Employment of Social Workers and probation officers: DBE & DoJ&CS briefing; with DBE Deputy Minister

Social Development

08 November 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mvana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Portfolio Committee on Social Development convened a virtual meeting to receive briefings from the Department of Basic Education (DBE), the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD), and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) regarding its strategies for employing social workers and probation officers. The meeting also included discussions on the challenges faced in this regard.

The DBE’s presentation focused on its strategy for employing Social Services Professionals in the education sector and the legal framework supporting this strategy. It highlighted the existing gap between employed social workers and the high number of unemployed social workers in South Africa. The DBE is preparing a bid to employ 1 252 additional social workers to address the shortfall and enhance support to learners and communities.

The DoJ&CD presented its strategies for employing social workers, outlining their roles and responsibilities in family-related disputes and legal proceedings. Recent legal developments expanded the scope of intermediary services to include older persons and parties involved in civil and family law proceedings.

The DoJ&CD discussed measures to retain social workers, training programmes, and the role of ad hoc intermediaries. There is a need for flexible staffing solutions to address budget constraints and the expansion of services to different case categories.

The DCS discussed its strategies for employing social workers, particularly in correctional facilities, parole processes, and victim-offender dialogue. The DCS acknowledged challenges related to the ratio of social workers to the client population and the need for alignment with the Department of Public Service and Administration's Social Work Occupational Specific Dispensation.

The Committee Members expressed concerns about the lack of social workers in schools, questioned the implementation of past resolutions, and requested data on the allocation of social workers to schools. The Committee emphasised the importance of addressing psychosocial issues in schools.

Committee Members further inquired about the reasons for high resignation rates among social workers, measures to retain experienced social workers, and timelines for filling vacant positions at the DCS. Members also questioned the recruitment process and continuous development plans for social workers at the DCS.

The Committee highlighted the need for interventions to prevent young offenders from being lost in the justice system and asked about mechanisms for absorbing trained social workers from the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the DoJ&CD.

Meeting report

The Portfolio Committee on Social Development Chairperson, Ms N Mvana (ANC), officially opened the meeting and welcomed all. Apologies were acknowledged.

In her opening remarks, the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr Regina Mhaule, introduced the Department of Basic Education (DBE) delegation. She then handed over to the delegation to carry on with the presentation.

Briefing by the Department of Basic Education: Strategy for Employment of SS Professionals

Ms Sibongile Monareng, Director: Psychosocial Support, Department of Basic Education (DBE), indicated that the presentation was intended to present a strategy for the employment of Social Services Professionals in the education sector, along with the relevant legal framework and the status of school social work in the DBE. The legal framework supporting this strategy includes acts such as the Child Justice Act, Children's Act, Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, Domestic Violence Act, National Education Policy Act, Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act, Protection of Personal Information Act, South African Council of Educators Act (SACE), and South African Schools Act. Additionally, various policies and documents play a crucial role in shaping this strategy.

In terms of the status of school social work, the DBE recognises Social Workers as essential contributors to psychosocial services within the education sector. Currently, there are 760 Social Workers employed in the Education Sector. However, it is important to note that there are approximately 9,000 unemployed Social Workers in South Africa, as per data from the South Africa Council for Social Service Professions. The Department of Social Development is working on finalising a joint Social Services Strategy aimed at guiding the employment of these unemployed Social Workers across different government departments. Consultations for this initiative are ongoing.

To address the demand for Social Workers in the education sector, the DBE is preparing a bid to the Treasury to employ 1,252 Social Workers. This effort seeks to bridge the gap between the available 9,000 unemployed Social Workers and the need for their services in schools. The expansion of the workforce in this field is expected to enhance the support and services provided to learners and communities, thus contributing to a more comprehensive and effective education system.

See attached for full presentation


The Chairperson requested the Members of the Committee to engage with the presentation.

Ms L Arries (EFF) thanked the Department for the presentation and indicated that it is still a shock that the DBE does not have enough social workers, as the presentation highlighted that there are about 25 042 schools without social workers. This is concerning as the pupils in schools are facing various social ills such as bullying which results in other challenges such as suicide, as pupils do not have anyone to talk to.

Why did the Department fail to implement the Cabinet Resolution of 2018 to ensure that there are enough social workers in the Department? Ms Arries further asked that the DBE provide the Committee with the number of Social Workers in the country that are allocated to schools.

It appears that the Department does not care about the psychosocial well-being of pupils in schools.

Ms B Masango (DA) appreciated the presentation by the DBE. Ms Masango noted that from the last slide of the presentation, it appears that some provinces seem to not have social services professionals allocated to them. So, what happens in cases where a need for social services arises in those provinces, for example, cases of pregnancies and other social issues? It is concerning that some provinces have not been allocated social service practitioners.

In a meeting last week, the Committee heard the petition from the unemployed social workers. In the same meeting, the deputy minister of DSD indicated that there were talks initiated with other departments to absorb social service practitioners. It is concerning that the DBE is unable to absorb social service practitioners, especially given the DBE makes referrals to DSD social workers who do not have the tools of trade as highlighted by the Deputy Minister in last week's meeting. This means that children are on their own as the blame shifts from one department to the other.

Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) said that the presentation mentioned social workers who are not permanently deployed. This is particularly concerning as Ms Arries mentioned that pupils in schools face a range of social issues such as abuse, teenage pregnancies, bullying, and gangsterism, to mention a few. Should the Department not look at changing its strategic approach to the schools that have the most severe social ills and deploy social workers permanently?

A school looking after children with disabilities has been flagged in the Eastern Cape as it was reported that the children were being treated badly including being subject to abuse and neglect. Was this school running in conjunction with the DBE and the Department of Social Development? Furthermore, does the DBE focus the attention of its social workers on issues around children with disabilities?

What plans have been put in place for 2024 to increase DBE’s employment of social workers?

Ms K Bilankulu (ANC) welcomed the presentation by the DBE. It is disappointing to see the number of the social workers at DBE. How many schools have at least one social worker? The presentation is eye-opening as government is still far from placing social workers in schools. The social workers allocated to a school do not match the number of schools; the social workers are way below the number of schools in the provinces. What is the DBE’s plan to ensure that social workers are allocated to schools, especially given the socio-economic challenges communities face?

Ms A Hlongo (ANC) also joined the Committee in welcoming the presentation by the DBE. Does the Department monitor the social workers and assess their work in the schools that they are deployed to? Furthermore, how is the DBE measuring the impact of social workers on learners and the overall education sector?

What has been the retention and staff turnover rate of social workers at the DBE? What lessons and challenges have emerged in the employment and deployment of social workers? Are any incentives offered to social workers working in remote and underserved schools? And is any training provided to social workers to prepare them for the unique challenges in schools? Given the growing violence and socio-economic circumstances that teachers must deal with. Are there programmes dedicated to educators' emotional and mental well-being in the schools?

Ms P Marais (EFF) thanked the DBE for the presentation. When looking at the status of things concerning the availability of social workers in schools, poor people are impacted most as they attend underserved schools. What is happening in the schools is worrisome with cases of teenage pregnancies and social ills prevalent in the schools with no social worker to intervene. Even the social workers in the schools are struggling with transport, petrol money and other things.

Drawing from her experience, Ms Marais said that in her area of Mangaung, there are gangsters with pupils caught up in territorial battles between gangs. As a result, pupils are dropping out of school because they do not want to be caught up in such things. Furthermore, bullying, teenage pregnancies, and rape continue to be on the rise. This has an impact on the pupils’ present life and their future. It is alarming that schools do not have social workers.

In as much as the presentation shows the number of social workers in the schools, however, it does not break down the data to show how long the social worker(s) has been allocated to a school and how many new social workers have been employed.

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) said that it is impossible not to be alarmed when looking at the figures on violence against children and exposure of children to violence in the country as some of the schools are in communities riddled by gangs. The violence has also been directed towards teachers by gangs. This affects the development of children including their academic performance.

How are the social work programmes managed and monitored to ensure that they are responsive to the needs of communities?

There is currently a policy on learner pregnancy which indicates that schools must refer learners for contraceptive technologies to stakeholders and strategic partners for abortion where necessary. How then does this process work, especially given that there are no social workers?

Children who are on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs tend to live long and fulfilling lives. However, some children default on their ARV treatment because they are unable to handle and accept their HIV status. Therefore, what programmes and interventions are in place to help learners accept their HIV status and give them the necessary support to take their medication?

It would be important for the Committee to do an oversight visit to better understand how these interventions and programmes work. This will also ensure that the Department is held accountable, as it is frustrating that there are always reasons for being unable to deliver to the communities.

Ms J Manganye (ANC) said that, in her understanding, the DBE should have their social workers. Many unemployed social workers are ready to be absorbed into the system. The intake of social workers at the DBE is low, which is concerning.

Responses: DBE

Deputy Minister Mhaule indicated that the DBE welcomes the questions and insights of the Committee. The DBE indeed has over 23 000 schools with more than 12.5 million schools and more than 400 special schools. The DBE has made sure that in most of the special schools, there are full-time social workers, however, in general, the DBE is responsible for the curriculum, learning, and teaching. Therefore, the DBE partners with other departments to deliver on specific mandates such as the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, Department of Justice, and others. Hence, when it comes to social welfare issues, the DBE relies on the DSD to appoint social workers.

Dr Granville Whittle, Acting Director-General, DBE, said an ideal position is to have a social worker for each school. However, this is quite difficult, especially given that the National Treasury has cut the DBE’s budget. This makes it hard for the Department to navigate this space.

If there is a need for social services in a school, the DBE refers to either the DOH or the DSD. There are strong referral networks in some of the provinces that are used whenever there is a need. Many of the provinces also have response teams that are activated in instances where a need arises.

The DBE has identified the schools the most in need and is working with a wide range of partners to ensure the availability of social workers to those schools. As alluded to in the presentation, the DBE has a programme working with the Global Fund and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) where the DBE can employ social workers.

Currently, the DBE is trying to attach one social worker to 20 schools. Although this is not ideal, given the constraints on resources, this is how the DBE can provide the necessary social services to pupils most in need.

Concerning the issue of the special school in the Eastern Cape, as indicated by Ms van der Merwe, the current system prioritises children with disabilities. Therefore, many of DBE’s social workers are attached to special schools to provide the necessary support.

Dr Whittle clarified that the roving social workers highlighted in the presentation are mostly not directly employed by the DBE but funded through some of the DBE’s partners. In the Western Cape, there are itinerary teams where social workers are attached to a team that works on several schools per district.

The main aim of the teen pregnancy policy is to provide support to children who fall pregnant. The key pillar is to prevent pregnancy, but in cases where children get pregnant, the policy makes provisions for the options that are available to them. This will be further explored when the DBE meets the Committee in the following week’s meeting.

Regarding children on ARV treatment, this is a big concern. What has not been done sufficiently is priories psychosocial and mental health support. That is the reason in the current grant that is being done with the Global Fund and PEPFAR, psychosocial and mental health support issues have been prioritised. DBE continues to work with various stakeholders such as teachers, to provide them with the skills to enable them to deal with a vast majority of children when they have specific needs. The DBE has been fundraising to provide support to pupils; for example, the deputy minister leads a bullying prevention campaign working with various departments.

Ms Monareng also appreciated the feedback of the Committee. In addition to working with the Global Fund and PEPFAR, there is also a strong relationship with various organisations such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, Child Line, Life Line, and LoveLife, amongst others. These organisations provide mental health support including the facilitation of referrals of learners.

In line with the parentships with other departments, the DBE is responding to the Mental Health Strategy of the DOH by focusing on mental health promotion and prevention. That is the reason the Life Orientation curriculum has been updated to address socioemotional learning for learners. This is a model that supports and empowers individuals to be able to deal with vulnerabilities therefore, minimising the need for acute intervention. The DBE is also working with various partners to introduce the concept of socioemotional learning for teachers.

Ms Lala Maje, Director for Initial Teacher Education, DBE, said that when mentioning the psychosocial support allocated through the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative. DBE has been able to provide one assistant to provide care and support assistance for quintile one to four schools and quintile five schools serving poor communities to support teachers in the work that they are doing in the schools.

There is also the teacher appreciation programme running from January to December, run by the national department and each province has its specific programme running in parallel. Part of the programme is offering teachers with well-being and wellness programme so that teachers are assisted with dealing with psychosocial issues they face. This allows teachers to have a positive outlook to be able to easily identify challenges that learners are facing.

Briefing by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development: Employment of Social Workers

Adv Praise Kambula, Chief Director: Promotion of the Rights of Vulnerable Groups, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD), took the Committee through the presentation. Advocate Kambula started by providing the Committee with an overview of the strategies employed by the DoJ&CD in employing social workers and probation officers. The primary purpose of this presentation was to brief the Committee on the strategies undertaken by the DoJ&CD to contribute to the employment of social workers and probation officers, as well as to highlight recent legal developments supporting this endeavour.

The DoJ&CD employs social service professionals for specific roles, including family counsellors in the Office of Chief Family Advocates, as stipulated by the Mediation in Certain Divorce Matters Act, 1987 (Act No 24 of 1987). They are also appointed as intermediaries in criminal and civil proceedings under section 170A of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, the Superior Courts Act of 2013, and the Magistrates Courts Act of 1944. Family Counsellors play a crucial role in assisting Family Advocates in inquiries aimed at determining the best interests of children in parental responsibilities and rights disputes. Their duties include conducting mediation, inquiries, and assessments in various family-related disputes, evaluating information, and acting as expert witnesses in court proceedings. They also conduct home visits, follow up on collaterals, address public queries, investigate Regulation Six matters, and engage in awareness campaigns regarding the Office of the Family Advocate's functions.

Recent legal developments have expanded the scope of intermediary services to include older persons and parties involved in civil and family law proceedings, effective from 05 August, 2022. Previously, these services were limited to witnesses under the age of 18. The updated regulations now encompass individuals with physical, psychological, mental, or emotional conditions and older persons as defined by the Older Persons Act, 2006 (Act No 13 of 2006).

The DoJ&CD has taken steps to increase the employment of social service professionals. As of 30 September, 2023, there were seven Assistant Director Intermediaries, 160 Court Intermediaries, and 72 Ad hoc Intermediaries. However, there are 62 vacant Family Counsellor positions, with 139 posts suppressed due to budget cuts. To address these challenges and increase the number of social service professionals, the DoJ&CD has implemented a recruitment strategy, including a Social Worker Internship Program for Family Counsellors and hiring ad hoc intermediaries.

Challenges faced in the employment of intermediaries include difficulties meeting competency requirements, language proficiency, budget cuts, and the need for training in intermediary services. The Justice College has developed a course on Intermediary Services to address these training needs.

For Family Counsellors, the posts are unaffected by fiscal control measures, as they fall within the specified salary scales and directives issued by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA). In conclusion, it was mentioned that the DoJ&CD is actively working to employ additional social service professionals and address the challenges faced in this endeavour. The expansion of intermediary services to a wider range of cases demonstrates a commitment to improving the justice system and the welfare of individuals involved in legal proceedings.

See attached for full presentation

Briefing by the Department of Correctional Services: Recruitment and Retention of Social Workers

Mr Kenneth Mthombeni, Acting Regional Commissioner, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), Department of Correctional Services (DCS), highlighted the Department’s strategies for employing Social Workers. The DCS has a dedicated directorate responsible for managing Social Work Services. These services are provided to sentenced offenders, parolees, probationers, and victims of crime during parole processes and Victim Offender Dialogue. The legal mandate for this falls within the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the White Paper on Corrections in South Africa, among others.

Social Workers are critical in providing needs-based psychosocial services to offenders, parolees, and probationers. They aim to enhance moral regeneration and facilitate the successful reintegration of individuals into the community as law-abiding citizens. The DCS currently employs Social Workers in different regions across the country, but a notable number of vacant positions exist. Career management for Social Workers includes opportunities for upward mobility and career development, with incentives like Biannual Pay Progression and Grade Progression in place to retain critical and scarce skills.

Challenges in providing social work services include a relatively low ratio of Social Workers to the client population, leading to high resignation rates. The structure of DCS Social Work is also not fully aligned with the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) Social Work Occupational Specific Dispensation (OSD). To mitigate these challenges, the DCS is reviewing its structure and aligning it with departmental needs. Work studies will be conducted to assess the establishment of Social Workers, and additional posts for Community Developers and Auxiliary Social Workers will be created to comply with regulations. In conclusion, it is recommended that the Portfolio Committee takes note of the DCS strategies for employing Social Workers.

See attached for full presentation


Ms Arries highlighted that the presentation from the DCS indicated that there is a high number of social workers resigning from the Department. What are the reasons behind the resignations and what measures are in place to prevent the resignation of social workers?

Ms Hlongo asked what mechanisms are in place to retain experienced social workers employed by the DCS. Further, what are the timelines for filling a social work position in the DCS? How does the Department ensure that it attracts a diverse range of candidates for the vacancies? Is there a continuous development plan for social workers to ensure they are up-to-date with knowledge of legislation?

Ms Masango welcomed the presentations by the Departments. She sought clarity from the DoJ&CD concerning the ad hoc social workers. Ad hoc for a layperson means that one is not in a permanent occupational space unless there is a need. If this is a correct understanding, how often are the ad hoc social workers called? The training provided by the DoJ&CD is commendable, does this training extend to unemployed government-trained social workers?

The number provided by the DCS on the allocation of social workers per region, it was notable that provinces with a single region, like Limpopo, have fewer social workers. Are these allocations according to the caseloads and demand? This is because one would expect that regions made of more than one region have more social workers allocated to them.

Ms Marais said that one of the growing problems is young offenders who mostly were dependent on social grants. This means that they do not have social workers and these young offenders become repeat offenders of petty crimes. The youngsters then fall completely out of the system because the social worker only works with them as grant recipients, and they have entered into the justice system because they are repeat offenders. When the youngsters turn 18 years of age, due to repeated offences, they go into correctional services, where they often get long sentences. There are many points of interventions where the youngster could have been saved, but because there are no robust programmes and psychosocial support, the youngsters are lost in the system. Therefore, for DCS and DoJ&CD, where are the intervention points that need to be advocated for so that youngsters are not lost? Where are the gaps that are hindering interventions?

It is impossible to look at the lack of social workers without looking at the full context of what it means when the social fabric breaks with a poor social network of communities and government.

The Chairperson asked if the DCS and DoJ&CD are aware that DSD trains social workers but could not be absorbed into jobs in the context of social work shortages in both departments. What mechanisms are in place to absorb these social workers?  



Concerning the ad hoc intermediaries, Adv Kambula indicated that these intermediaries are not on full-time employment in the DoJ&CD. This capacity is intended to complement what the Department currently has, given that the Department has a huge human capital constraint due to budget constraints. This is thus a way of ensuring that no qualified social worker is unemployed while they could temporarily assist the Department when needed. The Department has further made provisions to ensure that the participation of the intermediaries in the court system is recognised by law. In other cases, some social workers do not want to be permanently employed by the DoJ&CD as they run non-governmental organisations (NGOs), so they offer their services temporarily. Advocate Kambula indicated that following the massive exodus of the intermediaries in 2017, the Department, through negotiations with the Minister of Finance, the tariffs were increased by 800% to make them competitive and thus retain them. The Department is also looking at increasing the number of ad hoc intermediaries by 100.

Concerning the DoJ&CD course for the ad hoc intermediaries, Adv Kambula indicated that the Department has opened the opportunity for all social workers aspiring to be intermediaries. There is an interview that is conducted at a provincial level, and after that, candidates are taken to the national officer of the Department where the social worker receives the necessary training.

Regarding the new constructions of the courts so that they have designated areas for family law services, there are recently built courts already providing such services. There are also historic court buildings that provide the provision of family law services. The support models being introduced are aimed at ensuring a victim-centric court system. However, there are challenges as the DoJ&CD has infrastructural challenges and limitations. 

Adv Nthabiseng Thokoane, Chief Family Advocate, DoJ&CD, added that the Office of the Family Advocate is responsible for the internship programme of social workers. This opportunity is open for the social workers already in the DoJ&CD. This is because the Department grants officials study bursaries and once they have qualified, the Office is unable to absorb them as family counsellors because they do not have the minimum requirements, hence the idea was to ensure that the Department capacitates the officials who were funded to study so that there is a robust cohort of officials with skills who may be recruited to the Office of Family Advocate.


Responding on behalf of the DCS, Mr Mthombeni said that the resignation of social workers, like other professionals, is voluntary, and it is difficult to pinpoint the specific reason(s) for the resignation. Data extracted from the exit forms indicates that most resignations are because of better opportunities.

The DCS has in-service training and continues to improve the working conditions. The Department also offers interest-free bursaries for officials to further their studies. These are efforts that the Department uses to retain staff members, including social workers. If a post is open, it takes the DCS about six months to fill that vacancy. The filing of jobs is guided by equity and diversity imperatives and the Department is working at ensuring that more social workers are absorbed at the DCS.

The Department notes the concern about young offenders who go through the justice system and end up being lost in prison. The National Commissioner visited Pollsmoor Prison for an event aimed at looking at youth offenders so that they have hope to transform their lives after rehabilitation. The social workers of the DCS work at looking at strengthening families as this is a basis for effective rehabilitation. The work of the DCS also has aftercare and reintegration programmes aimed at ensuring holistic intervention to prevent recidivism.

In closing, the Chairperson thanked the departments for enlightening the Committee.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.


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