Dr Yemisi Olaleye is the acting Head, Social Work Department, University of Ibadan. In this interview with MODUPE GEORGE, she sheds light on the nature and relevance of social work, as well as its challenges. Excerpts.
WHAT is social work?
There is no organisation without need for social workers. There are specific areas where social work is useful. We have the health social work, community development social work, social welfare and social welfare in industry. Social work in industries takes care of the employees and the employers; and in the hospitals, we have social workers coming to the aid of patients who do not have money to pay their hospital bills.
In this kind of situation, social workers look for philanthropists who could be of help or make the hospital write off the debts or reduce it for them. Also, it is the work of a social worker to help people with mental retardation and who don’t have people who would take care of them to look for homes they can go to. They also help inmates in prisons to locate their people or get them settled after finishing their terms. The responsibilities are enormous.
Why does one need a degree to be a social worker?
It is not compulsory that one should have a degree to help people, but you and I know that in Nigeria we run after certificates. However, when you look at the other side of the coin, you discover that the more education you have, the more knowledgeable you are.
Also, having a degree gives you an edge; in that you would be able to join associations, both locally and internationally. We have a lot of associations in social work, both in and outside Nigeria.
How exposed are your students to field work?
Any educational programme without practicals would not enable professionalism. After studying the theory, one has to observe the practical aspect of the profession to really know what obtains on the field. Whatever you have experienced or practicalised, you are able to apply better. To practise as a social worker, you don’t really need money to carry out projects. It is a help profession; it is not the social worker who supplies the money directly. You are not to give the client any money, but you come in, in terms of looking for solutions and interventions here and there. Like our students do go to social welfare office in Ibadan here. They don’t need to give their clients any money, but they would educate and advise parties involved in an issue; may be in a divorce case to know their rights, opportunities or probably help them get justice. Social Work is a help profession of taking people out of their problems.
What effort is your department making to link up with other international bodies in the field of social work so as to prepare students to meet up with global challenges?
This institution has a linkage with many foreign associations. In fact, lecturers in this department are compelled to go for conferences, both locally and internationally; and whenever we travel outside the country for social work conferences, we register. For instance, when I travelled to Sweden, I registered my colleagues and some of my students who travelled with me also registered internationally as social workers.
More so, majority of our students are made to register locally before they round off their programme. We help in the aspect of filling of their forms, while they also do when they travel abroad for their masters or PhD. The National Association of Social Worker Educator (NASWE) is a body here in Nigeria which involves many professional Nigerians social workers, who are based abroad.
How do you prepare your students to meet up with international standards?
Majority of our students are abroad, especially for their PhD; and they are competing very well. Very soon, by the grace of God, we will soon be running Ph.D. programme in this department.
There is an influx of young people into the profession. Don’t you think age would be a disadvantage to them when it comes to applying life experiences?
Age is never a disadvantage because maturity has nothing to do with age. Those who come in with school certificates are made to spend five years in the course of studying, while those with diploma and Ordinary National Diploma spend four years to obtain BSW. The young people are doing very well; they are found in the majority of schools in the state. We make them go to the field after three years for their practicum. The principals do enjoy their services and testify to their services. They are doing a lot of work in schools in the state. They are adequately equipped for the job while studying. They have adequate knowledge when it comes to handling issues.
What do you think are the challenges of a modern day social worker?
Funding is a major challenge to a modern day social worker, but we are happy that in the House of Assembly a bill has been passed on social work.
What is the bill all about?
It is about giving the required recognition to social work in Nigeria, so that our products would get jobs to do. Social work is not well known in Nigeria as it is abroad.
What does this nation stand to gain having a lot of social workers?
There is a lot to gain. For instance, majority of the people who are roaming the streets today not knowing what to do with their lives are projects in the hands of social workers. They will guide then through, counsel them and help restore their hopes.
What efforts are you making as a department to make sure that social work plays a tangible role in these current societal issues on rape, health care, injustice, illiteracy, child abuse among others?
We are trying our best. However, the reason we have not been able to come in to assist in some cases is due to the fact that people don’t open up on some of these issues. If they don’t come to us, how can we be of help?
It still boils down to the fact that social work is not known in Nigeria. We are praying that should our bill be passed into law, then government would be compelled to employ more social workers, and we would have less of all these societal issues we are faced with as a nation.