x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Social workers must now be licensed

A new law requires all social workers in Dubai to be licensed by the Community Development Authority.

DUBAI // A new ruling that makes licensing for social workers mandatory has been implemented to protect the city's most vulnerable.

All social workers must apply for a professional licence from the Community Development Authority (CDA) before July 2012, it was announced yesterday, in accordance with Dubai Government's Executive Decision No 20 of 2011.

"Our goal is to protect members of our community," said Dr Omar Al Muthanna, chief executive of the Social Regulatory and Licensing sector at the CDA. "There may be vulnerable groups in the community or those experiencing a vulnerable time in their life, and it's their right to be aided by professionals who can make sound decisions on their behalf when needed."

In passing the law, Dr Al Muthanna said, the Dubai Government considered recent events like the deaths of Ahmed Al Ali, an Emirati man who was misdiagnosed and refused treatment overseas, and Mohammed Saif Al Abdouli, an Emirati man who died after being denied his social welfare payment.

Social workers - including therapists, counsellors, case workers at the Ministry of Social Affairs and special needs teachers - will only be given licences if they have a tertiary qualification from an accredited university and one year's experience in the field.

Only volunteers are exempted from the licence, which will be issued for free, and must be renewed every two years.

"We urge all social care professionals to apply for the mandatory licence, which will help us to establish a strong database of social service professionals," he said.

"We were able to get some numbers from other government departments about those who fit the social worker category and it is approximately 400, but obviously we expect that number is far higher," said Dr Al Muthanna.

"Our applications forms are ready and once we have a detailed registry, other sectors will also benefit from the information and we can identify if there are enough professionals and if there are risk areas."

The CDA will collaborate with other government bodies to provide work experience and training for new graduates, so that they can also be considered for licences.

"With accurate data on social care professionals we will be able to identify the areas that need improvement, provide adequate training, and further promote social development," said Dr Al Muthanna.

The CDA will carry out regular inspections across the city, including free zones, to ensure social care professionals are licensed and following regulations. After July 2012, unlicensed operators will be fined up to Dh5,000.

Professionals in the field of social care welcomed the news, saying the ruling was long overdue.

Dr Roghy McCarthy, a clinical psychologist at the Counselling and Development Clinic in Dubai, said she hoped the law would put a stop to people working illegally.

"A lot of therapists are working beyond their boundaries and against the law. Some do not want to refer their clients and offer services that they are not qualified to give," said Mrs McCarthy. "This is such a good move by the government because many problems will be addressed."

Aya Pamela Geralde, who looks after licensing at Lifeworks Counselling and Development, said she heard last year that the law was coming, when the CDA ran an awareness campaign. "Now that it has been announced we can approach CDA directly," said Ms Geralde. "It's a good move."

Carolina Tovar, executive director and co-founder of the Child Early Intervention Medical Centre, said the situation in Dubai was "scary".

"We've had a few cases of people using false identification or someone else's licence and wanting to work with the kids," she said. "I think this country needs policing to protect the rights of children and the community."

melshoush@thenational.ae