|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
The social assistance systems established in the People's Republic of China (PRC), including the minimum living standard guarantee scheme (dibao), aim to protect the fundamental living rights and interests of vulnerable groups by focusing on areas such as family care, childhood education and health, family livelihood strategy, and mental health of family members. While common in social assistance programs in many countries, the concept of "social workers" is relatively new in the PRC, which currently covers a very broad area of activities ranging from payments specialists, community workers, and counselors, among others. Growing areas are medical social workers who facilitate patients' access to, and use of medical facilities, as well as follow-up. Unlike the medical patients, beneficiaries of dibao have no such case workers helping them to access other services, benefits, nor work programs. This lack of personalized assistance from social workers has been identified by the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA) as one of the inhibiting factors for graduation from dibao for beneficiaries who are able to work. To bridge this gap between welfare and work, and ensure better care for vulnerable groups unable to work, MOCA intends to introduce and expand the role for social workers in social assistance. Defining the role and qualifications necessary for social workers in social assistance for MOCA is the focus of the proposed TA activities.
Based on international and domestic experience, introducing professional social work services into social assistance is of great value in enhancing the employment awareness of assistance beneficiaries, increasing their social inclusion, protecting them from being rejected by the society, and improving assistance service quality. The goal of building a cadre of professional social workers in social assistance is supported by the National Development Plan for Social Work, which calls for an increase in the number of social workers in the PRC to 2 million by 2015 and 3 million by 2020. At present, approximately 80,000 people have passed the accreditation test for professional social workers in the PRC. Despite the major efforts at increasing the numbers of social workers undertaken to date, challenges remain in enhancing social work services into social assistance, including:
(i) The field of social work in the People's Republic of China remains poorly defined. The job area is poorly defined due to a wide range of activities that are undertaken by social workers, and the varying levels of professional training available for each of those roles (professional social workers, para-professional social workers, etc.). This TA provides an opportunity to help define the role of social workers for MOCA in social assistance and more broadly.
(ii) Gap between academic training and practice. There is a significant gap between the academic training and practice of social work in the PRC. There are currently more than 220 university majors in the PRC dedicated to social work, and this number is growing. Despite this, the majority of program graduates do not pursue work in the field, and those that do face many challenges due to lack of practical training, internships, and occupational and social recognition. Considering the growing demand for social workers within government, other service providers, and community-based groups, this TA comes at an opportune moment to engage with academia on applied research on qualifications, practical training, and emerging models (i.e. Chinese Academy of Social Sciences).
(iii) Lack of social workers trained to provide services for work promotion and related services for dibao recipients and their families. Although social workers in many countries support the transition from welfare to work, social workers in the PRC have limited training in social assistance tasks, such as services to recipients to find jobs and transition off from welfare. Institutionally, the role of social workers in this area is yet to be defined by MOCA and the TA findings will play a significant role in providing the evidence and experience through pilot studies to fill this gap.
(iv) Need for greater integration between government and civil-society-led social work activities. While there is a wide range of activities in the PRC, which are supported by social workers through civil society organizations (CSOs) such as migrant worker services, disaster relief, youth development, elderly care, and health, current legislation and funding modalities can prevent CSOs from playing a greater role in government-led or contracted social work initiatives. This gap prevents CSOs from providing this service to government in social assistance, and also contributes to a lack of institutional support for social workers in the field.