Unresolved Questions of a Young Social Worker

Every now and then, I would be like doubting Thomas and question the value of the profession I had chosen and hold dear. The social worker identity runs deep in me and so these doubting moments are often uncomfortable. This is compounded by the reality that even as I seek to perceive (noeo) these issues, there is so much beyond an individual’s control. Sometimes as social workers reminding others about their locus of control, we also need to remind ourselves that we are certainly not demi-gods, but humble and weak human beings also in need of healing in our inner lives and environments.

Because of this, I strongly believe that we who seek to be changemakers (in whatever sphere of influence) need to have intentional pause moments to return to the foundation where we started on the journey. What was our personal vision that led us on? How has it changed and taken shape with more experiences? I guess it is this personal vision that acts as a compass directing the way, and research is but one complementing tool to help focus on what specific steps to take.

I say that in the context of social work, but I guess it applies to other fields as well- we start with a personal vision and research is but a tool to achieve it. Anyway, filing some questions with accompanying thoughts here to KIV as I go along. These questions aren’t novel and some ‘answers’ have been found, but here goes:

1/ How do we know that civil participation works in effecting social transformation in society?

We can certainly understand and ‘measure’ the impact of civil participation at the individual and group level. What is harder is to qualify and quantify the impact (if any) of civil particpation at the community and societal level. For one, the definition of community is different across individuals, especially in urbanised societies where we hardly think of ourselves as living in community with one another. This question applies not just to participation directed explicitly to influencing policies and institutional/societal structures, but participation with the goal of influencing the social milieu. For example, some of the interviewees in my ongoing research have shared their vision of changing the mindsets of Singaporeans and encouraging them to use their privilege for good. Perhaps this is easier to research on in that program evaluation can be done for volunteers involved in that specific initiative, especially to understand qualitatively how being part of that initiative has impacted them. Volunteer development research is really important, now that I write this. For participation directed to changing the social status quo, it is indeed harder- how do we know that a certain advocacy strategy has worked to shift the policy decisionmaking, and why? Action research appears to be one important way to do that. But how do we understand a social structure like the government, which comprises of not just human decisionmakers and civil servants, but ‘invisible’ influences like organizational culture etc?

2/ What makes a good case management plan? How do we know that this way of engaging stakeholders in the case management for a client is good?

I’m looking at this from the ecological systems view. Can there be an underlying best practice of working with stakeholders in case management which can be codified and ‘taught’ to young social workers? Each client has their unique circumstance, which calls for different stakeholders to be involved. At the same time, even with the same stakeholder that needs to be involved, say HDB or a particular school, it may call for a different way of handling based on the person that the social worker is working with. They say that social work is an art, and one grows in practice wisdom. I see that to an extent, but I really wonder if social work researchers can be challenged to generate theory for practice that can be relevant for those aspiring social workers who need more concrete handles of how things work.

Writing these has been a kind of intentional pause moment for me, amidst the uncertainty and dragginess of my PhD. Knowing there are questions unresolved out there, and knowing that they are important questions, spurs me on to chip away at the task of understanding a tiny part of our world. Thanks for reading πŸ˜€

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