Without a doubt, there are many wonderful social services practitioners in South Africa; people who go out of their way and beyond the call of duty to serve those they are meant to serve. With the current situation in our country, child-headed families, poverty, domestic violence and so much more, there is no doubt that social services are- or rather should be- very highly prioritised.
I believe that a social service practitioner, whether psychologist, social worker, anthropologist or anything else within the humanities should focus on the well-being of humans, understanding that human well-being is multi-dimensional. I have found that it is true that, “human well-being is not fixed thing, waiting to be discovered and analysed; rather it is an unfolding series of possibilities- a combination of what really is ‘out there’ and our ability to imagine it otherwise. Its’ dimensions include peers, family, school, development, community, as well as, politics and public administration amongst others. Neither dimension precludes the other and as such a holistic approach is required”.
However, as someone who has been linked to Social Development in a number of ways over the years, I must admit, I have serious concerns about the way things are being done. Many a time, I’ve attended out-reaches conducted by them in various communities across Gauteng and the North-West and in all those times, I was greatly disappointed by the practitioners representing the Department. These experiences have led me to believe that social services are not focused on human well-being. Instead they utilise a problem centred approach, which tends to focus on problems and not on people and is by my standards obsolete. Due to differences in environment, education, culture and religion, this standardised method of working, complete with a blue print approach requires that the dimensions of human well-being be isolated; which according to me defeats the purpose.
A holistic approach, on the other hand, because it takes into consideration all dimensions of human well-being; would focus completely on people and have a bottom-up direction of development. It would be a learning process and would use more of a diverse, complex and plural way of working.
The department really needs a revamp and despite the decades of experience many of these practitioners have; I feel they are failing miserably in their tasks. they present themselves as experts wanting to change people, instead of empowering the people with what they need to create change themselves, thereby simply facilitating the process and thus holding up the values of the person centred approach- values such as self-determination and respect. They present themselves as experts, yet fail to even get to know the language used in a community and the levels of education of the people of that community, which are important guidelines when preparing for an intervention anywhere.
Better training; the creation of measurable out-puts, assessments on impact made are but a few of the suggestions I make for the Department. Should no move for improvement be made, it’ll only be to the detriment of the nation as a whole.