The Shenzhen Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau recently issued a document entitled Several Measures to Improve the Quality of Social Work Services in the City of Shenzhen (hereinafter referred to as “Several Measures”). The document suggests enterprises, public institutions, communities and charitable organisations promote social work-related positions within their institutions. Organisations will also be able to purchase social work packages through which they can engage in to serve the public.
Another document, Shenzhen Social Work Professional Personnel Salary Guide was published along with Several Measures. The guide mentions the average salary for general social workers is 8,891 RMB a month (1,350.48 USD a month) and 9,255 RMB a month for specialised workers. The highest salary for a first-class senior social worker could reach 18,782 RMB a month. Based on the actual economic development in Shenzhen, salaries for social workers will also be modified once every three years.
These documents targeting social work practitioners have already been warmly welcomed. When interviewed by Charity Times, Wang Lu, the Executive Deputy Director-general of Shenzhen Wenxin Social Work Service Centre, said she recently has been receiving many more CVs from applicants who are interested in getting involved in social work and eager to learn the new trends in this sector.
The changes have been drastic, but Wang Lu said the development of social work will not face a straight, easy path in China. One the one hand, the public nowadays has greater spiritual and mental needs as China’s economic and social transformation gradually deepens. But on the other hand, there have been gaps in public service development for which social work can serve as a useful supplement. Challenges in investing in young talents to engage in the social work sector, balancing supply and demand, giving decent salaries for social workers and helping them gain social recognition and respect are critical areas. That is also why Wang Lu said the release of Several Measures has certainly brought social workers in Shenzhen more hope.
“Since the new documents are published, it has become easier to hire social workers, and more people are asking questions related to social work positions. I believe the change of social workers’ salaries will help them live a satisfying, decent life and they will also be expectant of their progress in the career path. This will make the whole sector grow more steadily”, says Wang Lu.
Several Measures sets up 16 categories of social work in Shenzhen. They are social welfare, social aid, philanthropy, community building, family support, mental health support, disability rehabilitation, education support, career advice, support for workers, crime prevention, drug control and rehabilitation, corrections, public health, dispute resolution and emergency services.
Detailed guidance for the supply mechanism of purchasing social work services is in Several Measures. Purchasing social work services is no longer the exclusive privilege of the ministry or departments and bureaus of civil affairs. Other institutions such as municipal, district party and government agencies, charitable organisations and subdistrict offices are also permitted to purchase social work services. Several Measures also sets out that when the government purchases social work services, it will be in the form of project procurement, and the general procurement cycle will be three years. The overall package fee for each person of government purchase programmes should be no lower than 163,000 RMB a year for general services and no lower than 169,000 RMB for special services.
Wang Lu maintains these policies have revealed a positive signal for the social work sector’s development. While purchases of social work services by different institutions will make the sector more client-targeted, it also sets good challenges for social work organisations, in the sense that these organisations will not only be evaluated by the ministry or departments and bureaus of civil affairs, but also inevitably scrutinised by the general public. This requires social work organisations to concentrate on their own capacity building, reassess their advantages and shortcomings, and make clear objectives and effective strategies.
Meanwhile, Several Measures rolls out that by 2023, all the social workers who work for government-purchased service programmes have to be qualified, and qualifications of social workers will become an important part of the evaluation system. On the 10th of November, the Shenzhen Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau announced it had already begun the registration work for qualified social workers in the city.
Individuals who are eligible to be registered as qualified social workers have to meet the following requirements: having a Shenzhen residence card or a formal job in Shenzhen, having passed the national social worker occupational level examinations in 2019 and before, and having obtained the certificate (including those who were not registered before 2019). If social workers need to re-register in Shenzhen, they have to prove their first registration as a social worker in Guangdong Province has lasted for three years and they have not re-registered prior to 2017.
The exit mechanism is also stressed in the document. For social work service organisations that seriously violate laws and regulations, their registration certificates shall be revoked in accordance with the existing relevant law. For service centres whose services are of low-quality or who have not operated for a long time, they will be removed from the sector.
Shenzhen has been one of the first cities in China to explore and practice social work. In 2017, the local government issued Opinions of the Shenzhen Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China and Shenzhen Municipal People’s Government on Strengthening the Cultivating of Social Workers and Promoting the Development of Social Work. In the same year, the city started their exploration of localizing social work services. Initially, there were only 96 registered social workers, but the number soared afterwards and by November 2019, the total number of registered social workers in Shenzhen exceeded 20,000. This means the number of professional social workers per 10,000 permanent residents has reached 16.21 and Shenzhen has taken the position as a pioneer city for the development of domestic social work services in China.