Social workers overworked and underpaid - State agencies make do with a few while several are unemployed
Paul Smith, president of the Healthcare Social Workers Association of Jamaica (HSWAJ), is concerned that several trained social workers are not finding employment in Jamaica, despite the increasing need for persons who specialise in this field.
According to Smith, efforts should be made to absorb some of these professionals in the healthcare system, as the estimated 70 social workers that currently serve in Jamaica are extremely overworked due to the demand for their services.
"We really wish some more persons in the profession would be employed, because there are a number of social workers who are unemployed because the positions are not there for employment," he said.
"A number of them try to resort to doing other things or they migrate to Canada, where social workers are badly needed," Smith told The Sunday Gleaner.
He said there are about six social workers in each of the four health regions, when ideally they should each have about 10 of these professionals.
"A number of us are overworked, because, for example, I work in St Elizabeth, and I am the only medical social worker in St Elizabeth. There is one in the HIV programme and there is also one in mental health. So there are three of us, but St Elizabeth is the third-largest parish in the island, so the workload is still there, so we become stressed at the end of the day," said Smith.
He noted that social workers are generally placed at the child guidance clinic or assist with psychiatric and HIV patients. They also help patients who are abandoned at hospitals across the island.
Smith said oftentimes, social workers have to go beyond and above for these patients.
"A number of times we do things that are probably outside our scope. We help with social patients, we provide funding for them, they come to us and they have no money to go home, and they have no food to eat when we do home visits," added Smith.
"Most times when we have to do home visits, these persons have not eaten for several days, and for us to do intervention, they need something at least to be attentive and listen to us. They come and they beg us a pound of rice or some flour because they are extremely hungry, so we have to find some creative means of helping these patients and their family whenever we visit them and we see them in the hospital," he stated.
The HSWAJ president said social workers continue to give, although they are poorly paid. The low salary and the fact that they are not being recognised as a professional group are two of the issues which they currently grapple with.
He said representatives of the group met with Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton earlier this year and are hoping to see some improvements.
"We don't have a voice at the highest level. Somebody to represent our interest on issues we may be having; we don't have that kind of structure," argued Smith.