Social Services and Academia

Apr 15, 2006

The Bottom Line Perhaps science might like to look for the originator of the thought

The role of social services is to assist people to improve their lot in life.

This improvement may be facilitated through financial, spiritual, attitudinal, linguistic, legal, mental health, physical health and education just to name some. In many cases several of these aspects will be major players contributing to that individual’s current state of mind.

In an attempt to achieve that end the wider community, through its representatives “The Government”, has set up a multitude of services each one claiming to specialise in a particular area of expertise. Typically they employ a veritable army of social workers, family support workers, community support workers, client support workers and many other role names but the difference between these roles is very grey in the practical application. About the only meaningful distinction is that some of these roles have a statutory requirement, while most do not. Statutory requirements simply mean that an individual is bound by a specific law or is subject to a direction of a specific law usually by a Judge. Included are the statutory requirements of children as Guardians of the Minister, Mandatory notifications of child abuse and legislated minimum payments for people suffering some form of disadvantage.

While statutory requirements are very important to ensure at least a basic level of service, often they are highly restrictive because those applying the statutory requirements only have a mandate to continue for as long as those requirements are imposed. This is often an impediment as some are self fulfilled long before the statute expires while others need longer.

The status of social services generally varies widely between countries and ranges from simply appalling to highly advanced – but only highly advanced by comparison.

In Australia a very significant amount of money is dedicated to the social services. This is a bland meaningless statement that needs to be tested – that is, put into context;
Australia has an economy fast approaching an annual gross domestic product of a trillion dollars (one thousand thousand million dollars). About a quarter of that is spent on social services. That means about $12,500 per year, or $240 per week on average for every man, woman and child. At any given moment well over half the population is not in need and does not receive any of that money so the “real” figure is in excess of $500 per week – and these figures are very conservative.

The basics of life are food and shelter. In Australia food costs $50- per week for someone of average adult size. Shelter is a little more complicated but we know the average cost of a house is around $270,000, a unit around $180,000 and rentals range from $120 per week with the average cost of a reasonable dwelling around $220- per week. However dwellings are generally shared so the “unit cost” is halved, quartered etc. For those who choose to live alone this is eminently achievable by simply renting at the lower end of the continuum – made all the easier by not needing substantial premises for one person.

Therefore in the most developed countries money is not a barrier to health, education, intellectual or physical disability, escape from domestic violence, housing, food, protection from fear and access to legal and other aid.

So what’s the problem? There isn’t one – certainly not where money is concerned.

However a discussion amongst those working in social services will generally paint a very different picture. Why?

The reasons are many but essentially they are borne of misunderstanding, distrust and a misguided attempt to promote a one size fits all approach.

Let us examine each of these aspects in turn;

Misunderstanding –
We can logically expect social services workers – who spend their working lives surrounded by dysfunction – to at least occasionally;
A. forget that everything costs something
B. to not always be adept at micro and macro economics
C. to sometimes become embroiled in the problems of their clients
D. to sometimes confuse fair with reasonable
E. to sometimes become rescuers rather than facilitators
F. to sometimes join in the blame game – its not me! It’s not fair!

These workers are human so in no way is this criticism. Management is generally well aware and provides training to assist these workers cope.

We can logically expect social services workers and their managers to distrust governments to continue to provide the necessary supports. This leads to an adversarial contest for funding and once attained those managers will make sure the budget is fully expended – even if that means replacing equipment that really doesn’t need replacing etc. Management is pilloried for being under or overspent – this is hardly a desirable situation.

Once size fits all –
Over recent decades academia has had a veritable “field day” explaining, or attempting to explain, human behaviour. Of itself that is an honourable activity. However the vast majority of research is based in science and therefore has to be proved in the double blind control context. In “simple” mathematics, physics and chemistry there is a strong argument that that approach is justifiable.

But what about in humans?

To be fair academia almost inevitably prefaces its findings on what we now know – but what we now know is effect driven, rather than cause. In science beliefs are out, knowings are in! This is despite the fact that most studies recognise that not everything is known.

Brain studies over recent decades illustrate this point. The thousands of studies relate to, and document in a clinical scientific fashion, the effects on the brain of certain stimuli. Added into that melting pot are almost inevitably genetics. Therefore what we have is an increasing knowledge of brain activity in response to stimuli and to some extent pre-programming. But this assumes the brain is the centre of the universe – that the brain we have is who and what we are.

Cognisant of this scientific premise, is it any wonder many people fail to behave in accordance with the paradigm.

Philosophy anyone?

Essentially philosophy is ignored in pure science and yet it literally sits side by side in campuses across the planet with its scientific protagonists.

Philosophy recognises, and attempts to prove, that we are more than our bodies – and our body includes our brain. It does not assume that thinking occurs in the brain – rather that the brain is simply the tool to put that thought in action.

Is this not logical and does it not explain why generally scientific paradigm’s almost routinely fail to explain those humans who behave outside the scientific context.

The science of knowing, exploring and discovering brain interaction and function is incredibly important.

That said, perhaps science might like to look for the originator of the thought.

People often say “I was thinking to myself” – that’s a clue.

Your humble writer contends that the discovery of, or even opening up the possibility of, the originator of the thought by science will inevitably lead to a break through in human evolution and understanding of at least the magnitude of the discovery of germs.

A hundred or so years ago the proposition that there may be germs was met with scorn. However as soon as there existence was proven a Pandora’s box was opened up leading to the discovery of immune systems, antidotes and a plethora of other scientific discoveries. It also led to the greatest single increase in life expectancy ever recorded.

The challenge for science is to continue its current endeavours and to broaden its horizons.

It’s only a matter of time.

The effects will be profound and no longer will we have;
1. he can’t help it – its in his genes
2. its only natural because when that happens chemical x floods the brain
3. he is a victim of his circumstances – mostly inherited
4. yes he does have a choice but the odds are firmly against.

Instead there will be an acknowledgement of a condition (like germs) and then ways can be found to circumvent that restriction (like antibiotics etc).

What a different world it will be and most of it will be eminently affordable – such as in many third world countries antibiotics are still not affordable to the masses but at least the basics of disease prevention are.

Knowledge is power.

Selective knowledge is disempowering as it tends to provide a ready excuse for dysfunction and in that way holds people back from achieving their true potential. Worse than that, it often reinforces a perception that this is me, this is how I work, this is all there is and therefore I am stuck with it!

I doubt this is the intention of science – just an unintended consequence.

I know the next truly outstanding genius will be the one who joins these dots!

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