HOW CAN SOCIAL WORKERS INVOLVE PEOPLE LIVING IN COMMUNITIES TO BE INVOLVED IN THEIR NEEDS AND CIRCUMSTANCES?
The assignment will describe how social workers can engage vulnerable groups in the community in the UK by identifying the key factors required in carrying out a community profile. An analysis of these factors will be assessed giving an example of a community profile. The terms community and community profiling will be explained in order to develop an understanding of how people’s needs and circumstances can be addressed within their communities.
Community is a very broad terminology which can be looked at in so many ways. Crow and Allen (1995) stated that community can be explored as the place, people’s interests and communion. The place is where people have something in common, a geographic location or locality such as a local government area. In terms of interest, people share a common characteristic other than just a place. They are linked together by factors such as religious belief, occupation and ethnicity (Hogett, 1997). Then communion is a sense of attachment to a place, group or idea. Cohen (1985) suggests that community generates people’s sense of belonging. He also advances the importance of boundary (a place on the map) to community cohesion. Lee and Newby (1983) decided that even where people live close together there may be little interests between them, therefore it is the nature of the relationship between people and the social networks of which they are a part that is seen as one of the more significant aspects of community, such as family and friends (Putnam, 2000).
Smith (2001) states that social networks began to be developed as key to social work theory as it could be mapped and measured, describing the major aspects of people’s experiences. Wenger (1995) studied support networks for older people such as the local family dependent support network (close kin often sharing a household or living locally), locally integrated support network (local families, friends and neighbours). Bauman (2001) dashes these notion of community belonging, by stating that the globalisation agenda, rise in technology and government being more market driven has led people to be less keen to work together to make change. In terms of children’s services, child development is powerfully shaped by social capital (civic virtue) where trust, networks, and norms of reciprocity within a child’s family, school, peer group and larger community have far reaching effects on their opportunities and choices, and hence on their behaviour and development (Putnam, 2000).
Community profiling, on the other hand, is a tool for community development. It is also used for a wide range of policy and service delivery processes (Henderson and Thomas (1987). Through the 1990s and into the 21st century, there was a requirement on local authorities to produce community strategies. They were able to harness new technology to produce statistical profiles and maps that identify areas with particular problems as a means of targeting resources more effectively. Community profiling is a tool that aims to help practitioners collect and make use of various data to understand the diversity of stakeholders and issues in the community where they are delivering natural resource management programmes. They recognise the potential of this model in developing communities where there are people in need (Green, 2000). A community profile is defined as:
“A comprehensive description of the needs of a population that is defined, or defines itself, as a community, and the resources that exists within that community, carried out with the active involvement of the community itself, for the purpose of developing an action plan or other means of improving the quality of life of the community.” (Hawtin and Percy-Smith, 2007, p5).
The definition refers to needs and resources, both of which are important for a full and comprehensive understanding of a community. Resources means assets held in the area and put to use for the benefit of the community, such as housing stock, parks, hospitals, clinics, community centres and schools. Important here is potential and underutilised resources. Why are the resources underutilised? And how this can be developed? Also if a building is derelict, who might want to use it? And how will it be developed for use? There are also intangible resources such as the skill people have, and there involvement in volunteering and citizenship. This can also be called social capital.
Hawtin and Percy-Smith (2007) further consider that lives do not neatly fit into boxes prescribed by service or policy boundaries, therefore it will be useful to assess how different aspects of the life of the community are interrelated. For instance, the issues which people typically experience in their daily lives cannot be defined neatly as housing, health or social exclusion problems. Rather, a number of issues will interact in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum parts.
According to Hawtin and Percy Smith (2007) The Audit Commission (2006) encouraged local authorities to construct area profiles placing more emphasis on people and places. It can place a picture of the needs of specific sectors of the community such as older citizens. In carrying out a community profile it is important to understand the community one is working with, who belongs in it, what organisation and services exist, which groups and services are active in the area, what the community needs and wants, who makes the decisions and what resources are available. An important reason for carrying out community profiles is for social workers to be able to know their target community. Community members should participate in all stages of the process, so that indigenous knowledge and local cultures are respected Hawtin et al, 1994).
Communities, community groups and voluntary organisations have initiated community profiling exercises as a means of demonstrating to statutory services that they are not receiving an adequate level of service or that they have needs that are not currently being met, or to demonstrate opposition to initiatives that will directly affect them. Community workers will use profiling exercises of various kinds to get to know their area and help build confidence and capacity within local communities.
Christakopoulou (2001) suggests that a comprehensive community profile will more accurately reflect the reality of people’s lives. It will also need to address some key factors. Firstly, the area as a place to live – quality of physical environment and people’s attitude to living there, the extent to which needs are matched to resources, and how local facilities meet people’s goals and aspirations. Second, the area as a social community – people’s involvement in the social life of the community, the extent to which the community is supportive and formal and informal networks. Third, the area as an economic community; income levels, employment prospects and viability of shops. Fourth, the area as a political community – systems and structures of political representation and local area management, the extent to which local people can influence decisions which affect them, involvement in local decision making and participation in community organisations. Fifth, the area as a personal space – degree of attachment people have to the local area, memories and life experiences of local people. Finally, the area as part of its city: infrastructure, economic and social linkages between the local area and the city or district of which it is a part, and its local identity.
An example of a local area community profile completed by the Health and Social Policy Research Centre (2001) will now be given as an illustration of how social workers can evaluate the community for those in need of support. The community profile is divided into three parts covering economic, social and environmental aspects. The local area has a larger proportion of young people and a smaller proportion of old people compared to other areas of the county. The elderly population of over 80 is expected to double in 2009. In terms of the local economy, it is a major commercial and industrial centre, unemployment is at 1 per cent, but it is generally not a deprived area, however, a large number of children live in low income households. Housing is good with 69 per cent owning their own homes, though others may be less satisfied. However, the cost of housing is very high, and there is a need for more appropriate housing for older and disabled people. Then young people living in hostels need support, advice and access to employment. It is a relatively low crime area, with 65 per cent of offenders under 25, and who are more likely to be victims of crime. There is a higher than average rate of teenage pregnancies, though measures are in place to deal with this. Also, not all carers’ needs are being met, although there is a wide range of facilities for young people.
Green (2000) proposes the community needs profiling approach as a useful tool in addressing service user poverty, whereby practitioners and their agencies can become more aware of the needs of users and the communities in which they live. Armed with this knowledge social workers have the potential to become part of the solution rather than remaining on the margins of the lives of poor people. In terms of poverty it can be used to challenge a changing society where exclusion, social inequality, racism and oppression deny people their citizenship.
This assignment has outlined how social workers can engage vulnerable groups in the community in the UK by identifying the key factors required in carrying out a community profile, which includes the physical environment, quality of local people relationship and the wealth of the community. It was found that social workers must know their target community and be able to place individual service users within it to ensure they participate and have a sense of community belonging. Finally, the community needs a profiling approach, which is a useful tool to allow practitioners and their agencies to become aware of the needs of users and the communities in which they live.
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Christakopoulou, S, Dawson, J and Aikaterini, G (2001) The Community Well being questionnaire: Theoretical context and Initial Assessment of its Reliability and Validity, Social indicators research, Vol. 56, No.3, p319-349
Crow, G and Allen, G (1995) Community Life: An introduction to local social relations, Hemel Hempstead, Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Green, R (2000) Applying a community needs profiling approach to tackling service user poverty, British Journal of Social Work, 30: 287-303
Hawtin, M and Percy-Smith, J (2007) Community profiling: A practical guide: Auditing social needs (2nd edition) Open University Press, Maidenhead
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