'VWO' term better captures essence of social work

Last month, the National Council of Social Service announced a change in name for voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to social service agencies (SSAs) (New name for voluntary welfare organisations - social service agencies, July 13).

The social service sector has come a long way and this name change reflects its professionalisation.

As a social worker, I have learnt that the title of professional social worker has many positive connotations, such as altruism, compassion and concern for justice. However, it also comes at a cost.

Some years ago, a child I was working with told me: "I don't want to be like you when I grow up."

When I asked why, he replied: "Because only children with problems need help from social workers."

Many people prefer not to talk about seeing a social worker or seeking help from social services because of the stigma attached to it.

Although social workers are seen as positive figures, being the client of one is still considered a misfortune.

The term SSA stresses the professional nature of what social workers do and will not help to lessen the stigma of seeking help.

On the other hand, VWO brings to mind a community approach, where people come together to take collective action and generate solutions to problems, instead of just relying on professionals.

At my current organisation, we run a community kitchen called GoodLife! Makan, reaching out to seniors living alone. This community kitchen is far from an SSA that provides free meals; a space like this invites seniors to form relationships with the larger community beyond helping professionals, without undermining their strengths and assets.

The core of social work goes beyond just providing social services. When we talk about VWOs, we acknowledge the independence and initiative of social service providers, and how we must use these to become better guests in the lives of the people we work with.

Titles and names influence the way we perceive things. Let us remember how and where social work first started - in the community.

Kevin See Yao Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2019, with the headline ''VWO' term better captures essence of social work'. Print Edition | Subscribe