Social workers are becoming increasingly vital to the welfare of South Africans in need

SUFFER CHILDREN: Social workers make a difference in the lives of South Africans. Pic. Ambrose Peters. 10/06/2005. © ST.
SUFFER CHILDREN: Social workers make a difference in the lives of South Africans. Pic. Ambrose Peters. 10/06/2005. © ST.

Lihle Z. Mtshali

Lihle Z. Mtshali

The ties binding families and communities together have been deteriorating at an alarming rate due to the scourge of HIV/Aids and other social ills.

The need for social workers has become greater today than it has ever been, with their role of protecting the rights and bringing healing to the most vulnerable of South Africa's citizens getting harder by the day.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, an annual campaign which is in its sixteenth yearand runs from the November 25 to December 10, is underway globally.

Social workers like Orli Zaacks, a clinical social worker at Childline, are faced with the daily plight of women and children living in the violent conditions which prompted the formation of this campaign.

Childline offers services that seek to protect children in potentially dangerous situations - such as physical, sexual and emotional abuse - and Orli's daily duties include counselling and support services for children and families.

She counsels individuals, families and also does group therapy, as well as treatment of child offenders of sexual abuse.

Some of the people in her charge are as young as four years old and cannot fully express themselves through normal communication.

In these cases play therapy is used to assist the child in sharing their story through drawing and playing with dolls.

Orli also performs forensic assessments - a process used when a child needs to appear in court.

The social worker conducts an evaluation of the child, its family and social background to establish exactly what has happened and then writes a report which is submitted to court.

Orli does not only work with children but also with adult survivors of childhood abuse. The oldest person she assists is 47 years old.

Orli has always wanted to work with children and initially planned on becoming a nursery school teacher.

But her path was redirected when as part of her practical work in her third year at the University of Cape Town she was placed at Childline in the Western Cape. Once there she was moved by the severity of the plight of abused children and she decided that her calling was to help them through their trauma.

Orli says there is a high burn-out rate among social workers due to the emotionally charged environment they work in. One of the greatest challenges that social workers who work with children face is when parents are uncooperative or support the spouse that is abusing the children. There are also cases that just fall through the system after months of hard work preparing a case with the abused child.

"That can leave you feeling helpless, but there are rich rewards when, after a while, you actually see a light at the end of the tunnel; when all you saw when the child first walked in through your door was hopelessness," says Orli.

If you have a strong desire to help improve people's lives, then you could make a difference as a social worker.