The Face of Social Work
By Zia Adler
Jewish Community Services Cape Town with the historical nomenclature of the Cape Town Philanthropic Association and The Jewish Board of Guardians has evolved over the centuries as a chrysalis response to the social service needs of the Jewish community.
From humble beginnings rooted in the 1880’s, the humanitarian response to immigrants arriving at the docks, impecunious, jobless and alone has developed into a powerhouse of social service delivery.
The social work department comprises a team of 5 social workers, one senior and a social work assistant.
This professional cohort of change agents apply themselves daily to a range of sensitive and complex human experiences.
Through a collaborative process, largely clandestine in nature due to the confidential nature of its service, this gently nudges a fragile trajectory that endeavours to counter a downward bio-psychosocial spiral.
A broad range of services are provided, a client system swaddled from cradle to grave, generic in its purpose.
A bundle of interventions manifest encompassing individual counselling/casework, group work, community development, work programs, skills development, personal growth programmes, awareness, early intervention, prevention, statutory services and reintegration.
The team of social workers apply themselves to a range of adverse human experiences which include but are not limited to –
- Homeless persons exposed to the elements while living on the streets alone, alienated and estranged only to find solace and feel satiated with hunger pains at bay.
- Domestic violence victims transforming to heroic survivors where a battered and bruised psyche palls while unhinging the cycle of abuse.
- Child protection services meeting statutory obligations to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Reducing risk and promoting achievement of optimum potential for children.
- Strengthening of families ethereal in their structure, learning healthy modes of relating and communicating.
- Substance use disorders, persons threadbare in the literal gutter, courageous in the grip of a bio-psychosocial disease climbing the rehabilitation mountain towards a sober and functional future, reclaiming esteem and self-worth but emotionally unjudged in the despair of relapse.
- Persons struck, often in the prime of their life by mental illness given access to services and treatments and shelter that prevent and reduce symptoms.
- Suicidal ideation shrinks where self-harm transforms to self-love and active suicides are prevented and lives saved.
- Individuals plucked from struggling economic circumstances placed in a warm safe environment cloaked in safety and security.
- Repaired relationships. Volatile and sensitive encounters restored to harmony and reason.
- 24-hour crisis intervention bears witness to the most profound, intimate and emotionally electric human experiences, the bridge between life and death, psychosis and a slide from reality, suicidality and threat of harm to others.
- In the grip of a stubborn and surprising pandemic, supportive counselling offsets loneliness, isolation, depression, alienation and anxiety diluting emotional and psychosocial fallout of multiple losses of livelihood, predictability, certainty and security.
- The unemployed demoralized and disempowered become rooted in purpose and meaning.
- The elderly and disabled know no flounder placed within self-determined borders safe from exploitation and threat.
- Trauma debriefing, reclaiming agency.
- Providing crucial support to children, adults and families in need, creating healthier families and community.
Due to a variety of factors, social worker and client may not always achieve the desired outcome. There are instances where solutions do not satisfy all ethical concerns, where insight fails, where unrealistic expectations clash with the reality of the constraints in the change process, roles may be misconstrued, personal agency falters, where truth is at odds with perception. Where there is a response to complex and multidimensional issues in an ambiguous process. Here progress may falter or fail where best efforts stumble to realise or effect change.
Social work is an often-misunderstood profession due to this network of entangled variables of laws, ethics, values, norms and perceptions which can serve to chafe the decision-making process which can be complex and challenging.
A Cinderella-like devalued profession commonly perceived as philanthropic volunteerism while social workers are university-educated with Bachelor, Honours, and Masters degrees.
Despite the challenges the menu of transformation can be dramatic and although social workers cannot wave a magic wand at times outcomes are such that they can feel truly magical.