From caring for the elderly to steering young people away from crime, the Social Welfare Department is evolving its methods to meet the demands of Hong Kong's ever-changing society. The department must recruit more staff so that it can sustain its services and put in place new projects. It is moving beyond dealing only with expressed welfare needs and remedying problems; it also wants to reach out to tackle other potential community needs. 'We are promoting core family values and enhancing our connections with partners to realign service delivery to meet new needs,' said departmental secretary Winnie Lau. In line with this proactive approach, the department has launched many initiatives. To extend its main services for families, for example, it has piloted support for victims of domestic violence. It has also enhanced frontline services such as crisis centres providing immediate help to people in distress and projects offering childcare assistance. Lau said the department had adopted an integrated model to connect different kinds of rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. It has also begun a home improvement project to create better living conditions for the elderly, plus a child development fund to support young people from poor backgrounds. A recruitment drive for assistant social work officers is expected to take place next month to fill more than 20 vacancies. The department implements the policies developed by the Labour and Welfare Bureau. It is responsible for planning and providing a broad range of welfare services. These include the provision of social security and support for the elderly and families, plus rehabilitation and medical services. The department also works to foster the wider development of the community and is responsible for administering services run by nongovernmental organisations. The department has about 5,000 staff, of which about 1,500 are social work officers, one of the department's core grades. The grade consists of seven ranks. Lau said that, as the department covered a wide range of areas, officers' work was diverse and full of challenges. 'Frontline social workers provide services including counselling and crisis intervention to those in need,' she said. 'Officers in the social work officer grade also serve as medical social workers in hospitals and clinics, and some help offenders become responsible citizens.' She said that some officers also assisted in legal issues that required them to exercise extra care and prudence. For example, they might be asked to produce court reports or perform supervision duties in relation to protection cases or victims of domestic violence. As officers' careers progress, they are given the responsibility of formulating and implementing strategies for tackling social welfare issues. They have to plan services and manage those already in place. Employees are also encouraged to experience different aspects of social work. 'To enrich their job knowledge and enhance their vision for service development, officers are rotated among service areas regularly,' Lau said. To join the department at assistant social work officer level, it is necessary to be a registered social worker under the Social Workers Registration Ordinance and have a degree in social work. People in their final years of these courses can also apply. Employees also need to meet the required level of language proficiency. 'We look for individuals with good knowledge and professional expertise in social work,' Lau said. 'They also need effective collaboration and communication skills and strong analytical capability and judgment. They should also be highly sensitive towards the needs and concerns of customers and enthusiastic about social welfare services in the community.' Apart from individual coaching and clinical supervision arranged by supervisors, newly recruited officers also attend orientation programmes. 'Induction courses are tailored for officers based on the nature of their postings,' Lau said. She said this training continued throughout employees' careers. The department offers in-service programmes for a diverse range of skills, including language, information technology, work-life balance and management. The department encourages staff to attend local and overseas conferences, workshops and seminars. 'The department also provides courses on specialised areas, including domestic violence, marital counselling and child protection,' Lau said. 'They also receive management training when they move up the career ladder.'