Another Week Beyond – 2310

Beyond Another Week Beyond, Community

Dear friends,

6 months ago, a father who was well-regarded in his neighbourhood as a friendly and caring person contacted us. He was distraught that his children aged 15, 13 and 10 would be placed in care if he could not convince the authorities that he was able to manage his household. His home was in a mess and deemed unhygienic.

As a single parent and a wheelchair user, cleaning up the home was a challenge even with the help of his children. When we learnt of his situation, we set out to organise a clean-up, but the children were removed before we could act. When that happened, members of the man’s extended family acted swiftly, and the home was spick and span. 

Nevertheless, a clean home did not change the assessment that the man could not care for his children adequately. The children remained in care and the man was heart-broken. A month later, he suffered a stroke and after he was discharged from hospital, life centred around visits from his children. Having a fulfilling relationship with his children was what he cared about.

On Wednesday, I noticed that a couple of colleagues were constantly on the phone trying to reach different people. One of them then rushed out and I learnt that she was picking up one of the man’s children from her place of care. The man was critically ill in hospital and my colleagues were doing their best to get his children to bid him farewell. They failed, and we pray that the children will still be able to grieve well and make peace with their situation.

Social services are usually organised to resolve a specific challenge and related challenges that arise from that targeted intervention are managed by another service designed for that. The logic is that specialisation enhances the quality of care, and any downside can be managed by inter-agency cooperation.  However, delivering a service well does not mean that such organised help can respond to what’s important for its service users.

Such is the inherent limitation of institutional support, and on Monday evening, I had the opportunity of surfacing this to a group of working adults aspiring to be accredited as social workers. They were visiting us as part of their training and after a reflective conversation, we   concluded that services are not meant to resolve problems at a societal level. They are designed to alleviate the challenges someone is experiencing and, in the process, strengthen self-agency and develop a partnership toward shared goals. “In such a context, what is the one quality a social worker would need to have?” was a question I posed.

I must admit that I may not have conveyed this question as clearly as how I am writing it now, but I asked clearly, “What is it you care about that brought you on this path to qualify as a social worker?” I did not put push for answers but shared mine. I care about kindness, fairness and a community that stands together with the “least” of its members. In other words, I was drawn to compassion, social justice and solidarity which are basically the foundations of social work.

The one quality that a social worker needs to embody is that of care. Care comes through people and good programmes, services and institutions are simply those that do not impede its people’s ability to do so.  I end this week’s note stating the obvious. We don’t need to be a social worker; care is a quality all of us can embody.

For peace and community,


From caring comes courage. – Lao Tzu