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Social Work and the Community

During the British colonial era, community development was perceived more as a remedial response to preventing ethnic competition and social problems rather than an aspect of social development per se. Community development then was the establishment of a few community centres that provided a point for residents to meet for social and recreational activities. Community work in Singapore began in earnest in the 1970s with the rapid development of new towns after selfgovernment. The social implications of having a large proportion of the population living in high-rise, high-density neighborhoods include the lack of neighborliness, scarcity of social support within the community, social isolation, and a lack of ownership regarding public space and the environment (Vasoo, 2002).

New directions on community development were initiated through the formation of the People's Association comprising of a network involving both professional paid leadership and socially active community volunteers as grassroot leaders in the management of residents' committees and community centres. Over the years, social workers had been engaged in community development through the People's Association as well as through provision of communitybased social services.

The most recent initiative to encourage community participation in caring for the community is the formation of the Community Development Councils (CDCs). Singapore is divided into five CDCs with the objectives of providing rapid assistance to the needy, building capacity among the people, and connecting the community. The CDC initiates, plans, and manages community programs in its own locality to promote community bonding and well-being. The welfare philosophy of many helping hands is again reflected here. The CDC provides opportunities for the more able and successful in the community to make life better for themselves and their fellow residents. It enables the residents to get involved in their community and develop a sense of care and ownership of the needs of the community they live in. In terms of social work, the portfolio of the CDC is an example of locality development in which, for example, a number of social assistance programs exist to facilitate the social worker in helping service users to mobilize and maximize local and societal resources for meeting social and family needs. Some examples include the COMCARE GROW package where very low-income families are helped in paying for kindergarten fees through the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme (KIFAS). Low-income families who need before and after school care for children aged 7–14 years can be helped under the Student Care Fee Assistance (SCFA) scheme. As part of their preventive and developmental roles, social workers can also assist service users to develop individual and family capacity through the Comcare Self-Reliance package. One example would be the Work Support Scheme in which families with low household income or no working members that demonstrate a willingness to become self-reliant can be supported. Various forms of financial assistance for a limited period are also available to enable recipients find time amidst crisis to develop skills and obtain a suitable job. The Home Ownership Plus Education Scheme (HOPE) is another scheme that encourages young, low-income families to keep their families small so that they can concentrate their resources on bringing up the children and break out of the poverty cycle. The educational grants are in the form of bursaries for the schoolgoing children up to university, as education is perceived to be the main route for upward mobility for such families.

Professional social workers provide the psychosocial and practical support required for the implementation of these programs to ensure that the service users are able to maximize on the intended benefits by accessing and continuing to be motivated to stay in these growth-inducing programs. Social workers do not provide the community resources. Their role is primarily to provide the services needed to family support and encourage the families to fully benefit from the existing community resources to enhance employability and family functioning and to provide feedback to policymakers and resource holders through their work in needs assessment.

 
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