THE ROLES AND FUNCTIONS OF SOCIAL WORKERS IN SOCIAL POLICY MAKING PROCESS – THE CASE OF HONG KONG
In many modern societies, social working is indispensable mainly because as a profession it goes above and beyond improving human condition and proactive responsiveness to chronic problems and incremental changes. Though Hong Kong possess high reverence for self-reliance and that tradition dictates that familial and societal problems are better resolved closed doors, nonetheless, the role of social workers was not undermined in the process as they can extend they professional practices in social policy making process as the profession is committed to and upheld the pursuit of social justice, quality of life and sustainable development. Today, even the Hong Kong government recognises the far-reaching participation of social workers the reason it provides infrastructures, facilities and resources that will enable them to maximise their contribution in setting policy directions. Evidently, the HK government is committed in nurturing the professionalism in social work as they believe that HK people deserve quality welfare services while also recognising their rightful expectation of highly-skilled, highly-competent social workers that provide quality care. However, there are also oppositions to this aspect as to what extent the government is cultivating a culture of shared information from the side of the social workers.
Social policy making issues in Hong Kong: implications for social workers
Unarguably, the formulation and implementation of social policies impose unique problems in three stages of the policy process as an article in Asian Journal of Public Administration. Assumingly, these policies are to be in equivocal success especially because it lacks support from the people and oppose the eventual implementation. Second is on the distribution of resources and the authoritative decisions regarding specific programmes per se. Activities are often performed for the purpose of securing internal bureaucratic objectives instead of promoting societal goals which are determined during the formulation process. As such, equally praiseworthy programmes are being starved of funding as the expense of communal facilities that may benefit a large number of people. Third is central on the fact that the implementation and evaluation of social policies posit structural problems for the government. Social policy implementation requires a great deal of synergy between government units as it primarily aimed at holistic improvement of the general well-being of the people. Also, at the policy implementation level requires a significant extent of governmental intervention that may either jeopradised the deliverability of the policy or catalysed the process.
All these problems are present at all stages of policy-making process in Hong Kong. The complicatedness of social policy formulation embeds on the fact that HK government still experiences uncertainty over its role and the recency of its involvement in social policy frameworks. Policy formulation is also said to be aggravated by indecisive cultural context as it prides itself on hard work, individual economic effort and material success which generally distinguish the high resentment on social welfare. Preference over virtues of self-helping instead of dependence on state by and large complicates the determination of social policy goals. Nonetheless, the government is committed on developing major social service areas such as education, housing, health and social welfare but was argued to be very limiting as it leaves the major work to the voluntary agencies. The challenge though is on the future of the society as a while and/or by the bureaucratic responsiveness to changing societal values and nit just mere crisis management. For these agencies, the involvement of the government in terms of social policy-making shall transcend greater responsiveness and accountability in the territory. The major challenge for social workers is on equating social problems with political problems and on skewing utilization of scarce social policy resources as well as the tendency to be wary of the comprehensive plan and to favor ad hoc, temporary solutions. Put simply, HK government is reactive rather than proactive proven by the conservative approach to social policy making.
One essayists noted that ‘a behavioristic or style of living standard of poverty in the region gives a very different reading from an absolute or relative standard of poverty’ and that dire poverty in existence is being ineffectually heeded based on public assistance schemes. In education, the problem is almost the same as the government fails to balance equity and efficiency, conformity and individual needs as well as of achieving legitimacy for government policy outputs, a common pitfall of unsound allocation of funding for priority areas. What is needed now are subtle adjustments to combat these political-driven agendum when it comes to formulating social policies albeit the main drawback that direct on the absence of sophisticated manpower planning for social workers. HK government decisions in reality have lowered the professional competence standards for social workers affecting their morale and career and the quality of service they provide and therefore impede the role of the social workers in social policy making endeavors. Notable is that social workers perform tasks in connection with what the policy says as social policies are used as a tool to create change.
The roles and functions
From a personal standpoint, I believe that as a social worker being acquainted with the complexities and range of the different approaches and traditions is a must. As policy is both product and outcomes, it is only righteous to uphold the ethical formulations of such. Since also we are concern on promoting the holistic being of the people of Hong Kong it is necessary that we move into a point of reference which promotes increasing utilisatioin of social problem approaches and thus increasing the activities through adequate funding from the government to carry out the functions that the policy itself shall outline. We are taking the role of mediating between the people and the government and voicing their concerns and build and act upon such. In terms of participation in the social policy making process, us social workers shall represent well our service-oriented philosophy to which urgent needs must be prioritised in deliberation. It also our duty to create reasonably permissive atmosphere during deliberations so that the equal level of time for a specific social problem should be guarded.
And since there are political dimensions to everything that a social worker does, the idea would be to lessen such and think of ways to put sustainable development at the center of social policies. Nonetheless, there are many ways that the social workers may influence the national social policies it’s just that us Hong Kong-based social workers and even students are too rigid to participate. In shaping the policies, we have different routes of being involved. My responsibility then is to contribute inputs and insights which could support proposing, implementing or even developing and promulgating social policies that affect the well being of the people. As social worker too, I could carry out social policy mandates by involving ourselves in social action organisations and political campaigns while I could also write and speak to legislators and to administrators to support policies that generally advance the standard of living of Chinese in the region. I could also function as supporter of social policies by being active in our professional organisations or by simply carrying out the policies in collective manner.
The major premises is that as a social worker, I will facilitate informed public participation in shaping public policies and institutions; engage in social and political action geared toward gaining equal accession to opportunities which help all the HK residents to meet their basic needs and develop fully in key areas such as employment and health; advocate for legislative and policy changes though it may challenge the status quo to improve social conditions and to promote social justice; act to expand the choices of the people with policy emphasis on vulnerable, oppressed, exploited and disadvantaged groups of the society; promote conditions that will in turn promote respect for cultural and social diversity; and work to eliminate discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, sex, race, sexual orientation, religion, age, marital status, political beliefs and physical or mental disabilities.
Implications for social work practice
The implication is that social workers must always keep updated on the nature and the changes on many areas that they deal with in every aspect of their profession especially the continuous learning on policies so as to effectively represent the people before any government not only then they are students but also into the real world where they are consistently applying and adhering to social policies. And that regardless of the specific roles, as social workers, we may practice to provide service at all times and at all costs especially when it comes to disclosing the most necessary details before government officials though it is expected that they might retract or obstruct such actions. Another implication is on the area of consultation with the economic or protective service users whereby it is the social workers duty to emphatically listen to them, collate their concerns and transform such into sets of priority areas to present during social policy making process. This is comprehensive documentation that may change the bases of the lives of the people, prevent future problems and to continue to provide them welfare that they most need through intensifying changes in policies and overseeing the process.
Other implications are on the changes that would be experienced on social policy making with aspects of the continuum of care. As social workers, we are well aware that the needs and requirements of the people changes as time go by making an even greater scope of social worker intervention. The idea is on the fact that social workers role changes with that of the changes experienced by the people in general and so the functions and responsibilities must be changed as well with respect to what the social policies are dictating them. As professional too, social workers has ethical obligations to encompass and disclose all the necessary details and concerns regarding the people and thus the contribution of the worker is on verbatim transferring upon knowing about and service users to get familiar with the policies that outlines their rights and the necessary services intended fro them whenever the need arises.