'Alarming shortage' of social workers puts Brussels vulnerable inhabitants at risk

'Alarming shortage' of social workers puts Brussels vulnerable inhabitants at risk
Homeless people in a Samusocial building. Vulnerable people face increasing risk if CPASs aren't able to employ new social workers. Credit: Belga/ Bruno Fahy

The chronic shortage of experienced social workers in Brussels is resulting in a real danger that the basic needs of the region's most vulnerable inhabitants will not be met.

From education to supermarkets, various sectors in Belgium are facing staff shortages, which are affecting their operations. The latest in line is the Brussels Public Centre for Social Welfare (CPAS), which sounded the alarm bell on Wednesday as it is struggling to find suitable staff or people who want to work as a social worker.

"The Brussels CPAS is facing an alarming shortage of social workers and is unable to recruit any, despite the importance of the job and the many advantages that come with working in a CPAS," a statement read. "There is now a real danger that the basic needs of Brussels' most vulnerable inhabitants won't be met."

Although the federation is actively looking for social workers, there are almost no candidates and those who do apply often lack the knowledge needed, resulting in the number of unfilled vacancies gradually running into the dozens.

Poor reputation and language barrier

An additional challenge for the services is also the increasingly poor reputation that CPAS has. "Unfortunately, social workers prefer other organisations than ours," Khalid Zian, President of the Brussels Federation of CPAS, said.

"Yet we help the underprivileged every day in a very concrete way. During the recent health crisis or the energy crisis that affected many families, or more recently, when welcoming Ukrainian refugees, CPAS kept tens of thousands of people out of poverty."

Another "typically Brussels" obstacle is preventing the services from attracting new staff, as candidates have to pass the Selor exam that proves their knowledge of French and Dutch.

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"In practice, this requirement is relaxed, but it can nevertheless be an obstacle for some candidates. We also notice that hardly any Dutch-speaking candidates come forward, for fear of insufficient command of French. However in most cases, they are sufficiently qualified to start in the job and then gradually build up the language skills," Zian said.

CPAS asked for the training of social workers to be improved with a broader integration of subjects specific to their work into the general curriculum.

The federation has also called for better remuneration to improve the status of the social workers, including incentives such as a bilingualism bonus as well as simplifying the administrative procedures through digitalisation.

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