What’s wrong with China’s system for recruiting social workers?

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A recent article published in Southern Weekly discusses the problems in China’s current system of social worker recruitment. The author, a social work professor from Beijing Normal University, points out three major challenges.

First of all, the “package” model through which such services are purchased hinders social work’s continuity, since an entire program and staff will be replaced when a new program is purchased, nullifying the work of the previous team; this can also hurt the receivers of the services, which further harms the professional image of the social work sector; from the perspective of developing competent professionals, the package model of service purchase can also have a negative impact on frontline social workers when they suddenly find themselves having to leave their work environment and the people they serve, and look for new ones.

Secondly, as can be seen by looking at job descriptions, staff recruitment takes place only after the bids are won, which suggests that the projects are just “empty shells” before the successful bids. This way of operating cannot guarantee the quality or quantity of human resources, and easily discounts the quality of the entire service.

Thirdly, frontline social workers are the key to social services. However, the current institutional arrangements and salary system do not encourage social workers to work at the grassroots but rather to run for administrative duties, since the pay will be much better. Under this system, the people who work on the frontline are always going to be freshmen without much experience. This way the services provided can only be simple and repetitive, not well done and in-depth.

Based on the identification of these three challenges, the professor also put forward some suggestions: first of all, commissioned service purchases are more suitable than the “package” model, since they not only save costs, but also protect the professionalism and ensure the continuity of social services. Secondly, it is particularly important to develop a relevant mechanism of accountability and cultivate professional social work organizations with original approaches. This is the only way to protect the professional and philanthropic nature of social services. Thirdly, everything possible should be done to protect the benefits of frontline social workers, in order to encourage them to operate on the frontlines and provide them with a track to promotion.

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