The Heroes Among Us campaign also seeks to raise awareness of the critical role that social workers play in the lives of children, families and communities in Malaysia.
Most of our understanding of a social worker’s job largely comes from the movies we see when someone takes a child into foster care. What we don’t see are the tough calls made behind the scenes by social workers for the child or the family’s wellbeing.
A social worker’s job is much more than protecting children. They help champion the basic rights of care for people in vulnerable positions such as victims of domestic violence, persons with disabilities striving to live independently, sick elderlies, and even refugees.
Social workers also work in varied settings like hospitals, correctional facilities, and the Social Security Organisation (PERKESO).
Social workers hold the edges of society together. Social workers protect and prevent children and their families from experiencing violence, promote social justice, reduce the effects of discrimination, address inequality, and contribute to the eradication of poverty. Social workers help ensure that no one is left behind.Robert Gass, UNICEF Representative in Malaysia
Despite their importance in society, social work as a profession is usually misunderstood and they’re seen as voluntary or charity workers.
Heroes Among Us campaign
With the recently launched Heroes Among Us campaign, UNICEF and the Malaysian Association of Social Workers (MASW) outline a vision for Malaysia where every child and vulnerable person will have timely access to qualified and competent social workers, when required.
The campaign seeks to raise awareness of the critical role that social workers play in the lives of children, families and communities in Malaysia.
Heroes Among Us is a call to action to demonstrate our support of social workers and to value their work. Social workers make sure that no one gets left behind. Today we are saying, let’s not leave our social workers behind. Support social workers. Support these heroes among us and the adoption of the Social Work Profession Bill.Robert Gass, UNICEF Representative in Malaysia
In Malaysia, trained and qualified social workers are employed by diverse government agencies such as the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, and its Department of Social Welfare at national, state and district levels, the Ministry of Health, and the National Anti-Drugs Agency. They also work in civil society organisations (CSOs) such as in shelters for survivors of intimate partner violence.
Through the Heroes Among Us campaign, UNICEF and MASW shine a light on the critical and indispensable contribution of social workers in Malaysia. Adopting a Social Work Profession Bill would bring the country closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and its commitment to Leave No One Behind.
MASW seeks to enact the Social Work Profession Bill
As the Parliament of Malaysia sits for the third meeting next week, MASW and UNICEF Malaysia seek to enact the Social Work Profession Bill to acknowledge and support the vital role of social work and to ensure Malaysians have access to the best social and qualified workers.
The Bill not only gives a professional status to social workers, it also helps provide professional training, and encourages appropriate remuneration and career advancement options.
Social work is unique because it deals with human problems within the societal context. Guided by professional values and ethics, social workers utilize their knowledge on human behaviour, social systems, law and policies to assist clients in navigating complex structures like the court system, as well as providing psycho-social care and support. The decisions they make may impact a client’s life forever. That is why they need to be trained and supported, so that they can confidently support their clients. Social workers care for others, and they in turn need to be taken care of.Dr Teoh Ai Hua, President of MASW.
The bill also seeks to address three key challenges in the industry:
1. Lack of regulation
Social work is unregulated in Malaysia unlike in neighbouring ASEAN countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
2. Shortage of social workers
Malaysia has only one social worker for every 8,576 people, far lower than other countries. For comparison, Singapore has one social worker for every 3,448 people, the United Kingdom has 1:3,025, Australia has 1:1,040, and the United States has 1:490.
MASW told TRP that there are 286 social workers in hospitals under the Health Ministry and 59 in teaching or university hospitals under the Higher Education Ministry.
Since there’s no regulation, there is no data on the total number of professionally trained social workers, especially the ones serving outside the government sector in non-governmental organisations (NGOs), serving vulnerable populations in Malaysia.
3. Limited public understanding of social work
Many Malaysians have a misconception that social workers are charity workers or volunteers. This misconception discourages service demand and investment in social work.
The status of social work in Malaysia
Social workers in Malaysia can be found in government agencies such as the Social Welfare Department, hospitals, prisons, and drug rehabilitation centres.
The Social Welfare Department is the lead department employing the majority of government social workers.
Social workers are also employed in non-profit organisations, civil society groups, faith-based institutions, and private sector organisations.
Between 2020 and 2022, the Social Welfare Department recorded 18,750 cases of child abuse.
In 2022, 3,790 officers under the Department of Social Welfare practised social work in various sectors across the nation. Of the total, 1,658 were social welfare officers, 1,661 were probation officers, and 471 were officers with anti-trafficking affairs.
In 2018, around 236 officers were directly engaged as child protectors, while 183 probation officers focused on guiding children in conflict with the law.
Currently, social work is an established academic discipline in eight public universities and four private institutions, offering diplomas to PhD programmes.
Due to the lack of regulation, not all persons working in the field of social work are professionally trained.