Families' commitment, courage to become self-reliant critical

Dr Ng Kok Hoe argued that my commentary (Helping families find hope and courage to change; June 23) presented "an incomplete picture of the realities of low-income families" and that it "does not fully reflect social workers' interactions with clients and the profession's ethical responsibilities" (Social workers also tackle structural conditions that lead to poverty; June 27).

He said "structural barriers" must be addressed and that social workers "have a responsibility to draw attention to these barriers".

Contrary to what Dr Ng appears to allude to, social workers, including myself, who work with families in real-life situations regularly pay attention to the larger context, such as the structure of the systems and society in Singapore.

We also proactively engage policymakers, agencies and other related groups and individuals on how to work together better and make changes to policies and processes so that families get the help they need in a way that will enable them to become self-reliant and improve their well-being in a sustainable manner.

For example, a practical issue is when the rules and procedures for getting certain help for some families are suboptimal or even stifling, many social workers are able and willing to explain to and explore with the agencies concerned to effect changes.

I had also explained in my commentary why social workers, when assessing needs and helping families to address their problems, sometimes have to ask questions that may be uncomfortable for some, such as their expenditure on cigarettes and cable TV.

The context was that some academics have commented that these questions are demeaning and should not be asked.

Social workers on the ground experience the practicalities and the realities of the ups and downs of families in need. Ultimately, social work is about helping to improve the well-being of the clients.

Yes, the circumstances and contextual factors are important. The clients' commitment and courage to become self-reliant are critical.

Sudha Nair (Dr)

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2018, with the headline Families' commitment, courage to become self-reliant critical. Subscribe