Extra social workers could help reduce crime

2013-10-02 00:00

INCREASING the number of social workers could hold the key to reducing crimes committed by young men, especially those against women and children.

This is the view of Gareth Newham, head of the crime and justice programme of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), who said that two-thirds of murders and attempted murders were committed by young men using violence to express their feelings.

Newham said social ills could be identified and addressed by employing more social workers, enabling earlier intervention to help curb crime.

“When you grow up in a violent community, you are prone to view violence as a way of life. Research undertaken about six to seven decades ago around the world indicates that with more social workers employed, crime statistics dropped significantly. In the last 10 years, the government employed about 70 000 police officers and today we have about 197 000 officers, but crime is still a problem, and in all this we are short of 53 000 social workers in the country. We have neglected health, education and social development as ways of reducing crime,” he said.

Studies in America show that young people in areas with more social workers available were 50% less prone to committing crime than those in areas where social workers were scarce.

KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas said stable families, including a father figure, were vital in addressing violence.

“Far too many children lack proper male role models, especially a father figure, which is important for reasons including discipline. Many children grow up in a climate of violence, seeing their mothers being beaten by their fathers or male partners [and being beaten themselves]. Thus violence becomes a norm for handling problems and is carried over to schools etc,” she said.

These problems are compounded by crime syndicates running drugs, and youths engaging in crime to feed their drug habits.

“We need to change the way we bring up children and give them a stable family of some sort [it can include an uncle or grandfather, if not father]. As long as there is a culture of violence in the family and community, the children will grow up to perpetuate it. We also need to provide proper education and recreational facilities for children,” said De Haas.

UKZN criminologist and World Society of Victimology vice president Professor Robert Peacock said young people in South Africa are at the highest risk of being both offenders and victims of violent crimes.

“In our quest for justice, restorative communities and a more humane world, we need to bring the African values of ubuntu from the periphery to the centre of our society to promote the values of intense humanness, universal interconnectedness, sharing, compassion and respect,” he said.

National police spokesperson Solomon Makgale said the service employed forensic social workers primarily to provide expert testimony in court, compile reports, and assess children and assist them to provide testimony.

What is being done?

SOCIAL Development Department spokesperson Vukani Mbhele said the province is 600 short of its target of 2 400 social workers.

“The social work profession has been declared a scarce skill, and we provide scholarships to students to address the issue. We are servicing communities and we have launched and are in the process of launching more academies in various parts of the province. The focus is on young people who commit petty crimes. In some cases, we discover that those committing crime are from poor backgrounds in communities where there are no job opportunities,” he said.

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