The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) defines social work as a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people.
Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance well-being. The above definition may be amplified at national and/or regional levels.
Despite playing a crucial role in promoting social change and development as stipulated in the definition and statements above, the practice of social work in Malawi is still in its infancy. The practice space has been unregulated and many people who are doing charity work have ended up calling themselves social workers. To ensure protection of the clientele and the practice, there has been urgent calls to regulate the practice space as well as the profession.
The efforts to professionalise social work in Malawi started in earnest in 2018 when the Ministry of Gender Children Disability and Social Welfare (MoGCDSW), in collaboration with partners such as United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Malawi and the academia took an initial step to establish a national task force to spearhead the process of professionalising social work in Malawi.
The need for a professional association for social workers in Malawi was motivated by the fact that, unlike other professions such as medicine and nursing, teaching, accounting and others which have professional bodies, the social work profession has operated without a regulation body in Malawi.
Consequently, the coordinating ministry has been facing various challenges to coordinate, regulate and monitor the quality delivery of social welfare services in the country.
It is for this notion that the National Taskforce on the Professionalisation of Social Work in Malawi which consists the academia (Chancellor College, Magomero College and Catholic University of Malawi), non-governmental organisations (St John of God, Youth Net and Counselling), Association of Social Workers (ASW) in Malawi, MoGCDSW and development partners including Unicef held its first-ever national stakeholders conference on October 2 2018.
The objective of the conference was to solicit ideas on the professionalisation of social work in Malawi. Notable issues highlighted by the various speakers at the conference were increasing and complicated social challenges in Malawi which require strengthening the social service workforce.
Further the conference noted the fact that the social work profession lacks full recognition and there are no regulatory mechanisms to maintain the legitimacy of the profession, necessitating the need for the professionalisation to focus on the following key issues: Raising the profile of social work, protecting the professional practising space as well as enhancing conformity of social work practice to the global and regional standards.
The stakeholders further deliberated and came to the consensus that professionalisation of social work practice in Malawi needs to ultimately promote and protect the rights of the clientele who are its service users. The association has developed its constitution and code of ethics to guide its members and operations.
The works of the association have been phenomenon in that, within two years since its inception, it has managed to have in place a board and a secretariat which is situated in Lilongwe, it has also hosted two conferences and it has drafted a social workers’ layman’s bill. The association has also conducted regional elections in the Eastern, Southern, Central and Northern regions.
Moving forward, the association will conduct its annual general meeting around March where regional and interim committee will compete to concretise their positions. All social workers in Malawi, this is our time to take pride and join the association.
As social workers: “We enter into people’s lives at their most difficult, lowest point. We hope to bring the twin aspects of technical competence and genuineness, integrity and self-awareness. Both are equally necessary, and the art is keeping them in balance”—David Pitcher,