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How Social Workers can be Misconstrued as Volunteers

Discuss about the Social Work for Volunteering.

Volunteers change people’s lives by helping them to self-help. Volunteering refers to development of social skills while giving back to community selflessly. This work is similar to what most social workers do in their profession. However, for social workers it is a paid job and volunteering is the part of their profession. Therefore, many people misconstrue social workers as volunteers. On the other hand volunteering is to gain experience while benefitting others without any monetary benefits (Son & Wilson, 2015). There are various benefits associated with volunteering. Social workers engage in volunteering to excel in professional life. The paper discusses how social workers can be misconstrued as volunteers and will propose ways to enhance social work as a profession.

People do not understand the historic relationship between social work and volunteerism. Even before social work was introduced in the society, the importance of volunteerism was realized (Aked, 2015). For functioning democracy, it was vital to have liberty to participate in volunteer movements. The development of volunteer associations and its prosperity has allowed people to survive and have the right to survival. These volunteer associations led to the improvement in the transportation, communication, infrastructure, health care and education (Schech et al., 2015). In addition, it also advocated for fair treatment of women and children. For example, Mother Teresa’s work for children will be recognized in every generation. Son and Wilson (2015) believed that volunteering is an effective option to gain meaningful hands-on experience in the field of social work which is the profession of people. It gives the students a chance to prepare for a real world work. For current social workers volunteering is an efficient opportunity to reinforce their experience. Hence there are more number of social workers who are participating in the volunteering work. Therefore, it is justified for people to misconstrue social workers as volunteers.

Volunteerism is the basis of existence of the social work professionals (Pollard, 2012). Activities or initiatives taken by the social workers are successful because of volunteerism. Since, volunteers established restoration services, supportive associations, child welfare organizations, children’s home’s day care and several mental health services and movements it is justified to misinterpret social workers and volunteers. In short it can be said that volunteerism is the origin of social work (Mundle & Buck, 2012). In every discipline of practice, the volunteers have paved the way for social work. The rich literature available on social welfare and social care services acknowledged volunteerism as the basis of the social work profession. Further, the function of volunteers and its connection with the surfacing of the career of the social work is evident from the associations such as- “SHINE Singapore Charity Project”, Singapore Kindness movement”. Volunteers work for people who are struggling with crisis or manic-depressive illness, adults, children animal, and others staying remotely from home. They thus gain insights into people’s lives similar to social workers.

Propose Ways to Enhance Social Work as a Profession


However, volunteers work in range of places when compared to social workers. The later has limited range of opportunities. Volunteers has opportunities in sport teams, libraries, senior centre, community theatres, local animal shelters, wildlife centers, museums, monuments, service organizations such as Rotary clubs, or Lions clubs, after school programs, places of worships, historical restorations. Moreover, the volunteers do not have specified time for their work. They can work as long as they feel comfortable (Pollard, 2012). On the other hand, social workers have specified working hours such as those working in aged care centers or   rehabilitation centers. Moreover, they cannot switch their domain or jobs as frequently as volunteers can. Volunteers can always render the service delivered by a social worker however; the later cannot invest time as volunteer. Social workers mostly deliver systematic and professional services. On the other hand, volunteers provide a hidden safety net (Mundle et al., 2012). Hence, public who are not aware of these differences misconstrue social workers as volunteers.

According to Son and Wilson, (2015) in a typical social worker the power dynamic inherent are not so prominent. The relationship they built with the service users are not strong enough. Aked (2015), argued that the volunteering is the effective way to enable better personal relationships with the service users. For instance, there are social workers who act as befriender for a children’s charity group and have gained priceless transferable skills. It was not merely interacting with children. It also includes issues around confidentiality, regular communication and engagement with the families and using different communication styles in regards to different developmental stage and the age of the child (Schech et al., 2015). To hone these skills there is a need for social worker to participate in volunteering. Therefore, social workers were misconstrued as volunteers. 


Singapore has many charity organizations and these mainly initiate volunteer movement however, it has become important precursor to the social work. The mission of many of these charity movements is to help poor people. These movements consist of volunteers who help families help in meeting their spiritual, economic and physical needs (Gazley et al., 2013). The study executed by Dubois and Miley (2013) showed that volunteering is the rewarding experience and also helps in building reputation of the young and naïve social workers. Since volunteering is the effective way to meet new people and understand their lived experiences, many social workers invest time in volunteering to develop new skills to solve their daily problem (Freeman, 2016). According to Muir et al., (2010) several social workers are participating in volunteering despite their commitments to people and busy schedule.  The reason for this added benefits of volunteering include reducing stress, anxiety, mental stimulation, combat depression, and to have a sense of purpose in life. They can also advance in career as they tend to develop skills such as problem solving, task management, conflict management, project planning and organization. Therefore, social worker can stretch their wings to other career or domain once they hone these skills in volunteering (Bulmer 2015).  In addition, volunteering does not involve a long-term commitment. American research showed that the percentage of being happy increases with time spent in volunteering (Glasby et al., 2013). The research also showed that people working as volunteer tend to be physically healthy and exhibit high self-confidence. Therefore, there are misconstrued as volunteers. 

It is a misconception that volunteering only enhances a basic skill because it is mostly unpaid. Volunteering also includes extensive training (Whittaker & Holland-Smith, 2016). For example, one can become crisis counselor while he or she is volunteering for a woman who is a victim of domestic violence. Many such volunteers have turned to social working after mastering the skills of communication and advocating. Social workers who have previously worked as volunteers are creative, motivated, and have a clear vision that is carried into their personal and professional life (Haynes, 2012).  Hence, social workers working as crisis counselors are also misinterpreted as volunteers.

In Social work, Jane Adams was recognized as “one of the matriarchs of the profession” (Thyer & Myers, 2010). Currently, the practice of social work is different from what she has envisioned before. Social workers work in diverse setting such as hospitals, drug and alcohol treatment centers, hospices, mental health centers. Therefore, the work practice has narrowed. In the last three to four decades, it was found that most of the practitioners in the social workers do not engage in partnership with people using their skills, values, knowledge to address the systemic social problems of the people (Gazley et al., 2013). In fact, methods that involve working with volunteers do not exist anymore. Therefore, less people are working towards the stated mission “Meeting the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty” (Haynes, 2012). It is possible to enhance social work as profession by several ways, which are discussed in subsequent sections.

According to Dubois and Miley, (2013) increasing the number of posts in the field of social work other than regulation and advocacy can encourage more people to uptake social work as profession. In addition increasing the number of colleges offering both bachelor and master degree in social work would fulfill the ambition of students interested in social work. These programs must be able to train the students to improve the developmental capabilities of people. They must be trained to improve the problem solving skills, realize goals and accomplish essential life tasks. Haynes et al., (2012) argued that the true definition of the social work has to be amplified at the national and the regional levels. The true definition of social work is- “a practice–based profession that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of the people” (Cournoyer, 2016). Most educational institutes fail to instill in the mind of the students of social work that their primary sense of duty should be “attitude of service”.

Professional networking helps to strengthen social work career (Gazley et al., 2013). It includes attending face-to-face events such as conferences, responding to social work issues post on social media, connecting to LinkedIn official group, and being in touch with the social work happenings on the popular YouTube Channel. To secure the future of the social work it is crucial to advocate for social work (Cournoyer, 2016). Therefore, the non-governmental organizations must promote their social work and the clients and communities they serve. Every country must take initiative a collaborative effort comprised of leading social work organizations. The initiative may include other stakeholders committed to strengthen social work profession through federal and state investment pertaining to retention, training and recruitment (Huybrechts, Mertens & Rijpens, 2014).

Schech et al., (2015) suggested that the volunteering is an effective way to enhance social work a profession. Social work agencies must provide more opportunities for its staff to volunteer. Volunteering not only expands the social work network but also enhance skills. Volunteering can also be  gateway to connect with popular service organizations such as American Red Cross, The Samaritan’s Purse and many others.  These organizations are dependent on the volunteers to run their food banks, staff thrift stores, tutor children or prepare meals for homeless. Moreover, these organizations have several networking possibilities. Hence, volunteering is vital to enhance the profession of social work.

Social workers face several challenges when dealing with diverse populations and trying to keep up with evidence based methods which leads to job burnout and fatigue (Thomas and Choi, 2014). Therefore, the proposed method for the service organizations is to emphasize on “forward thinking” and “interdisciplinary approach” to social work practice. It is necessary to omit the thinking “social work means individual clinician working with individual client” (Cournoyer, 2016). There is need of applying out-of-the box tactics to interface with the clients and systems. The rationale for this proposed method is the many other forms of practice that is incorporated in social work. It is not an exclusive discipline. Hence, the field can be taken forward if people can transform how present social work practice is viewed and conducted.

Conclusion

Social work involves tremendous responsibility. The practioners in this field have power over the well-being and lives of others. Volunteerism is the basis of this profession and hence social workers are misconstrued as volunteers. The paper has discussed how social workers are misconstrued as volunteers and various reasons for this behavior. The paper has proposed ways by which social work can be enhanced as profession. It can be concluded from the above discussion that social work requires the practioner to have broad knowledge on wide range of human behavioral areas. To enhance social work as profession an individual need to understand the interaction between various social, cultural and economic elements. It requires the practioners to have a high degree of ethical integrity. It is evident from the discussion that there is a need to redefine the practice of social work in order to respond to new challenges emerging in the profession.

References

Aked, J. (2015). What's Different about How Volunteers Work? Relationship Building for Wellbeing and Change. IDS Bulletin, 46(5), 29-42.

Bulmer, M. (2015). The Social Basis of Community Care (Routledge Revivals). Routledge.

Cournoyer, B. R. (2016). The social work skills workbook. Cengage Learning.

Dubois, B. L., & Miley, K. K. (2013). Social work: An empowering profession. Pearson Higher Ed.

Freeman, K. R. (2016). Exploring the Lived Experiences of Supervising Child Protection Social Workers.

Gazley, B., Bennett, T. A., & Littlepage, L. (2013). Achieving the partnership principle in experiential learning: The nonprofit perspective. Journal of Public Affairs Education, 559-579.

Gazley, B., Bennett, T. A., & Littlepage, L. (2013). Achieving the partnership principle in experiential learning: The nonprofit perspective. Journal of Public Affairs Education, 559-579.

Glasby, J., Miller, R., & Lynch, J. (2013). ‘Turning the welfare state upside down?’Developing a new adult social care offer. Health Services Management.

Haynes, K. S. (2012). Empowering and. The SAGE Handbook of Social Work, 264.

Huybrechts, B., Mertens, S., & Rijpens, J. (2014). Explaining stakeholder involvement in social enterprise governance through resources and legitimacy. Social Enterprise and the Third Sector: Changing European Landscapes in a Comparative Perspective. New York: Routledge, 157-175.

Muir, K., Fisher, K. R., Abello, D., & Dadich, A. (2010). ‘I didn't like just sittin’around all day’: Facilitating Social and Community Participation Among People with Mental Illness and High Levels of Psychiatric Disability. Journal of Social Policy, 39(03), 375-391.

Mundle, C., Naylor, C., & Buck, D. (2012). Volunteering in health and care in England. A summary of key literature. London: The King's Fund.

Pollard, N. (2012). Voices talk, hands write. Groupwork, 17(2), 51-73.

Schech, S., Mundkur, A., Skelton, T., & Kothari, U. (2015). New spaces of development partnership: Rethinking international volunteering. Progress in Development Studies, 15(4), 358-370.

Son, J., & Wilson, J. (2015, December). The Psycho?Social Processes Linking Income and Volunteering: Chronic Financial Strain and Well?Being. In Sociological Forum (Vol. 30, No. 4, pp. 1059-1081).

Thomas, M., Kohli, V., & Choi, J. (2014). Correlates of job burnout among human services workers: Implications for workforce retention. J. Soc. & Soc. Welfare, 41, 69.

Thyer, B. A., & Myers, L. L. (2010). Behavioral theory is one of the oldest and most extensive theories applied to clinical social work. Almost 80 years ago, the distinguished social work educator Virginia Robinson (1930) provided the following observations in this regard. Theory & Practice in Clinical Social Work, 21.

Whittaker, C. G., & Holland-Smith, D. (2016). Exposing the dark side, an exploration of the influence social capital has upon parental sports volunteers. Sport, education and society, 21(3), 356-373.

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