our “children at risk” in our hands. Let’s respond with courage and integrity.
This feature: Reprinted from the April 2000 issue of Child & Youth Care