Effective state social work service provisions: what we need to do as a country - 2013-07-16

By Mr. Alexis Danikuu Dery
This Article was first published in the April 5, 2013 edition of the Public AGENDA News paper, one of Ghana's most influential Advocacy News Paper.

Social work is a social organization dedicated to the enhancement of the quality of life of humanity, the strengthening of family life, and the control of adverse conditions which retard national collective progress.

In Ghana, as in other parts of the world, social workers perform four major roles:

  1. enhancing the social functioning of individual, families, groups, organizations and communities;
  2. linking client systems with needed resources;
  3. improving the operation of the social service delivery network and;
  4.  promoting  social justice through development of social policy;
Given the nature of their training, social workers are involved in government and non-government organizations including social welfare, the health sector, the schools, the work place, corrections, housing, economics and community development. They work at the individual, group and community levels with all age groups and settings.

Social Work practitioners, Researchers  and Academia, have for a long time,  been  advocating for the establishment of a Ministry of Family and  Social Development in order to  advance  a  more holistic and human - centered approach to state social welfare provision. This suggestion is based on the fact that, Social development is more encompassing and includes social welfare services, protection of vulnerable groups i.e. children, people with disabilities, older persons, the family and gender among others. The announcement therefore, by His Excellency the President of the Republic; of the establishment of a Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection   came as a surprise but which must be embraced by all as of now. By bringing social protection, one of the many functions of the department of social welfare under the ministry of Women, Gender and Social Protection, it is presumed that, the department of social welfare ultimately is being merged and/or come under the direct supervision of the ministry.

But, will bringing the DSW under the new Ministry translate into an effective, efficient and more coordinated state social welfare provisions? Will it improve collaboration with the various different Ministries, Departments and Agencies, providing social interventions such as the  National Health Insurance(NHIS), the  School Feeding Program, Free school uniform and Exercise books as well as  the Ghana Social Opportunity Project(GSOP)| and   address the  overlapping functions that has long been identified? More importantly, will it improve upon the funding and address the precarious human resource needs of the department of social welfare to enable the department at the districts, regional and national levels prosecute their mandate? Will bringing these social protections under the various Ministries under one agency be feasible given the legal and institutional frameworks within which these interventions were designed and being implemented? The above questions and concerns need to be examined critically and holistically in order not to ensure that, this time round, 'we get it right' since this is not the first time that the Department of social welfare, the agency tasked with the mandate of providing professional  state social welfare provisions is being merged or brought under existing Ministries.  Established by a legal instrument   made by the  then Governor on 9th May 1946, the Department of Social Welfare  has come under various Ministries including, Education, Housing, Mobilization and Social Welfare, Labor and Social Welfare, Manpower Development, Youth and Employment and Employment and Social Welfare.  In all these instances, while the identity and mandate of the Department has remained the same, the funding and human resources which are the wheels that propel the department into effective service delivery had not seen any significant improvement thereby, affecting their ability to delivered on their mandate.

Many evaluation reports on state social welfare provisions including taking care of children in conflict and contact with the law, abandoned and/or neglected for example, has noted that officers of the department of social welfare up till today, often have to rely on their own resources just to meet   minimum standards in the discharge of their duties as professional social workers. In residential facilities such as the Remand and Children Homes, the cost of feeding, education, health, and leisure are often borne mostly from donations from the general public. Government funding is hardly released on time; often in arrears of quarters and woefully inadequate to meet the basic operational cost of their service provisions.

While the need for state social welfare intervention will continue to grow, it is important to explore other innovative ways of making professional social work provision available and accessible to those who need them most. With the review and expansion of the NHIS to include more vulnerable segment of the population, it is now more compelling than ever for the scheme to be given the mandate to specifically, employed trained social workers for all the district schemes to professionally collect, analyze and provide thorough background information on the most vulnerable segments of the population who are exempt from paying fees in order to inform policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. After all, what many people do not know is the fact that, the LEAP program was borne out of similar processes initiated by the DSW on Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) and supported by UNICEF on a pilot basis.

Perhaps, what is needed most in positioning the DSW to effectively contribute towards the government "People First" Pillar as part of its 4 thematic areas of national development agenda irrespective of which Ministry it is attached to, is the implementation of the National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) developed by the Department under the then Ministry of Labor, Manpower and Social Welfare which received Cabinet and Parliamentary approval in 2007.

The NSPS outlines clear strategies and bench marks in addressing for example, the growing gap of inequalities, extremely poor individuals, households and communities including those in need of special care but lacking access to basic social care. Out  of the 4 sub-programs under the NSPS, only one, (Livelihood Creation/LEAP)  is currently being implemented  while the other 3 sub-programs; Livelihood Protection, Promotion of equal Opportunities and Social Empowerment that are needed to provide a comprehensiveness and synergy  in the investment in families and individuals whose vulnerability can be effectively harnessed to improve for example, child survival and development and ensure that poverty no longer be an  impediments  to access  basic  social services including education and healthcare, remain untouched.

 If implemented, this framework, in addition to income support under the LEAP program directly to indigents, can contribute towards social cohesion, increase livelihoods opportunities enhancement, and more significantly, propel the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) into a more pro-active agency well positioned to provide professional services particularly to those on the fringes of society.

This is what we need to do as a country since several evaluation reports including those on the GPRS 1&2 and the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (GSGA) has already identified the problems of state social welfare provisions and service delivery to include the lack of funding, inadequate human resource particularly qualified social workers, overlapping of functions as well as ineffective collaboration between the ministries, departments and agencies. These, are the key challenges that we need to fix in our collective search of a more equitable Ghana and bridging the ever widening gap between the rich and poor.

The writer is a trained social worker and policy analyst.