Social Workers should not supervise Child & Youth Care Workers

It is required of both social workers and child & youth care workers to be registered with the South African Council for Social Services Professions, and no-one may use the title “social worker” or “child & youth care worker” who is not registered with the Council as such.

While social work has been formally well-established in South Africa, child & youth care work has only received formal recognition by means of Council registration and a professional board in recent years.

Historically, social workers have provided supervision to child & youth care workers, especially in residential care centres.  However, now that child & youth care work has received formal recognition and legislation to protect the profession, social workers who continue to provide supervision to child & youth care workers could find themselves in hot water.

Why should social workers NOT provide supervision to child and youth care workers?  Below is a brief and simple explanation.

From the Policy Guidelines for Course of Conduct, Code of Ethics and Rules for Social Workers by SACSSP, the following is clear:

(1) Social workers should be supervised on social work matters by a supervisor who is a registered social worker.  While legislation has not yet stated the same for child and youth care workers, it is safe to assume that the same guideline would apply for child and youth care work as a profession within the same Council.

(2) Supervisors should have the necessary knowledge and skills to supervise appropriately and should only do so within their areas of knowledge and competence.  A social worker who therefore supervises a child and youth care worker is providing supervision on acts and activities that fall within the scope of practice of a child and youth care workers (Social Service Professions Act, 110 of 1978 as amended) and therefore outside the scope of practice of the social worker.   According to the Rules relating to the acts and omissions of a social worker, the performance of an act belonging to a professional field other than social work, unless s/he is properly qualified therefore or legally authorized thereto, constitutes unprofessional or improper conduct.

(3) Supervisors can be held liable for unprofessional conduct complaints lodged against a supervisee (SACSSP, 2007).  The social worker would therefore be liable for the actions of the child and youth care worker being supervised, on acts and activities that fall outside the scope of practice of the social worker.

It becomes quite clear that a social worker who provides supervision to a child and youth care worker would most likely be contravening the Rules for social workers (SACSSP) and could face negative consequences as a result.

How should social workers related to child and youth care workers?

Social workers and child & youth care workers (professional level) are professionals who are required to meet minimum standards and be registered with SACSSP.  Therefore, they are equals in working with children and young people – each within their own scope and with their own methods.

Within the multi-disciplinary team context there is ample room for social workers and child & youth care workers to provide support to one another in working with children.

What about situations where no professional child and youth care workers can be employed and auxiliary child and youth care workers need supervision?

Professional level child and youth care workers are scarce, partly due to the very few tertiary training institutions that offer the training.  It may therefore be problematic to appoint a professional child and youth care worker – this is a scarce skill.  It does not, however, change the fact that social workers are not qualified or competent to provide this supervision.

It is possible that senior, experienced auxiliary child and youth care workers may provide supervision to their colleagues if they are competent to do so, but this is far from ideal.  Organisations have to continue working towards solutions for this dilemma.  One option is to contract with an independently practicing professional child and youth care worker to provide supervision.

It is certain that there are many kinks in the system and practical challenges that need to be resolved and this will require everyone to work together on finding solutions.

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