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Demand Surging for Professional Social Workers

Demand for the services of social workers is surging in China with hospitals, trade unions, rest homes and women's associations seeking to hire more qualified professionals.

Zhang Yiqi, a former ideological cadre in East Hospital in Pudong New District of Shanghai, was transferred to the hospital's newly established social work department two years ago and became one of the country's first hospital-based professional social workers.

Zhang and his colleagues organized a special club in the hospital, helping hundreds of diabetes and breast cancer patients to fight depression and face up to their illnesses.

China used to have no professional social workers to provide services such as helping patients and drug users, and resolving marital problems. This work was usually conducted by government departments or organizations.

The appearance of professional social workers would ease the burden on government departments, better serve social needs and stabilize Chinese society, said Wu Duo, president of Shanghai Social Workers Association and professor at the East China Normal University.

Wu also said professional social services should have government support.

Pudong Social Development Bureau has required institutions such as rest homes, women's associations and trade unions to employ professional social workers.

In February 2003, China's first non-profit professional social service agency, Lequn Service, was established in Shanghai.

Under a contract signed between Pudong New District Government and Lequn Service, the government will pay Lequn 100,000 yuan (US$12,090) annually to provide psychological counseling and other services to six primary schools.

Services provided by Lequn are available to the schools' students, teachers and parents.

Professional social workers were sent into communities and families that were quarantined during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis in April, helping to ease the pressure of the affected people in that stressful period.

Ma Yili, director of the Social Development Bureau of Pudong New District, said professional social work agencies were developing quickly and more social work professionals were being trained in China.

"Fast economic development and great social changes have made it increasingly difficult for government departments to respond to effectively and efficiently. Professional social workers are urgently needed to help government departments better serve the people," said Ma.

Regulations on the certification of social workers have been formulated in Shanghai and a set of national standards are also on the drawing board.

Ma said the more social work agencies were needed to employ professionals who major in social work and to meet the growing demand for social work services.

(Xinhua News Agency July 26, 2003)

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