Social workers swamped by heavy caseloads

The most common report for the area is child neglect. Children are locked in their homes alone while their parents go out. We also have reports of sexual, verbal and physical abuse

Jo Moodley

Published Feb 23, 2024

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Local social workers are struggling to cope with the high volumes of child abuse and neglect cases in their communities.

In some instances, it is reported that up to a 100 cases can be allocated or carried by a single social worker.

Jo Moodley, the social work manager at Tongaat Child Welfare, said her team was alerted to cases every single day.

“The most common report for the area is child neglect. Children are locked in their homes alone while their parents go out. We also have reports of sexual, verbal and physical abuse. With the sexual abuse, in most cases the perpetrators are known to the child either being family members or family friends.”

Moodley said she had a team of eight social workers.

“When our new social workers start work they don’t know anything. We have an in-house programme to teach them step-by-step how to remove children from a dangerous environment; the legal processes with police and the SAPS thereafter.”

She said one of the challenges was the heavy caseload.

“In our team each person is dealing with an average of 20 cases. Everyday a new case comes in and the workload gets higher. This could lead to some cases slipping but we try our best to be vigilant especially around cases that are related to sexual abuse.”

Moodley said dealing with the police was also a challenge.

“In order for us to properly investigate cases, families need to report the abuse to the police but at the charge office families are not assisted properly. The officers send them back to us instead of opening the cases. Our social workers then have to go to the police and explain why the cases need to be opened. This is time consuming and causes delays in other cases.”

She said they were also understaffed.

“If we had more staff members it would lighten the workload, enabling our social workers to prioritise cases and give their best efforts. We also do not have many vehicles to get around in.”

Moodley said when they do removed a child there was no place to keep him or her.

“The youth and children centres are filled to capacity. When we are dealing with children who are abused we need to be very careful to place them in a better environment. Sometimes we let them stay with family members because we don’t want to change their lives completely, but we have found that sometimes the family members allow the abusers back into their lives.”

Moodley said they needed help from the government.

“We need funds to hire more social workers, and police need more training on how to deal with victims of abuse so we don’t have delays when opening cases.”

Aroona Chetty, the director of Phoenix Child Welfare, said her team of 18 social workers had a caseload of about 100 each.

“We deal with a lot of cases of neglect and physical abuse. Our social workers go into very volatile situations when trying to remove a child. We have had instances of them being threatened by parents and relatives who are drug users.”

Chetty said they also struggled to place children in homes of safety because there was nothing available.

“We have identified families in our community who have been thoroughly screened to foster children, because we have no place to send these children. Social work is not easy and it takes a toll on staff.”

In addition they were expecting budget cuts.

“Our resources are already so strained and we are not sure what to expect in the next budget announcement. A cut will put further strain on the system.”

Mala Pather, the social worker manager of the Verulam Child and Family Welfare Society, said drug and alcohol abuse were on the rise, and the root causes of child abuse and neglect in the area.

“We have 10 social workers. We currently have 600 children in foster care, 32 children in a children’s home, 14 in cluster foster care, and 20 in temporary safe care.”

Pather said all the cases were monitored by her team.

“The reason for the high number of cases is because mothers are abandoning their children and fathers are not taking responsibility for the kids.”

Pather said social workers worked into the late hours of the night to help children.

Logan Naidu, the president of Chatsworth Child Welfare, said social workers worked around the clock to help children.

“We provide ongoing training to assist families. Our teams work long hours to help children. We have 13 social workers who work an average of 100 cases. We place children into children or youth centres but the challenges are with the Department of Social Development because they encourage welfare organisations to integrate children back to their extended families to make space for new children.”

He said the department should be held accountable for children falling through the cracks in the system.

“The department is aware of the constraints we have with the workload and they have announced budget cuts which include job cuts.”

Naidu said in Chatsworth, child neglect was a big problem.

“The economic climate in the country and the lack of employment is driving people to substance abuse, and young children to prostitution. In most cases families are aware of what is happening but they keep silent.”

THE POST

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