ONE of the negative effects of the economic downturn experienced in Zimbabwe in the past decade has been massive brain drain. The migration of the country's professionals left the country's public and private sector in dire need of human recapitalisation.
Among the areas that were affected by this outward movement of skilled personnel for greener pastures has been the area of social work delivery in Zimbabwe.
The gap caused by the outward movement of social workers to countries like the United States, Britain and South Africa was filled by professionals from related fields such as psychology and sociology.
While that could have been a stop gap measure, the development has heavily inconvenienced vulnerable people who are supposed to benefit from social services.
In a bid to correct the anomaly caused by the brain drain, social workers are now moving to realign their profession and bring back the professionalism that was lost due to brain drain.
At one point only 100 qualified social workers remained in the country but the stabilisation of the economy has seen some retaining to complement what is being produced by the various colleges.
Out of this need a council of social workers was established with the direct mandate to come up with a code of conduct for the profession and to ensure the all those working in social services are not only registered but have the requisite training to meet the demands of their work.
With the country recording more than a million orphans and vulnerable children it is imperative that training or upgrading of social workers be improved to ensure that these people get the proper services.
According to Section 4(1), of the Social Workers Act, social workers promote the welfare of human beings and the betterment of human society through the development and systematic application of scientific knowledge of human and societal activities and social services.
Their techniques include psychotherapeutic case-work, social-dynamic group-work and planned community intervention. This requires proper training that unfortunately has been lacking among social work practitioners because of lack of training.
Analysts say helping the children, families who are in crisis or in difficult situations to cope and take control lives gains required exceptional judgment hence the need not only to train but professionalise the sector.
Even social workers are agreed that there is need to bring back professionalism into their work to ensure that Zimbabwe returns to its position a state offering some of the best social service on the continent.
Council of Social Workers chairperson Mr Phillip Bohwasi said time was ripe to ensure that all those working in the area of social services are equipped to deal with modern challenges caused by the current working, economic and health situations.
He said the council was looking at ways of ensuring that all professionals in the area were accountable to their operations just like other professionals.
"We have come up with a social work ethics and standards that meet international best practices. This is why we have come up with a mandatory registration and annual accreditation to ensure that all those who are offering service to the people are following the regulations.
"The council is also in the process of seeking an amendment of the social workers act to ensure that sets down the minimum standards required in social workers training.
"We have started registration process and to date 425 social workers have registered with the council of social work with over a half based in the diaspora.
"By registration one is also signing up to the standards and ethics of the professionalism. This will not only help the recipient of a service but also Government and the employer who are assured of a better service," he said.
Under the new programme social workers will be asked to register and then seek annual renewal of their practicing certificates.
Lack of regulation structures has seen the bulk of professionals practicing without being registered but now going forward all social workers would be mandated to register with the council.
Since last year the council has been running a website, has developed a code ethics and training in professional report writing.
The council of social workers registrar Mr Makalima Mlilo said they were working with training institutions to ensure their curriculum contained some the minimum requirements of the council, international best practices and the country social services sector.
"We are in liason with the deans of faculties of social work in colleges offering training in the area who currently are looking at our proposed amendments. This was after an all stakeholders meeting that included also included the Zimbabwe Council of Education, department of social services and the school of social services to discuss the profession in the country and contribute on what they would want to see in the curriculum," he said.
To ensure every social worker registers, the council has taken a two way pronged approach targeting the employer and the employee because there are still lots of people that are still unregistered.
"It is important that we engage the employers to ensure that they are clear on what we want to do and that it is also illegal to employ someone whose is not registered.
"These are the issues we discussed during our annual conference set for October to 25 to 26 in Bulawayo. The conference focused on the need to properly delimitate the parameters of the social workers.
"The conference also had a summer school where we met with professionals from outside the country to improve the profession in Zimbabwe. "Lectures from motivational speaker and social worker base in South Africa Professor Lovemore Mbigi and also Professor Rodreck Mupedziswa who is at the University of Botswana graced the occasion," he said.
While some Zimbabweans have found themselves doing social work at community level for the love of it, it is important that they are registered.
According to Mr Mlilo, such people doing good deeds would be registered as non-social workers in a specific category in line with international best practice.
"The individuals falling into this category would be encouraged to acquire basic social work qualification, and once qualified, their status could be upgraded from associate member to ordinary full member.
"That way, a win-win state of affairs is created -- the individual is happy, the profession is happy, and above all, the country benefits in development terms. Failure to register them means that some will continue to use the label 'social worker' despite not having a basic knowledge of the principles, values, ethics and methods of social work," he noted.
Mr Mlilo added that the council is looking at encouraging the social workers to continue upgrading themselves, to be creative and take positions that direct the development in the social services sector.
As a move to upgrade the sector the council has partnered with the World Education Fund and the Women University of Africa to further training for social workers in the country.
This is meant to harness all those who have been working as social workers but have no proper training.
But to effectively deal with societal ills, the council believes there is need for wider consultation on a new framework continuing professional development in social work opportunities in Zimbabwe to ensure the country harnesses available skills for national development.
"As a council, we have a mammoth task of setting out to build on newly qualified social worker programmes and introducing workforce development programmes and skills for the newly qualified social workers.
"The council is cognisant of the need to synchronise training needs hence the establishment of a committee on education and curriculum development which is working to influence the training of social workers in Zimbabwe.
"This will seek improving the quality of training, lecturers, examinations and qualification that are acceptable to offer social service in Zimbabwe.
"The committee has been tasked at turning the brain drain into brain gain by ensuring those people who left to work in the country are contributing to the development of the profession in Zimbabwe," Mr Mlilo said.