Tue | Oct 3, 2023

Orville Taylor | Protecting the social works borders

Published:Sunday | March 5, 2023 | 12:44 AM

On Thursday, my colleague Wendy McLean Cooke, the embodiment of a social worker, an amazing human being, received our final goodbyes. It was not simply a case of us mourning and laying to rest a colleague. Rather, it was the ultimate loss of a very...

On Thursday, my colleague Wendy McLean Cooke, the embodiment of a social worker, an amazing human being, received our final goodbyes. It was not simply a case of us mourning and laying to rest a colleague. Rather, it was the ultimate loss of a very scarce resource, because, though terribly undervalued, social workers are in great demand. Harder to train than a police officer and at least as difficult to produce as specialist teachers, social workers have typically being treated as if their profession is not.

It is amazing that, in order to carry out work for the government as a mason, electrician or plumber, an individual has to be certified. Currently, teachers have rightfully circumscribed their borders and now, even a PhD with years of university teaching under his belt, is not a teacher in the context of the new Education Act. Standards are standards.

It is not a joke. Irrespective of how much nursing expertise a person has, or if such an individual has spent years building up a pillar of knowledge and experience while mentoring a generation of lawyers, such a paralegal is simply not an attorney, and the former is no nurse.

In a society where the homicide rate is the highest for any democracy or anglophone country, the task is a simple one. According to a UNICEF/ILO report, the percentage of children in need of social protection has been steadily increasing globally. With some 1.77 billion children bereft of proper economic means, we have to address our own local needs. Moreover, there are strong correlates associated with lack of social protection, ‘indecent’ work of parents and violent behaviour.

Work from ‘barrel children’ social worker Claudette Crawford-Brown and others, and the myriad staff members of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), trained by her and the UWI’s Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work, has some clear ideas. However, one main area of consensus is that, even among the rest of behaviour scientists who rub shoulders with the social workers, we accept that the brightest PhD in sociology or psychology is less a social worker than one with a master’s degree in their discipline.


Yet, there is either a lack of seriousness or understanding regarding the importance of social interventions. For example, inasmuch as I believe that there are doctoral level experts in the Constitution and governance, it is accepted that the person who heads the committee charged with reforming our Constitution should be an attorney.

The idea of the chief medical officer not being a doctor, the head of the National Works Agency not being an engineer, or a non-hydrological engineer heading the Water Resources Authority, would be unimaginable. Imagine a monolingual teacher, who can barely speak English as a first tongue, heading a Department of Modern Languages.

Of course, there are many times when one makes a selection of an individual to head an agency or organisation where he enters as a stranger and lacks the requisite skills to understand the persons he supervises. No shade on our incumbent police commissioner. It might be instructive at this point to question whether or not our crime fighters are indeed professionals. One’s qualification as a nurse, teacher or electrician, does not retire with her. One might even argue that, tacitly, since a soldier who reaches the rank of captain, (deputy superintendent) in the police, keeps the title for life; being an army officer is a profession.

Nevertheless, a career police officer, apart from an honourable discharge certificate, has no degree in police studies which he can use as some sort of qualification. Thus, this might in itself be part of the problem, because the constabulary, despite its uniqueness, is an ‘occupation’ which ends with the tour of duty. The consequence of not being a profession means that anyone who finds favour with the government, whether knowledgeable, qualified or otherwise, can be placed at the helm of such an important entity.


Therefore, my own view is that, consistent with a vision shared by retired deputy commissioners Delworth Heath and Novelette Grant, the next iteration of the constabulary must include treating the police training as a qualification and consequently shift from simply an occupation to truly becoming an impermeable profession. Doubtless, this has implications for whether or not a non-police can ever become commissioner again. And, so what?

It is in this very same vein that we must stop tinkering with the CPFSA. No disrespect, though, to my late friend Alison Anderson, a brilliant academic and political scientist; and certainly no indictment on Rosalee Gage-Grey, whose qualifications include a BBA and an MSc in human resource development.

The fact is, though, none of these two, for all my bias towards them, were social workers. Therefore, they were unqualified for the post. The issue here is not about performance. It is possible for unqualified persons to do a job well.

Whoever the front-runner might be, it is hoped that our leaders will not be pusillanimous on this one, split justice and choose a candidate who understands ‘cradle to grave’ social work, thus helping to guide in reducing the production in the crime factories.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.