Social workers care for others, but who cares for them?

March 26, 2018 16:26
The World Social Work Day was founded by the International Federation of Social Workers to pay tribute to social workers around the world. Photo: IFSW

The International Day of Peace is observed annually on Sept. 21, the World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, the International Children’s Day on June 1, and the World Sleep Day on March 16.

There's also Global Handwashing Day (Oct. 15), and people even mark National No Bra Day (July 9) to promote breast cancer awareness.

But perhaps little known is World Social Work Day (WSWD), which fell on March 20 this year.

The WSWD was founded by the International Federation of Social Workers to pay tribute to social workers around the world.

The annual commemoration provides an opportunity for social work organizations around the world to facilitate public understanding and recognition of the role of social workers and the importance of social work, as well as to promote their professional image.

The main theme of this year’s WSWD was “Promoting Community and Environmental Sustainability”.

Sadly, while a lot of social workers have devoted themselves to caring for the most vulnerable in society, there appears very little public concern about who is going to care for the social workers themselves.

Being a social worker is a highly stressful job, yet the mental health of social workers has largely gone under the public radar in Hong Kong.

It has been nine years since the last comprehensive study on the emotional health of social workers working with non-governmental organizations in the city was published.

According to the findings of the 2009 survey, half of the social workers who were interviewed said they often felt depressed. Among those surveyed, 15 percent were suffering from severe depression, while 8.1 percent came down with anxiety disorder.

Worse still, almost all of the respondents were seriously overworked, with their average working time pushing 50 hours per week. On average, they had to work six hours’ overtime a week, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to have to handle work matters during their time off.

Unfortunately, nine years on, the situation of our social workers hasn’t improved at all, with their work-related stress and sense of helplessness continuing to mount, particularly under the existing Lump Sum Grant Subvention System.

This much-hated system was in fact introduced by our Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor when she was the director of the Social Welfare Department back in 2000.

That said, I believe the World Social Work Day not only offers us a chance to celebrate the important role played by social workers in society, but more importantly, an opportunity to reflect on the problems they are facing and to raise an outcry against public indifference towards their plight.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 20

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Legislative Council member