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Rural Social Work at risk

A social worker is someone who helps families and individuals gain access to life-changing educational and health-related resources. In our farming communities there is a gap being created as social workers are leaving the profession.

Although there are other reasons for this, Dr Hannelie Krige, who recently obtained her doctorate in Social Work at Stellenbosch University, has researched the impact of tik (Methamphetamines) addiction in these communities and the add-on effect to rural social workers.

“They experience burnout due to a lack of infrastructure, insufficient personnel, a lack of the necessary knowledge and skills, as well as unrealistic expectations regarding the services they have to render,” says Dr Krige.

Krige, a social worker herself, research included personal interviews and focus group discussions. She found that workers struggle to complete their work such as prevention services, early intervention, and statutory and aftercare services – because the demand is simply too high“The overemphasis of procedures, non-governmental organisations’ dependence on the state for funding, and the way in which funding agreements regulate their activities further hamper social workers’ task,” she explains.

A big concern is the physical threat by adult tik addicts. Add to this the feelings of inadequacy in their service delivery because they do not have the necessary knowledge and skills to address the complex phenomenon of tik addiction among these adults effectively.

“Furthermore, there is a lack of enough service providers to render services to these adults in a multi-disciplinary team. Cooperation between and co-ordination of these services are also insufficient. The state and non-governmental organisations expect social workers to render an effective service despite all these challenges”, Krige adds.

“All these factors contribute to many social workers abandoning the profession and consequently the failure of the service to tik addicts, their families and the community.”


Krige says the establishment of a multidisciplinary team (which should include psychologists, psychiatric sisters and doctors) who can render holistic and specialised services to address the physical, psychological and social functioning of adult tik addicts can aid social workers. “Such cooperation and coordination can relieve the pressure on social workers and prevent them from feeling inadequate.”

Krige adds that social workers should be equipped with skills for trauma counselling and should be trained in psychosocial support and its relevance for service delivery to adult tik addicts.  “Training and ongoing professional development are necessary to develop specific skills and knowledge to enable identification of a drug disorder, referral and offering an effective treatment programme. Broadening social workers’ knowledge and skills will empower them to render a more effective service.”

According to Krige supervision is important for the ongoing professional development of social workers.  “Supervision can ensure ongoing professional development of social workers, since the functions of supervision include training and support to foster emotional competency for practice.”

Krige thinks local drug action committees should be strengthened by involving role players such as governmental and non-governmental organisations, the private sector, municipalities and churches to extend infrastructure and increase resources.

“Effective management of social workers’ workloads and more funding will also help them to render more effective services to adult tik addicts,” Krige adds.

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