Social workers are needed at every level of the school system to curb the crime scourge the country is currently facing, Dr Emmanuel Janagan Johnson, social work lecturer and co-ordinator for fieldwork, praticum and social work at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, believes.
Johnson spoke with the Sunday Express recently and highlighted the need for the authorities to understand the importance of social workers, and how they can impact positively on the individual, the family and the community.
Referring to a pilot study that he is currently working on, Johnson said there was a link between the increase in crime and school dropouts in the country.
“From a pilot study about school dropouts in Trinidad, I found there is a link between school dropouts and crime because most of the criminals are school dropouts. So unless you stop this at the school level I am sure that it will get much more worse.
“People are talking about crime and the social situation but unless we appoint social workers I am sure this situation will become worse and worse. Social workers play a major role in reducing the crime so there is a need to appoint a social worker in each school.”
He used the example of how a social worker’s persistence convinced a parent to let a child return to school after months of not sending her to school.
There are currently no social workers based in the nation’s secondary schools and Johnson believes that the incidence of violence in schools is because of an absence of social workers.
“Because the teachers, they can only teach, they don’t have the time to look into what is taking place in the homes and the behaviour of the children. This is why there is a need for school social workers and there is need for community social workers.
“I am also doing another study on how children of prisoners cope and it was seen that most of them are single-parent families. Most times when the mother or the father goes to prison the children are taken care of by the siblings or aunts or uncle or grandparents. This situation is different to when a parent takes care of their own child. So what happens is that these children have a tendency to go into crime,” he said.
This is where the social worker comes in.
Using the United Kingdom as an example, he said social workers were responsible for families in every aspect of their lives so anything that happened in the family—when a child is born, when a death occurs, divorce—social workers are a part of that.
He said every police station should have a social worker as well as the Family Court.
Every year there are over 150 applications for the Social Work programme at UWI, St Augustine, but they are only able to take in about 40 undergraduate students and about ten post-grad students a year.
“There is a problem of placement for the students because social work is not like other professions where they get training and then they go, we have a good rapport with our alumni so they help us to provide support.”