Monday, August 23, 2010

Social services and social work: Is there a difference?

Social services and social work: Is there a difference?
Priscilla Welikala

It is important to identify the difference between social services and Social Work as Social Work is accepted as a Profession in many countries, though it is not so in Sri Lanka yet. However great strides are being taken in the Field of Social Work Education to conduct professional courses from the Diploma, Bachelors and the Masters level by the National Institute of Social Development which has been declared a degree granting Institute.

The question arises as to whether sufficient awareness has been created at higher levels as to the importance of Social Work Education and the contributions professionally trained persons could make in the field of social development. This lack of awareness has prompted many to continue to look at working with people as a social service activity where no training is necessary.

People attending to social service

Social services are as old as civilization. It dates back as far as human beings showed concern for each others welfare and this was associated with the care and welfare of the unfortunate or those who lacked even the basic necessities of life. It is also considered a meritorious act which will ensure to the giver a better life after death. In addition to merit it gives social recognition and publicity and also helps a category of individuals to keep themselves gainfully occupied in a merit giving activity.

There are many volunteers in the field of social services and a very good example is seen in the Boards of Management in almost all the Voluntary residential Children’s Homes. They are dedicated individuals who spend quite sometime in this service and also find the necessary finances and other material needs for the use of children to supplement what they get from the government.

Though volunteerism has been accepted for ages, now the time has come to view this in the light of the Social Work Profession, as any human being is a resource whose potentials must be maximized.

Social Work as a Profession focuses on “releasing human power” in individuals and enabling them to become self reliant and contributing members of society. This view is very different to just helping and meeting material needs as very often done in Social Services as against Social Work which views “Helping people to Help themselves.” This means quite a lot. People must be helped in a professional way to enhance their potentials to be able to help themselves.

In order to do this trained social workers work with people in ways that strengthen their competencies, link them with needed resources and intervene in promoting environmental changes to meet the needs of people. This involves social work education and training which goes to prepare social work professionals in the field of social work. Social work has the attributes of a Profession.

They are (1). Systematic body of knowledge and theory (2). Professional. Authority (3). Sanction of the Community (4). Regulative code of Ethics (5). A Professional sub culture. As explained by T Legatt in an article “Teaching as a Profession” he has explained the characteristics of a Profession thus:

1. Practice is founded upon a base of theoretical, esoteric knowledge

2. The acquisition of knowledge requires a long period of education and socialization

3. Practitioners are motivated by an ideal of altruistic service rather than the pursuit of material and economic gain

4. Careful control is exercised over recruitment, training, certification and standards of practice

5. The colleague group is well organized and has disciplinary powers to enforce on code of ethical practice.

In countries where social work is accepted as a profession, a licence to practice is a requirement. It is new as a Profession and it is more a product of the twentieth century. It is a practice profession guided by its principles and values and gives a prime place to the worth and dignity of all human beings. Social Workers strongly believes that all people have a right to be respected irrespective of class, caste or any ethnic group and this helps in building trust and confidence which leads to a professional relationship. This relationship helps to guide individuals to effect positive changes to become self reliant and lead an acceptable quality of life in society.

This difference in view between Social Services and Social Work must be acknowledged and accepted and action has to be taken to effect a paradigm shift to enable volunteers in the field without social work education and training to look at their services from a different perspective. Policy changes must be effected to give the due place to trained Social workers for other wise the resources utilized in preparing qualified social workers will be wasted. In Sri Lanka Professional training in the field of Social Work started in the 1950s as the Institute of Social Work and now it is time that action is taken to show its impact and the positive contributions it can make towards the development activities of the country.

The Social Work Profession has very close affiliations to the Mahinda Chinthanaya which is an important policy guide for all activities concerning people. It emphasizes the importance of serving people and treating the people with respect and upholding their worth and dignity. The Social Work Profession too upholds these views about people. Unlike other professionals who look at individuals that come within their particular area of expertise, a social worker is expected to look at the totality of the person keeping in mind the person-in- environment concept.

Understanding the multifaceted nature of the problems faced interventions are made at micro, Mezzo and macro levels to enable the individual to understand the situation and enhance ones own capacities to be able to help oneself. A change in the attitudes of people are very necessary to help them to look at themselves in a more positive way and to maximize their own potentials instead of depending on dole outs to maintain themselves. It is important to value the resources within ones reach and in the environment and what contributions they can make to enhance their standard of living. Infra structure development is important but that alone is not sufficient if people fail to take ownership to sustain and maintain them. In this area of working with people the social work Profession can make great contributions and this resource which is available must be maximized.

While understanding the difference between Social Services and Social Work as a Profession, those working as Volunteers offering social services must be given an orientation to social work principles and values to help them to view social services from a different perspective. At the same time it is important to effect positive changes at policy level to give its due place to social work professionals who can make a positive contribution towards people’s development.