Social work is more than a system or
a process; it is a skill and expertise developed over a long
period of time through training and continuing
professional development, always being built upon, used and refined
(Robinson & Swann, 2017).
Since the early days of its inception
in Singapore, the climate of the social work industry has been one of dynamic
change. In the past 10 years alone, social work has seen a tremendous amount of
growth. Despite this, however, it is still a largely misunderstood industry
with much room for improvement.
and Environmental Development
Despite social work becoming a known
profession in Singapore, the public idea of social workers is still vague. After
all, roles social workers have to take on include not only mediator, but
also broker, teacher, advocate, caseworker, facilitator, organizer, and manager
(Kelly, 2014). It serves to reason then, that more extensive public education
in what social workers do and the roles they offer is necessary in order to
facilitate an understanding of the difficulties they face within the industry.
Parsons, Hernandez & Jorgensen (1988)
states that social work function to solve social problems and resolve conflicts.
Being on the frontline, interacting with the
underprivileged, social workers are usually very aware of the needs within
society and the subsequently corresponding loopholes that cause those needs to
go unmet. These societal issues become a metaphorical ‘thorn in the side’ for
social workers, who are stuck between being without the proper avenues to
affect change and having to deal with the individuals who are directly and
negatively impacted by these loopholes.
In light of the disproportionately
few methods social workers have for advocacy, the question then becomes how can
they effect change to better serve the needs of the society in an efficient and
impactful way? The current channels to affecting a difference through policy
change is a long and tedious one, buried under multitudes of people with
immediate needs. At the same time, there’s very little contact between the
“powers that be” and the frontline.
According to Long (2017), the voice
and face of social work needs to be heard and seen by our government, by our
society and by ourselves. Many times, there is a disconnect between social work
values, legislation and the agencies we work in. As a profession, it would
serve to advocate for better work conditions, more efficient systems for client
care, and be the voice for the populations we serve.
Along the same vein, another possible
improvement can be the streamlining of services and inter-agency communication
nationwide with the aim of ensuring that no one falls ‘between the cracks’
regardless of their situation. Under the current system, for example, a woman,
suffering from depression, whose 15-year-old son and her have suffered physical
violence from her husband, would be ineligible for shelter at almost any
facility. This brings to mind the Many Helping Hands (MHH) approach where many
agencies come together to facilitate those in need. This approach centres on
the understanding that various agencies within the society should share the
responsibility for helping the underprivileged and vulnerable bodies within the
population, and that it is not the state’s sole responsibility to care for those
in need of assistance (Mehta, 2006). Though this has been actively put in place
a few years ago, perhaps the intricacies of communicating within the different
agencies can be provided a platform for updates and division on roles so as to
offer maximum affect without confusing each other or those being assisted.
In addition, Fraser and Galinsky
(2010, p.459) says intervention research is the systemic study of purposive
change strategies. Social work faces important and formidable challenges as it
advances research on intervention effectiveness (Proctor, 2017). In Singapore,
the social work industry still seems to lack a resource base of successful or
effective interventions. Perhaps it would benefit the industry to include this
tool in order to find ways that to achieve these improvements in a
The sector is already under immense pressure, with
social workers facing increasing workloads … Effective reform is needed. (House of
Commons Education Committee, 2016-17). Perhaps a way to
circumvent this would be for clear expectations to be identified regarding an
employer’s responsibility to social workers with clear and explicit conditions
to abide by written in employment law. A clear process where employees can
report unjust working practices can be set up and supported by the government where
it is legally binding and enforceable. This would translate to a culture where
social workers are also not blamed for systemic failings.
Basic to the social work profession is the principle
that our client systems have a right to competent practice (DePanfilis, 2014). Little
needs to be said about the importance of retaining experienced staff. Burn out
is real and rampant in the social work sector and rather than constantly
replenishing the workforce, a proper compensation and reward system should be improved
and installed. This should be done concurrent to increasing skills of new
workers while continuous training is offered to develop abilities and improve
their confidence in this continually evolving industry.
Social workers face challenging and perplexing
experiences on a daily basis and supervision alone is often not enough to cope
with severe emotional and physical events that are par for the course. Perhaps
immediate access to counselling or therapy following particularly distressing
situations should constantly be accessible.
Social Workers have a responsibility as a voice for
the underprivileged but the support for social workers seems vastly lacking.
Social workers have to swim upstream against the opinions of the general
public, at times, their agency’s policies and opinions as well as the sector’s
In summary, the nature of social work and the role to
be played by social workers is increasingly influenced by the many social
changes with impact on the context within it operates (Scottish Executive,
Trends, world views, changing cultural norms can all contribute to how it
evolves. Although social work has come a long way since its inception, there is
much more room for growth and progression.
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Reflection on Learnings
Working on this assignment has given me greater
clarity of the differences between social work and the other helping
professions. Under this metaphorical “umbrella” fall the three sectors, namely
social work, counselling and psychology. Despite the similarities of these job
functions, social work has a clear mission and purpose and is largely different
due to firstly, the generalist approach, secondly, the advocacy aspect and
thirdly, the involvement with the community at large.
What’s about Generalising?
This led me to
further examine the generalist approach of social work, where one is a Jack of
all Trades. Johnson et al. (1980) stated that since social work has lacked a
framework capable of integrating dilemmas such as cause or function, social or
psychological, generic or specific, the generalist approach to practice is seen
as a possible response to this need. Although this approach generally makes it
difficult to truly become the master of one, it allows for the adoption of many
roles that exist for a social worker, such that there is a breadth to work with
in providing assistance, with potentially more support and greater benefits.
Social work addresses some of the most complex and
intractable human and social problems… (Proctor, 2017). The fact is that the
roles and responsibilities of social workers can seem infinite and because of
that, social workers need to have a clearly defined understanding of what they
are doing, who they are doing it for, and what they are trying to achieve by
doing it. This requires strong leadership for the workers and equally strong
advocacy defining the roles of social workers.
Being an Advocate
With regards to advocacy, I now reflect on the innate
power that the title of social worker carries, as well as the responsibilities that
are a necessary by-product of the role. Being “on the ground” and closest to
the local social and political situations, social workers have a great duty to
uncover the issues plaguing the community and to appeal to the greater
population to give them voice.
Social work sees a very active role with the
community, with a large part of it working with multiple partners to garner
support and assistance for clients. Within the Person-In-Environment (PIE) context,
the possibilities for more effective assistance are at once available. The
integration of social work with other bodies has been seen to be particularly
successful as joint working has been valued as effective and beneficial to
clients (Scottish Executive, 2005). In a sense, the
community and partners need the social worker’s position to be able to recruit
agencies into their respective roles in order to come together to assist.
Hardly any other professions would be able to see fit to do so or get the
response that would be so open to social workers.
If change is to be affected, social workers need to be
active in making that change a reality. While Social workers have a
responsibility to assist the individual and affect change in their lives there
is also a responsibility to the larger majority – to inform, educate and,