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Your Say: 3 ways to protect social workers from abuse and help them thrive

The writer suggests three ways to improve working conditions for social workers.

The writer suggests three ways to improve working conditions for social workers.

Elizabeth Quek Ser Mui

I refer to the article “Pay raise cold comfort for abuse that comes with job, say social workers; association urges more protection” (April 9).

I appreciate the article for providing awareness of challenges that social workers face.

I have witnessed abuse and harassment in my 16 years as a social worker and it can be very traumatising. I would like to outline three measures to deal with this holistically.

1. Have clear policies to address abuse and harassment

Most social service agencies (SSA) do not have clear policies on dealing with abuse and harassment.

Often, even within the agency, there will be differing opinions on what to do, creating mistrust and increasing distress for the victim. All SSAs should have clear and transparent policies so that workers feel more protected.

2. Allocate more resources to address factors that trigger abusive behaviour 

For example, we could work towards improving clients’ access to financial help, providing a diverse toolbox of approaches for clients, and enhancing clients’ quality time with social workers.

Financial help should be accessible, timely and sufficient for families to address immediate needs such as food and transport, which can consume them with worry.

Once they are able to meet these needs, it improves their readiness to work on bigger goals such as finding a stable job and getting childcare help.

SSAs that offer a diversity of approaches — instead of focusing on individual families in silos — could benefit more people in the long run. For example, organising group and community programmes on topics such as investing and skills upgrading could help families improve their finances.

We should give more consideration to the well-being of families, their long-term financial goals and social mobility, and addressing the impacts of financial trauma, as opposed to only prioritising immediate goals like safety and childcare.

3. Social service agencies should be mandated to adopt salary guidelines

Having competitive wages in the industry would attract more people to join and stay in the industry, despite the occasional experience of abuse.

Social workers who do individual and family casework must also be afforded sustainable caseloads that allow them to effectively support their clients.

Clients and their families benefit from having stable teams in SSAs.

Clients have told me of long gaps between conversations with social workers and their experience of multiple social workers taking over their cases, resulting in lengthy service gaps as well as the need for them to repeat their stories, and build new relationships and trust.

When SSAs lose staff, they also lose valuable knowledge and wisdom that could guide less-experienced social service entrants.

This also often means that inexperienced staff have to deal with very challenging cases.

SSAs and clients benefit when there is team synergy. Different workers have different strengths, expertise and specialisation. Families and social workers benefit from this dynamism.

Having clear policies to address abuse and harassment, more resources to support families and mandated adoption of salary guidelines for workers will in turn create healthier communities and families.

Have views on this issue or a news topic you care about? Send your letter to voices [at] with your full name, address and phone number.

Related topics

social work abuse workplace

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