The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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SCSA CEO urges foreign social care workers to learn basic Maltese

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 16 June 2024, 09:30 Last update: about 1 month ago

Addressing the significant challenges in Malta's social care sector, the CEO of the Social Care Standards Authority, Ruth Sciberras, highlighted the need for foreign social care workers to learn basic Maltese.

In an interview with the Malta Independent on Sunday, Sciberras said that the sector faces human resource issues, not only in terms of quantity but also in the quality of workers.

As the social sector continues to grow, the demand for competent social workers and youth workers rises. Sciberras noted that the sector often struggles with attracting and retaining workers, as more appealing job opportunities in fields like iGaming offer better pay and more comfortable working conditions. Consequently, social care workers are more prone to burnout and long shifts.

Apart from checking their qualifications, in an effort to improve the situation, the SCSA is encouraging foreign social care workers to learn Maltese.

"Sometimes, persons with disabilities or others do not feel comfortable speaking in English," Sciberras explained. This language barrier restricts the sector's ability to accept as many applicants from outside Malta as needed.

Sciberras underscored the importance of language proficiency in providing effective support to vulnerable individuals. "When working with vulnerable people, they might feel more comfortable expressing their problems in their mother tongue," she said. While she doesn't expect foreign workers to become experts in Maltese, she ackowledged the importance of knowing basic phrases such as 'Bongu' (Good morning), 'Mugugħa illum?' (Are you in pain today?), and 'Kif qed tħossok illum?' (How do you feel today?).

"We cannot assume that just because we Maltese are multilingual, everyone can communicate with us in any language," Sciberras said.

Sciberras explained that the agency is statutory because there is a law backing it. Every standard that the SCSA sets is also backed by law, becoming secondary legislation through a legal notice. Regarding services to the general public, the SCSA ensures that established standards are adhered to and that service users are treated with dignity.

To ensure consistent quality, Sciberras said they use quality tools discussed with stakeholders. For example, in the case of children in care, their care plans are reviewed to ensure that these children are well looked after and their care plans meet their needs. These reviews involve conversations with both the children and their caregivers. The SCSA checks both government agencies and NGOs responsible for childcare.


In addition to care plans, the SCSA also monitors the ratio of support workers to children and the training provided to these workers. These checks are conducted both unannounced and scheduled, particularly when meeting with management.

Sciberras noted that in cases of suspected abuse of any child or vulnerable person, the SCSA immediately involves the police in addition to compiling an internal report. When a complaint is received, the investigation process begins immediately.

For persons with disabilities, the SCSA oversees both government agencies and NGOs, conducting both announced and scheduled inspections. These checks ensure that service users with disabilities are well cared for, including evaluations of their food and living conditions. If standards are not met, the SCSA discusses its findings with management and issues a report highlighting deficiencies.

Beyond basic checks like food and water quality, the SCSA also considers factors like medicine placements. Given the SCSA's role in ensuring standards for various organisations, this is particularly important for vulnerable individuals in drug rehabilitation shelters. The SCSA is responsible for licensing these organisations, which by law must be renewed annually. This includes drug rehabilitation centres, children’s homes, and elderly day care centres.

The SCSA also sets standards for families wishing to foster. Sciberras highlighted challenges that might deter families from fostering, such as both parents needing to work or the possibility of foster children returning to their original families. However, she noted that fostering can be highly rewarding. She also added that when children are to go back with their parents, there is always a plan in place to facilitate the procedure.

Sciberras stated that the agency is constantly evolving, informed by both national research and international studies. The SCSA seeks to understand how other countries accredit and license services to improve the national scenario. Assessment tools and meetings with national counterparts are part of this process. She mentioned a recent conference in Estonia where the SCSA learned about local services and their assessment for licensing.

Sciberras emphasised the importance of evidence-based and scientifically proven tools and assessments. However, she acknowledged that newer services might lack sufficient evidence for thorough research. In such cases, certain frameworks should be used to maintain high standards. These frameworks ensure that service users are treated with dignity and professionalism.

The SCSA ensures that government investments improve the quality of life for vulnerable individuals in society. Currently, there is no particular service lacking, as services are monitored weekly or monthly, depending on the service, by assessors who conduct on-site visits. In total, the SCSA licences 240 services, Sciberras said.

The SCSA also licenses adoption services for both government and private entities. Additionally, the agency includes the Central Authority, which handles cross-border maintenance, child abduction, and protection cases.

The timeframe for resolving cases depends on the country involved and the cooperation of the separated parents. Most cases are resolved within a year, but some may take longer due to parental conflict or the involvement of countries not part of the Hague Convention, which can complicate communication between authorities. The ultimate goal is to act in the best interest of the children, considering the best country of residence following court rulings.

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