The Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development last week in Enugu trained 55 auxiliary social workers to help orphans, mentally ill persons and emotionally traumatised families regain normalcy in their lives, writes Christopher Isiguzo
The need for a social development workforce to help stem the tide of the increasing spate of anti-social behaviours including domestic violence leading to wife-battery and breeding of disconsolate vulnerable children as well as the countless mentally unstable persons who flood the streets has clearly become imperative.
In recent times, quite a number of anti-social behaviours mostly exhibited by young people who indulge in cult activities have started to take their toll on the society necessitating the need for quick intervention by major stakeholders.
It’s in line with this that the federal government recently in Enugu formally graduated a new set of Auxiliary Social Workers to drive the all important project, with the hope of taking the initiative round the country.
Meanwhile, social work as a profession is designed to ameliorate problems facing individuals in the society. It is generally understood as a helping profession that utilises qualified personnel who use their knowledge to help people tackle their social problems.
Understanding the work of the social worker as the one with capacity to mould the society along the path of honour, the government through the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development has reaffirmed its resolve to take the project to the expected end.
Speaking at the Auxiliary Social Work Certificate Training Programme and Certificate Award Ceremony organised by Twinning for Health Support Initiative, Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation partnering with the federal government on the project which took place at the Federal School of Social Works, Emene, Enugu State, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Alhassan said government was determined to improve the quality of service at the community level.
She noted that currently her ministry was collaborating with the National Association of Social Workers (NASOW), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) the National Assembly and other stakeholders to ensure that the bill on professionalisation of Social Work in Nigeria which had been passed into law received presidential assent. The legal backing, she said would enable practitioners to promote professional standards to improve effectiveness and efficiency and also regulate the practice in the country.
The minister who was represented by the Deputy Director, Social Welfare Department of the Ministry, Mr. Ben Okwuosa said a total of 55 persons drawn from Enugu, Abuja and Cross River State took part in the six months course, noting that the research they conducted showed that the population of social workers in Nigeria was low compared to the population in need of social services.
“The need for auxiliary social workers is therefore a welcome and good response to this challenge. Within the current vulnerable children workforce, there are limitations in terms of skills, competency levels and expertise which are the gaps this programme is aimed at filling,” she said.
She urged benefiting states to not only ensure that the beneficiaries of the programme were utilised at the various communities in carrying out social services to the vulnerable children and families but to also start training others in their respective states.
On his part, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State said social work was crucial to humanity, noting that already his administration had plans on ground to ensure that the Auxiliary Social Workers delivered while efforts would be made to expand the exercise to accommodate more persons.
The governor who was represented by the Commissioner for Gender Affairs and Social Development, Hon. Peace Nnaji, said already his government championed the domestication and passing into law of the Child Rights Bill, noting that the law would provide a comprehensive legal tool for the protection of children of all brackets living in the state irrespective of their gender, status, socio-economic and religious backgrounds.
“We have departments that focus on the families’ welfare, child development, poverty alleviation and reduction of HIV/AIDS transmission. Every child is expected to grow up in a family environment where his health, physical, mental, moral, socio-cultural and security are guaranteed. We’ve also taken measures to protect the abandoned and psychologically battered children,” he said.
He further asked the Twinning for Health Support Initiative to extend its tentacles to federal and state social legislations in order to ensure that all facets of social work implementation agencies including the police, military, civil defence, school of social workers, welfare desk officers and medical social workers among others were involved in their training schedules.
The Executive Director of Twinning for Health Support Initiative, Nigeria, Mr. Justice Ulunta said the organisation which was registered in 2014 was established by the American International Health Alliance/Twinning Centre (AIHA) as its local Nigerian partner to among others increase the number and improve the quality of community-level social workers.
With funds from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention through sub-grant from Centre for Clinical Care and Clinical Research Nigeria (CCCRN), Ulunta said his organisation had received mandate to collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to institutionalise Auxiliary Social Work training in tertiary institutions in Nigeria as a certificate programme that will ensure a steady pool of trained auxiliary social workers to help bridge the gap in social welfare service in Nigeria.
According to Ulunta, already five focal areas namely Benue, Cross River, Enugu, Kaduna, and FCT had been selected in the first phase to host the training programmes so as to effectively introduce ASWs to the basic tools, concepts, processes and helping skills that underline all interventions with children, families, and communities, “thus providing a foundation for effective intervention with this population.”
The Executive Director further disclosed that his organisation is currently working with relevant stakeholders including the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), NASOW, Nigerian Association of Social Work Educators and recipients of social work services to harmonise the training curriculum for Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work in order to ensure that the products of Social Work Departments in the universities were equipped to deal with the challenging issues of our present society in accordance with international best practices.
Also speaking, the representative of the Country Director, Centre for Disease Control, Nigeria, Mr. Victor Atuchukwu said the 2008 situation assessment and analysis of vulnerable children in Nigeria revealed that there are 17.5 million orphans and vulnerable children.
He therefore lamented that with regards to the available workforce for vulnerable children, there were limitations in terms of skills, competency levels and expertise hence the need to not only increase the workforce but also to ensure all-round competence of social welfare workers especially at the community level where interventions matter most.
“A strong social welfare workforce is critical to meeting the needs of children and the vulnerable. Everyone, from government policy makers, local administrators, researchers and social workers, to educators, community volunteers, workers, care providers and social service actors have a key role to play in ensuring the well-being of orphans and vulnerable children,” he said.
He said the training programme was part of efforts towards strengthening the government social welfare workforce and improving the competencies and skills of personnel required for excellent social welfare service delivery to vulnerable populations especially orphans, vulnerable children and those in dire need of moulding.
The Provost of Federal School of Social Work, Mr. Jatau Kpeno Gbana and Prof. Uzoma Okoye of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the event’s Guest Lecturer said the efforts being put in the Social Work Department would be beneficial to the nation in the long run as it would help build a better society.
They insisted that by the time the training was taken to the five focal states in the first phase and the entire country, such anti-social behaviours would have been effectively checkmated.
Some of the beneficiaries of the training exercise including Catherine Akpan (Abuja), Alexander Ezeja (Enugu) and Margaret Utogor from Cross River expressed delight for being part of the pilot phase of the programme, pledging their readiness to serve humanity in the area of social work.
“For me, this is the best training I’ve received. We’ve been involved in this for the past six months and now, we are very much ready to serve humanity. This aspect of service is clearly lacking in our system, that’s why anti-social vices are on the increase. We hope to stem the tide,” Utogor noted.
On his part, Akpan while thanking the federal government for giving them the opportunity, asked state governments to also replicate the programme in the local government areas in order to ensure the participation of more people.
No doubt, the programme has come at the right time with so many families experiencing emotional breakdown challenges as a result of the myriad of hardship facing humanity, the training of these Auxiliary Social Workers who are expected to take what they’ve learnt to different communities would go a long way in restoring “sanity” to lots of people who may have lost hope in life.