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Social Work Modes of Practice – Community Development

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To understand the concept of community development and how it relates to social work practice, firstly the ‘community’ itself, should be defined in the context of social work. Community development is about giving people a fair and just share of available resources. This mode of practice highlights an extension of the skills and methods of social work ‘direct’ practice. Case work and community development, as separate modes of practice, are blended to empower the disadvantaged. In turn, important consideration of this modal link is the underpinnings of social justice in the community. This essay provides an example of problematic issues in the community and the options considered by the social worker in restoring the balance of economic and social empowerment of the community (Briskman, 1999, Pp89-90).

Generally speaking, the ‘community’ is made up individuals sharing a common identity with diverse interests such as class, geographic location, culture, age or gender. Examples of communities are urban or rural townships, environmental groups, parents and citizens groups and cultural communities such as aboriginal communities. The community development worker is concerned with negotiation for the control of resources to enhance living standards of the powerless and disadvantaged in the community. Before strategies can be implemented to access the resources, the community worker must initially evaluate their approach to issues on behalf of and including the community (Briskman, 2000, p89, Kenny, 1994, p1).

The community worker, when deciding an approach to the issues, primarily uses one of the following four roles. Firstly, working together with the group to help identify common needs of the people in the group and ways of overcoming these problems. Secondly, acting as a mediator to help resolve conflict within the group and alternatively, between the group and other organisations. Thirdly, representing the group as a supporting advocate in both formal and informal settings, and fourth, acting on behalf of the group, totally committed to agreed goals and concerned primarily with redress of grievance, policy changes and establishment of a service as a specific goal. Sometimes these roles are blended to suit individual problems requiring different approaches (Briskman, 2000, p93).

An example of a problematic issue in the community was in The Standard newspaper recently. At least 35 jobs will be lost when the Bonlac Foods factory closes in the Camperdown Township on June 30th this year. An excerpt of this article states, “The closure announcement has sent shock waves through the Camperdown community with fears that the loss of permanent jobs and potentially dozens more seasonal positions will economically devastate the town. It follows the closure of the town’s abattoir and a clothing factory during the 1990s” (The Standard, 2000). This is an example of a rural town in Victoria losing ‘another’ of its large factories. The closure of the factory represents significant economic and structural concern for the community due to the relatively small population living in the town proper compared to the surrounding district. Living in a rural town also highlights the lack of employment options available to the 35 workers after being made redundant from a factory the size of Bonlac (The Standard, 2000, Pp 1-3).

To alleviate the problems created by the closure of Bonlac in Camperdown, the community worker needs to develop a specialised approach in undertaking an intervention strategy. There is a decision to be made as to the role played by the community worker. For example, working with the whole of Camperdown community to alleviate the problems created by the loss of the factory, working specifically with the 35 workers to help satisfy their needs or a dual role combining both areas of issue. To illustrate the position of a community development worker in the Bonlac closure, the issue of the group of 35 retrenched workers being made redundant will be addressed.

The perceived needs of the group should be established by calling a meeting with the 35 workers. This gives the Bonlac employees the opportunity to share similar concerns and discuss problems, increase social networks and reduce the feeling of isolation. A meeting with the group also gives the community worker the chance to listen to what the people are saying and discover the real needs so they can be acted upon. After such a meeting the community worker would evaluate the necessity for individual casework and organise regular contact with prominent local businesspersons, Centrelink staff and employment agencies before the factory closes to enhance the process and minimise disruption. The emphasis at this stage is on providing information to the Bonlac workers to promote self-help (Briskman, 1999, p98; O’Connor,Wilson&Setterlund, 1999, p 118).

In most rural towns, traditional values such as the community pulling together in times of hardship are still common today. The community worker can use these values to advantage by developing skills with the workers to help each other help themselves. In turn, because of the smaller relative size of the rural community, the stable nature of population and the already existing community ties, the group would tend to function better than a group in an urban environment. However, the social worker in a rural community has to use a generalist approach combining both direct practice casework to help people gain their self-control, with the community development mode of helping people as a group to be self-sufficient. The problem not only lies with the imminent redundancy of the workers at the factory, but also the follow-on effect encompassing the families, their living conditions and future employment of the workers. Hence, the dual community development, direct practice role. The needs of the affected community are complex and relate to each individual worker having different circumstances (Briskman, 1999, p99).

The emphasis is on the community worker to plan strategies to help the workers cope with most circumstances that may arise. In planning these strategies, the community worker must understand that culturally, Camperdown is primarily in the lower socioeconomic group. This was created mostly from the restructuring, privatisation of council labour, and the closure of the abattoir. A significant part of the population also has close family roots in Camperdown and due to the restructuring of industry in this town, places critical economic constraints on retrenched workers that would prevent or curtail the chance of relocation. Another important factor is that these factories have a tendency towards employing women and in a lot of cases are married with children. The implications of a predominantly female workforce in a lower socio-economic environment being made redundant is that the male partner in the relationship dominates the decision making, causing relocation conflict and further isolation. However, some of the workers may be forced to relocate their families (through hardship) to other towns to find work, others may be close to retirement or might require retraining to meet new employment requirements providing another example of the dual role of the community worker.

Regular contact with the group to work through issues relating to Centrelink and getting a fair share of the available resources is important. The Bonlac workers need representation to organise fair redundancy entitlements and to discuss the issues of retraining to better their chances of entry back into the workforce. This representation could be advocated by union intervention or by the community worker. Another example of moral issue is of the Bonlac company and their recognition of the difficulty in finding employment for the 35 workers in the district, raising the question of fair compensation. In contrast, there must also be recognition that each individual in the affected community will have varied scenarios and need different methods of dealing with their own problems (O’Connor,Wilson&Setterlund, 1999, p112-113).

The group will go through several stages of transition. Initially they were confronted with an announcement that the factory is to close on June 30th this year. The stages that follow include identifying future goals, communicating as a group to overcome issues on a collaborative basis with the social worker, accessing resources such as Centrelink and local business identities input and advocating for fair compensation from the Bonlac company on termination from the company. Further stages approaching the factory closure date require sensitivity to prevent conflict, lessen the impact of stress in losing or changing their jobs and to promote self-esteem in the individuals that have not found employment.

The community worker must identify with the interests of the group to be able to understand how to communicate information to and from the group and the agencies providing resources in the transitional stages. Only collaborative efforts from within the group can the community worker help achieve the desired results. It is important to note that of equal importance are the characteristics of the employees made redundant at the Bonlac factory. The make up of this group is constructed of different gender, age, family structures, living arrangements and different life experience, all of which require fair and just treatment to maintain self respect and self control in their lives. The social justice underpinnings of the group characteristics are just as important as finding new jobs, for without considering one, conflict arises in the other (Kenny, 1994, p7).

Social justice signifies the values of equity and fairness to all in a community. Consequently, when examining a community development worker’s practice there is a need for an active process to empower the ordinary people in overcoming their isolation and disadvantage. Community work, as illustrated in above examples, can complement direct practice social work as a blending of both modes of practice and alternatively, the community worker working from within the community listens to what the people are saying and tries to head off the necessity for case work. The key attribute seems to be that the social worker needs to relate to the people as human beings and consider what we might do if encountering the same difficulties in our own lives. The community worker helps people as a group to gain self-control and eventually to help themselves individually, and in turn, complimenting the direct practice. The challenges that face community social workers are not just to meet the needs of the group but to enhance the social workers sense of ‘neighbourhood’ awareness and to minimise disruption to the community as a whole (Briskman, 1999, p90-91).

List of References

Briskman, Linda 1999, Social work modes of Practice (2): Community development, Introduction to Social work Study Guide, Deakin University, Geelong.

Kenny, Susan 1994, Developing Communities for the future: Community Development in Australia, Nelson, Melbourne, 1994, pp. 13-21

O’Connor, I; Wilson, J; Setterlund, D; 1999, Social Work & Welfare Practice, 3rd Edition, Ch4-5, Addison Wesley Longman Australia Pty Limited, South Melbourne, Australia.

The Standard, newspaper. April 20th 2000; ‘Bonlac Out- Big blow for Camperdown’, Pp 1-3.

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