DUBAI // Twelve people have passed a government licensing process to evaluate the qualifications of social workers, therapists, counsellors and special educators in the emirate.
More than 50 people have applied for the licence so far, said Dr Omar Al Muthanna, chief executive of the social regulatory and licensing sector at the Community Development Authority (CDA).
About 10 applicants were rejected and the others are going through a process that involves verifying their qualifications.
But hundreds of social care professionals are still believed to be operating without a CDA licence, made compulsory by a Dubai Executive Council resolution in 2011. The CDA estimates that about 300 people in Dubai need the licence.
"We are cognizant of the fact that there are many more out there who are perhaps working under different titles who need to approach us, immediately," Dr Al Muthanna said.
The licensing requirement aims to protect vulnerable residents by making sure the people they turn to for help are qualified.
"You need to make sure that these people are of good calibre and base their therapies on scientific methods, not hearsay and past experiences," Dr Al Muthanna said.
The first oath-taking ceremony for new licensees was held last month. Six of the 12 licensed professionals attended. Yesterday, three more professionals read and signed their oaths at the CDA office.
"It gives you more credibility with the client and you feel that you are working through the code of ethics because you passed a process," said Ghanima Bahri, one of the new licensees. "It also gives you motivation to push yourself."
Ms Bahri, a psychological counsellor at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, applied for the licence last summer. She was invited to an interview last month, and heard that she had passed soon after.
The application process is long because verifying the degrees of people from around the world is challenging, Dr Al Muthanna said. The accrediting of degrees is completed in partnership with the Ministry of Higher Education.
"That usually takes some time - months," Dr Al Muthanna said.
To streamline the process, the CDA is developing a competency exam for applicants that could replace the accreditation component.
"We've already started working with the universities about setting an exam which will have a written and a practical component," Dr Al Muthanna said.
He said he hopes that as awareness of the licence spreads, new graduates will come to the CDA with their papers ready, much like medical or law students prepare to obtain a licence.
"We have opened a new niche in Dubai and a lot of people who work in this field are not used to getting all of this done," Dr Al Muthanna said.
Many of the 12 new licensees are Emiratis, he added.
"It's great to see this initiative because ... it is very important that people who work in this field understand the social setting," he said.
One of the new licensees yesterday was a CDA case manager, Sheikha Al Muhairi. She went through the same process as outside applicants.
Ms Al Muhairi said she was happy to receive the licence because it brings her closer to her dream of opening a family counselling office.
The licensing requirement will also empower clients to choose better services, Ms Bahri said.
"I think we really need it, because now community awareness regarding psychological and social services is rising," she said. "People want to know where they can get the correct services. They don't want to be mistreated."
Eventually, professionals who practise without a licence could face a Dh5,000 fine.