Ongoing discourse crucial to social work

It is heartening to read how fellow social workers are driven by a dogged passion to ensure the poor have a chance at social mobility in spite of the odds and complexities (Helping families find hope and courage to change, June 23; Social workers also tackle structural conditions that lead to poverty, by Dr Ng Kok Hoe, June 27).

As social workers, we have served many low-income families. We understand the importance of balancing the need to work with existing formal systems and with the families to bring about change, so that poverty is not passed down to the future generations.

We are concerned about the well-being of these families, and want them to access critical government and community resources.

However, some families choose not to receive support for various reasons.

We help our clients make informed decisions about their lives and respect their self-determination.

If our professional judgment tells us that their decisions may lead to foreseeable detriment, we must be bold to address them.

Over the years, voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) have successfully helped many families navigate government and community agencies.

We have seen the life circumstances of these families improve as they moved from rental or interim flats to more permanent housing, secured stable employment and saw the good academic performance of their children.

We have witnessed how enabling our social support structures and social policies are.

Hence, I am certain that we must not demand a radical overhaul of current systems without critically examining the needs, studying the trade-offs and evaluating the longer-term implications.

The unique position VWOs serve - as a bridge between families and government and community agencies - allows us to constructively engage and offer suggestions towards policy changes.

We build partnerships for more holistic care, strengthen coordination with other stakeholders to prevent duplication and advocate on appropriate platforms to address gaps in the implementation of certain policies.

As social service agencies and social workers, we do not just have a responsibility to provide organic solutions that are owned and driven by the community, but are also held accountable for our actions.

I urge my esteemed fellow social workers to keep this discourse going so that not only will our low-income families benefit, but also our social work practices can continue to be sharpened.

Vincent Ng (Dr)