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Social workers protest proposal to increase visit frequency

03/20/2024 10:26 PM
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CNA photo March 20, 2024
CNA photo March 20, 2024

Taipei, March 20 (CNA) Over 300 social workers gathered in front of the Health and Welfare Ministry (MOHW) in Taipei on Wednesday to protest the ministry's proposed plan to increase the required frequency of visits to children placed in foster care.

Organized by the Taipei Social Workers Union, the protest called for the retraction of the proposal to increase visit frequency, protection of social workers' occupational safety, and adherence to the salary system designed for social workers.

The protestors also asked for increased support for social workers from society and a comprehensive review of Taiwan's social safety net.

The government's proposal to increase social workers' visit frequency was announced last Friday after a case came to light of a one-year-old boy's death following alleged abuse by his nanny in foster care earlier this month.

It sparked social workers' dissatisfaction and led to complaints that they were being treated as "scapegoats" on whom the government planned to dump responsibility.

The union vice-chair Shen Yao-i (沈曜逸) said that increasing the frequency of visits would not solve the real problem, which he said was a labor shortage.

If this was put into practice, increasing visits would only deteriorate the quality of the work done by social workers, he said.

CNA photo March 20, 2024
CNA photo March 20, 2024

Kaohsiung Social Workers Union Secretary-General Kuo Chih-nan (郭志南), meanwhile, spoke about an unofficial "conventional practice" that requires social workers to "donate" a part of their salaries to the organizations they work for, as well as the occupational hazards he said they often encounter.

According to Kuo, many social workers donate part of their salaries to the institutions they work for because the organizations claim to lack the necessary operating funds.

Speaking of the occupational hazard, Kuo pointed out that on average, there was one social worker mistreated every three days, citing governmental statistics released in 2023.

"Is social work really that simple?" he asked, adding that a lot of time and energy is invested by social workers to establish cooperative and effective relations with those they are managing.

"Now that things have gone wrong, the government wants to hide and meanwhile the social workers who actually do the work have received no support," Kuo complained.

Su Chao-ju (front row, second left), head of the MOHW's Social Assistance and Social Work Department, receives the petitions from the demonstrating social workers in Taipei Wednesday. CNA photo March 20, 2024
Su Chao-ju (front row, second left), head of the MOHW's Social Assistance and Social Work Department, receives the petitions from the demonstrating social workers in Taipei Wednesday. CNA photo March 20, 2024

In response, Su Chao-ju (蘇昭如), head of the MOHW's Social Assistance and Social Work Department, told the press that the mistreatment of social workers has been on the decline since 2014.

In 2022, about 20.39 percent of social workers were mistreated, with most reporting being verbally abused (62%). But in 2023, a mere 533 of the 6,281 social workers around the country were mistreated, accounting for 8.5 percent of the total, according to Su.

Su also said that the ministry has always been concerned about the labor shortage in social work.

In 2023, 3,733 people filled the 4,190 advertised posts for social work and there was a turnover rate of about 25 percent. Overall, employment in the field of social work has been growing steadily, Su said.

Deputy Health Minister Lee Li-feng (李麗芬) also responded in the Legislative Yuan later Wednesday, pledging that social workers' demands would be discussed and responded to subsequently by officials from related ministries.

Li also said her ministry will meet with experts at the end of April to discuss whether or not the required visit frequency should be increased and for which kinds of cases.

The proposal of increasing visit frequency would not only require social workers and care staff to carry out more visits but also other professionals, such as doctors, she explained.

(By Shen Pei-yao and Wu Kuan-hsien)

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