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Don’t stand in the way of evolving social workers

By Sonia Suka

Social Workers are evolving into “care coordinators”, according to the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sport, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. By adding, “coordination then means you need to be able to communicate with all the other stakeholders in our society”, Dr Vivian actually meant that social workers are evolving from being case managers, into being care coordinators.

This evolvement of social workers is good, for as long as social workers are going to work as case managers, their focus will be on containing costs, utilisation management, prior authorisation, welfare context, services that are covered and on promoting coordination and communication across disciplines within the organisation. Case management is about social work in the micro level.

When social workers move from being case managers to care coordinators, they move from the micro to the mezzo level; for care coordination is about facilitating access, quality assurance, problem-solving, psychosocial context, covered as well as non-covered services and more importantly promoting coordination of social support services across different organisations and providers.

But there is yet another level for social workers to evolve into – the macro level. The macro level involves society or communities as a whole. This type of social work practice would include policy forming and advocacy on a national or international scale.

One can only wonder if the government of Singapore will encourage the evolvement of social workers to go from the mezzo level to the macro level.

When most national bodies of social work are members of the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW), Singapore’s very own National Council of Social Services (NCSS), renounced its membership of ICSW not too long ago.

ICSW states in its website that their basic mission is to:

“Promote forms of social and economic development which aim to reduce poverty, hardship and vulnerability throughout the world, especially amongst disadvantaged people. It strives for recognition and protection of fundamental rights to food, shelter, education, health care and security. It believes that these rights are an essential foundation for freedom, justice and peace. It seeks also to advance equality of opportunity, freedom of self-expression and access to human services.”

This mission statement is loaded with quite a bit of ‘macro’ ingredients – rights, advance equality of opportunity and freedom of self expression.

Did NCSS withdraw its membership from ICSW some years ago also because it was not ready to allow social work to develop to a macro level?

Social work can be a thankless career. It is perhaps more a calling than a career. Anyone who has spent any amount of time working in the social services sector is probably familiar with the concept of burnout. Burnout destroys the social workers motivation, work ethics and, most of all, the inner hope, that the work they do makes a difference.

Although raising the salaries of social workers is a move in the right direction, doing so to keep them motivated can only go so far, as extrinsic motivations like higher salaries are only temporary.

The government should not stand in the way for the intrinsic motivation of the social workers to evolve to the macro level. Give them a sense of feeling that they too can make a difference in the national and even international level.


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