Money is the one thing we don’t often talk about when we are in social work.
You may think that because you’ve joined the non profit sector, you can’t talk about money.
And you can’t think about money.
Because you’re trying to do good, and these two things simply don’t square together.
I’m going to talk about it.
After 2 years being a social worker in a Family Service Centre (FSC) in Singapore, earning all of $3600 per month, before having a pay bump to $3690 in my second year (which I asked for), I realised that we were so sheepish about talking about money, that social workers were actually struggling.
I remember a time when I asked my supervisor how to ask for a raise in the centre.
Her reply shocked me.
I’ve never asked for a raise here. And I probably was earning less than what the local Singaporean social workers were earning.
Not being Singaporean, she felt that she couldn’t ask for more.
The point of this article isn’t to tell you to quit social work.
Rather, it’s to provide a realistic perspective. If you’re considering the move into social work, here’s an honest perspective.
If you’re already in social work, and you’re wondering about how to get more money, this one is also for you.
Be realistic about the money in this field
If you’re looking for money, you probably don’t want to be looking at social work as a career. It may simply pay too little for the amount of work that you’re putting in.
There’s a natural aversion towards high pays because donors think that you’re doing good, and taking money to pay yourself for doing good, just doesn’t seem to make sense.
Well, social workers still need to pay the bills though.
Even though the sector governor, the National Council of Social Services has tried to introduce pay guidelines, they are guidelines. Not every charity follows them.
I’ve had many times when I’ve asked for an amount that’s about 80% of the max rate, and they have promptly turned me down.
You may not make the most money here.
If you’re looking for the most money in the sector, go to the Ministry
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), being under the government, may offer the best benefits across the sector.
You will be a civil servant, and that does come with fairly good perks.
Whilst there are no clear salary guidelines from MSF on this, sources report that this can start from $3800 to $4200, for someone with no experience.
Mind you, there’s no need to have a social worker degree to take these roles too.
I’ve worked with child protection officers who have psychology and even a linguistics degree.
It’s not going to be the easiest work though. You will be playing a statutory social worker role, which means that the state vests power in you to do work like child protection, or adult protection.
Whilst it’s not quite the dramatic ‘taking children away from abusive parents’, it may sometimes get to that.
You may find yourself having long hours, especially when the lives of vulnerable people are at stake.
It’s not the easiest job to start with.
If you’re not too keen on adult/child protection, the next best paying is the FSC
The FSCs are contracted by the government to provide a General Practitioner like service for social services.
This gives them a regularity of income, that makes them better able to pay you according to the salary guidelines provided by NCSS.
Imagine that you go to your doctor for any health problem under the sun.
The FSC is the same concept too. Go to them for any social problem you have and they can direct you to the relevant places to get help, or even help you themselves.
This does come with significant disadvantages though. If you’ve just graduated, you can be flummoxed by the wide array of cases you see, such as:
- Mental health
- Domestic violence
- Financial assistance
- Child protection
- Adult protection
You may find yourself having to put in long hours, and having to know a lot of things, very quickly.
One of the biggest difficulties for me, and this might not be something you face, is that I felt that I was too generalist to be effective. This meant that I could be dealing with a mental health problem (even though I was taught and had little counselling experience in university), and then a domestic violence case, where I had to use more of my powers, rather than persuasion.
But it can be a good place to get exposure into the different areas, especially if you’re not particularly clear in the beginning where your skills lie.
My advice here?
Go for the more reputable FSCs, and those with a better culture.
This matters a lot, especially if you’ve just started.
Three I would recommend:
- Care Corner
- Under the new leadership of Christian Chao, who is an organisational development expert, this has severely improved the organisational effectiveness, bringing in systems that have nurtured a caring and kind culture, in what can be a difficult social service profession.
- AMKFSC remains one of the biggest, and most reputable social service agencies in Singapore.
- One of their biggest advantages is the great network of support and nurturing you can get from supervisors.
- South Central
- South Central is known for its innovative approach to social services, with initiatives such as its community kitchen, and research providing quite a different approach to social services.
The specialist services may not be the best place to start pay-wise
Then there are the specialist services.
These are places such as:
- Children’s services
- Elderly services
These tend not to pay as well, primarily because of the way government funds these programmes.
How do you maximise your pay?
There, I’ve said it.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking to maximise your pay in the social services, especially when you’re already doing so much good. Being well compensated for the value you’re bringing to society, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Doing this may first involve you writing down an ask that is about 80% of the maximum reference point, which NCSS describes as:
Reference Point denotes those who are competent on the job, and not the maximum point.
The recommended Starting Salary denotes those who do not have transferable experience. Individual salaries may include above considerations, market conditions and each agency’s wage policies.
Secondly, ask for a range. I would say this range should include a range of $300 between the minimum and the maximum.
This would help your employer to know the lowest you’re comfortable with. From my experience, charities don’t tend to pay the upper end of what you’ve asked.
It thus helps for you to introduce the number you have in your mind faster, so that you can save yourself the time of going for an interview, when they are not in a position to hire you.
More importantly, the price you give becomes a price anchor in their mind, which helps them to adjust what they can pay accordingly.
It’s ultimately what you choose to prioritise
Pay or purpose?
Some say that you can balance both.
But my experience has been that sometimes, one has to come at the expense of the other.
You might find yourself earning more at the FSC, but having little of a life, because you’re constantly having to learn new areas of practice, to settle complex cases, and to counsel people into the night.
Or you might find yourself having a more comfortable 9 to 5 at a place like an Early Intervention Centre, playing the role of a social worker there. But you may feel unchallenged by the complexity of cases you see there.
Choose profit or purpose, not both, and don’t feel sorry for what you’ve chosen.