South African Council for Social Service Professions on Regulations: briefing

Social Development

01 November 2002
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


1 November 2002

Chair: Cassim Saloojee

The Committee was briefed by Dr Berto Lombard, Registrar of the SA Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP), and three of his colleagues: Council members Ms Mara Koornhof and Ms Mary Turok, and staff member Ms Masentle Nkabinde. Their presentation pertained to interactions between the Council and the Committee in general, and specifically to the Draft Regulations regarding the conducting of inquiries into alleged unprofessional conduct for social service professionals that will be Gazetted on 8 November 2002.

Mr Saloojee (ANC) remarked on the need for a discussion of the background of the regulations, and expediency in moving forward.

Dr Lombard (SACSSP) thanked the Committee members for the opportunity to address them, and introduced the regulations. In 1998, the previous Social Work Act was amended to establish the SACSSP. Regulations were devised under which a professional board for social workers would be constituted, as well as regulations for the functioning of that board. Unfortunately, though these regulations were submitted in April 2001, they were not published in the Government Gazette and essentially fell by the wayside. Dr Lombard announced that the regulations would be published in the Government Gazette on 08 November 2002.

Dr Lombard described the five sets of regulations (involving the establishment of professional boards for social workers and child and youth care workers and regulations pertaining to the operation of those boards) that would be introduced, but stated that only the draft regulations regarding the conducting of inquiries into alleged unprofessional conduct by social service professionals would be discussed at the present meeting.

Mr Saloojee asked if, once the regulations are published in the Gazette, SACSSP could come back in the New Year and meet with the Committee.

Mr Saloojee also asked if the intention was to establish the professional boards once the regulations had been processed.

Ms Turok (SACSSP) asked how the professional boards would be funded.

Dr Lombard replied that the Department of Social Development (DSD) had committed to providing financial assistance in this regard. During the current fiscal year, R500 000 will be allocated in two installments. The SACSSP has been awaiting the first installment since September and expects to receive it some time in November.

Ms Chalmers (ANC) asked about the other five bodies of regulations.

Dr Lombard stated that all of the regulations would be published in the Government Gazette in the following week.

Ms Gandhi (ANC) noted that this set of regulations applies to all of the different boards. Other regulations are required to establish the boards themselves?

Dr Lombard confirmed this was the case.

Mr Saloojee asked, once the regulations are Gazetted, will there be a 30-day waiting period for comments? Could these comments be forwarded to the Committee?

Dr Lombard agreed this was possible.

Mr Saloojee suggested that the Committee could expedite the approval process.

Ms Turok (SACSSP) asked how the Committee would process the work. She pointed out that the Committee had not seen the regulations, and asked if copies should be sent to the Committee as they were sent to the Department?

Mr Saloojee stated that, if the Committee has the regulations, it could compel officials to act.

Ms Turok apologized for the fact that the Council had not done this in the past.

Mr Saloojee said that, with legislation, drafts are discussed with officials. Speed for the sake of itself is not important, but the Committee hopes to do whatever is necessary to move the process forward.

Ms Tshivhase (ANC) said that seeing the submissions would be important for the Committee.

Mr Da Camara (DP) asked what would be the impact of the staggered introduction of the other five bodies of regulations?

Dr Lombard stated that four of these would be of particular interest: regulations establishing the professional boards for social workers and child and youth care workers; as well as the regulations regarding the functioning of these bodies, and election and appointment of their officers. The other regulations pertain to fees payable to the SACSSP. The social work board will be established first.

Mr Da Camara asked if the Committee could see the financials as well.

Ms Gandhi asked, when the SACSSP establishes the board, is there a particular course that must be passed by members? Is there minimum training for child and youth care workers? If this is not in place, a professional board is a tenuous proposition.

Dr Lombard replied that the Council has its own criteria, including completion of a course. The Department of Education requires a four-year course, and some social workers have technikon vocational qualifications. Once the board is established, it will begin setting those standards. The Council does not want just any occupation recognized.

Ms Chalmers asked if R500 000 would be sufficient to cover startup costs.

Dr Lombard explained that the SACSSP had submitted a business plan to the Department. R500 000 would be enough for the current fiscal year; in the future, it will be a regular item on the Department's budget.

Ms Rajbally (MF) asked whether qualifications for board appointments should be set in advance.

Dr Lombard assured the Committee that the boards would not be established without prior setting of qualifications.

Ms Koornhoff (SACSSP) stated that the establishment of the board for social workers was not especially significant, since social workers are already registered. The need for the board for child and youth care workers is extremely urgent, since there is no registration for these service providers. One problem is that many of them are not qualified. The board will have to address this problem. When social workers were first registered, many of them were not qualified; ways will be found to phase in professional requirements.

Dr Lombard suggested that the SACSSP would institute levels for practitioners. A "granny clause" will be introduced, as it was for social workers, so that some practicing child and youth care workers without the specified qualifications can be registered, and receive supplementary training. At some point, this door will be closed and the qualifications will stand.

Mr Saloojee stated that minimum standards were essential.

Dr Lombard noted that the applicant for a professional board is usually a professional association with some standards already in place that can be used as a point of departure.

Ms Koornhoff suggested that a programme of fast tracking might be useful.

Mr Da Camara asked if the SACSSP had a data as to how many untrained child and youth care workers were practicing, and how they were distributed between urban and rural areas.

Dr Lombard stated that he could not answer this question, not insignificantly because there is no accepted definition for child and youth care workers.

Ms Turok said that she had met the woman driving this initiative with the NACCW (a professional body), which has 2000 members.

Ms Gandhi noted that one major concern for the Committee was the issue of transformation, from social welfare to social development. She said that, when the Committee called the universities, it was clear that this changeover has not taken place in a systematic manner. There has been no movement at that level. Agencies are to blame because they are not transforming, according to many observers. The agencies that the Committee has visited have complained that social workers are not skilled to put into place this new ethos.

Dr Lombard explained that the universities were working on this. The SACSSP has created a standards-generating body for the social service professions.

Mr Saloojee stated that the Committee has been engaging the universities, and asked if they have looked at syllabi for the new thinking on transformation?

Ms Koornhoff noted that this was a question of training, finances and priorities. The agencies are making mistakes, but that is not the only problem. Financial support from the provincial department varies widely, and remuneration in the agencies is not on par even with that in the departments. However, there are positive results to mark, especially around re-training and re-focusing.

Mr Saloojee expressed his opinion that the state must come into play. He noted the historic reluctance on the part of social workers to engage in community organizing. In the present situation, this is crucial. The Johannesburg Child Welfare Society, to cite just one example, is doing transformative work, but it also has the resources to do so. Overall, there has not been a radical departure from old ways of working. This is why engagement with the universities is important, the Committee must find out what they are doing.

Ms Turok suggested that someone from the SACSSP's standards-generating body should be invited to a Committee meeting with the universities.

Ms Gandhi asked if the SACSSP could send the standards it has generated to the Committee.

Dr Lombard agreed this was possible.

Draft Regulations
Dr Lombard introduced the draft regulations, entitled: Regulations regarding the conducting of inquiries into alleged unprofessional conduct. Dr Lombard noted that there are various documents with which these regulations will operate in conjunction, including chapter 3 of the Social Service Professionals Act, 1978, as well as various regulations and rules with respect to improper conduct.

The objectives of the policy are that, in protecting the interest of the public, the disciplinary system of the SACSSP should be accessible, fair, effective, and affordable. Any complaint has to be specific about the alleged unprofessional or improper conduct, indicate against whom the complaint is lodged, as well as what remedy is sought, with a view to emphasize a restorative rather than a punitive system. The Council should as far as possible be the agent of last resort and not the first in disciplinary matters. A complaint should be lodged with the responsible service provider or the practitioner's supervisor, who should deal; with the matter in the first instance; should the matter not be resolved internally, the matter should be referred to the responsible institution (i.e. Public Prosecutor, SACSSP, etc.) Role differentiation between the SACSSP, the state, employers and professional associations as far as disciplinary matters are concerned should be of primary concern in resolutions as to whether the SACSSP will proceed with a complaint lodged with it. The SACSSP will also take the initiative to refer cases to other bodies that can fulfill a more appropriate role in dealing with the complaint concerned.

Ms Nkabinde (SACSSP) summarized the background of the regulations: the procedure followed at the present time for complaints and the changes the SACSSP wishes to make. When a complaint is received now, it is mailed to the social worker concerned, who has 21 days to reply. The complaint and the reply are submitted to a Committee of Preliminary Inquiry (CPI), which meets four times per year. Either the committee will finalize the complaint, or investigate. Investigations are conducted in a manner where the parties are called in for interviews; the committee then finalizes the complaint to refers it to a disciplinary hearing, at which point another committee takes over.

Under the proposed new system, the process for the submission of a complaint will be the same. However, the Registrar (or an official designated by the Registrar) will look at the documents and can decide whether the matter might be closed or resolved amicably. The Registrar can bring all of the parties together to make a settlement, and can also refer the case immediately to a disciplinary hearing. The Registrar can also refer to other appropriate bodies, if the matter is outside the jurisdiction of the SACSSP. The CPI can mediate, calling in the parties for an exposition; this is not a disciplinary hearing, and no legal representation is permitted. After the exposition, a range of further options exists.

This approach integrates the aforementioned objectives of the policy. The new system will be more expeditious, more affordable (since it involves less travel), fairer (since more options are presented), effective (since measures are still in place to maintain standards), and more accessible to aggrieved persons.

Ms Nkabinde noted that the SACSSP's next project was a revision of its ethical codes. The Council will come in to ask the Committee for its input in this respect.

Ms Gandhi noted that the old procedure did not have provision for appeal, short of a judicial remedy.

Ms Nkabinde reminded the Committee that these new regulations pertained only to the preliminary stage; with the disciplinary stage, there is now provision for appeal within three months to the Minister, who can convene an appeal committee outside the SACSSP.

Ms Turok noted that the perception of social workers in the public conscience is not a positive one. SACSSP does not do enough to change this-either by proactive image management or aggressive pursuit of problematic social workers. A lot of social workers are behaving badly. How can the SACSSP impact on this situation?

Mr Saloojee said that the Committee should apply itself to this question.

Mr Saloojee also noted that the SACSSP is based in Pretoria, and asked if this was a problem for inquiries elsewhere in South Africa.

Ms Nkabinde explained that there are Council members in other parts of the country who can conduct investigations.

Mr Saloojee asked what is the Council's capacity for the processing of complaints?

Ms Nkabinde stated that, in 2001, 32 cases were referred; five of these proceeded to the disciplinary stage. So far this year, there have been no disciplinary hearings. As the public becomes more aware of rights, the volume of complaints is bound to increase.

Ms Chalmers asked if the SACSSP could track trends in complaints, and whether this information could then be fed into university courses.

Ms Nkabinde explained that the SACSSP wanted to finalize regulations and the code of ethics, and then have roadshows for social workers to be educated about professional expectations. She noted that the Council also receives invitations from agencies to educate social workers on how to avoid problems.

Ms Rajbally asked about penalties for those found guilty of misconduct.

Dr Lombard described the system as progressing from fines and warnings to removal from the register. Penalties must fit the crime or misdemeanor.

Mr Da Camara expressed his opinion that, given the needs in the country and the pressures on the profession, such as large caseloads, there is probably a considerable amount of inadvertent neglect. Clients are, in such cases, obviously entitled to complain. How can such situations be resolved?

Dr Lombard noted that this question had come up in Council. How many cases should a social worker be managing? A general norm cannot be set because of the nature of services offered by different agencies varies widely. Each agency should have its own standard. The onus is then on agencies to hire sufficient human resources for cases.

Mr Saloojee observed that caseloads are very high.

Ms Koornhoff agreed that this was a difficult question, and stated that the present informal policy is to ask whether, when a social worker is overburdened, they managed that situation in a professional way?

Mr Saloojee asked if the Council was gathering statistics on this.

Ms Nkabinde stated that the Council did gather statistics, and would make a comparative study at the end of the year.

Ms Turok said that the negative perception of social workers extends to other public servants, such as teachers. Social workers must reorient themselves as service providers.

The meeting was adjourned.


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