What Is Community Work? Through this essay I will try to create a greater understanding of the term ‘community work’. I will begin with a short summary from two studies which help define the term on a broad basis. I will follow this by an explanation of the various approaches which can be used in community work. I will highlight the importance the community and voluntary sector have in social partnership in Ireland today. I will also discuss how funding, or a lack of it, impacts on essential services. Whether or not volunteers are an essential part of community work.
I will also discuss the possible consequence of losing some of these organisations as a result of cuts in funding. Finally by looking at the work of ‘Community Platform’ I will show how, through a shared vision they hope to create a better Ireland through their work in the community. To understand what community work is it is first necessary to understand the various definitions of community. While this may seem apparent initially, upon closer inspection one will discover that there is no clear consensus.
What we do know is that as Hillery, a sociologist working in the 1950s pointed out, all 94 definitions of community referred to people (Mayo 1994). Varley (1988) defines these more concisely into three categories. ?Communities defined in purely special or geographical term. ?Communities defined as relationships that occur within a specific locality. ?Communities defined as relationships which may occur within or transcend conventional geographical boundaries. Working within these categories community workers seek to empower individuals and groups of people by providing them with the skills they need to effect change in their own communities.
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We will look at detailed examples of this later. I will first explain my understanding of the five main strands or approaches identified by David A Thomas (1993) in his study of community work in the early 1980s: Community Action: this requires people from a community to come together, recognising the problems that their community faces and taking action to reduce these problems. This approach can have a range of benefits. It helps those individuals involved to develop skills and claim ownership of the outcome. An example of this is when residents come together to campaign for speed bumps or lower speed limits in the area.
Community Development: this requires people coming together to develop a range of practices to help improve local conditions, especially for people in disadvantaged situations. It helps people to participate in public decision making and thus achieve greater control of their circumstances. An example of this is when residents turn an area that was once used for anti-social behaviour into a playground for children. This creates a safer environment for local people. Social Planning: this is a process that is carried out through identifying strengths and weaknesses in a community.
This is done by designing and implementing programmes, which help to improve the quality of life in that community. It usually involves the action of a political, legal, or recognized voluntary body. An example of this is when an area is identified as having a very large increase in children. This information is acted on and a new school is built in the area. Community Organisation involves various community or welfare agencies working with or without the involvement of statutory authorities, supporting joint initiatives.
An example of this is when organisations connect through managing, sponsoring and improving the work of various bodies. This may be carried out at a local, regional or national level. Community Care primarily focuses on the area of healthcare for the disabled, the elderly and the very young. It is a model that encourages members of the community to be active participants in helping themselves. In some cases community care may use professionals in conjunction with volunteers. In other cases volunteers may manage projects with little or no involvement from professionals.
Now that we have an understanding of the various definitions of community and have explored the different approaches of community work, we will now look at the how this work is structured in Ireland today with the help of social partnership. Social partnership was set up in Ireland in 1987. Its membership was initially limited to the government, businesses, trade unions and farmers. Organisations representing the unemployed and those experiencing poverty and inequality protested that their members did not benefit from the agreements and so began to lobby to be included in the 1996 negotiations.
It was decided in 2000, by the Fianna Fail government, that inclusion of community and voluntary organisations was the way forward. Eight organisations were successful in their efforts when they were selected by the Government to become the Community & Voluntary Pillar - the fourth social partnership pillar. It is now made up of seventeen representative organisations. This pillar represents huge progress for marginalised people. Although it is important to remember that in order to make a sustainable difference the voice these organisations have been give, must be listened to.
While in theory social partners can be involved in both policy making and implementation of such policy, it is argued ( Meade 2005) that because community and voluntary organisations lack economic clout, they have been granted only marginal influence over the substance of policy decisions. Popples theory in “Analysing community Work” (1995) states “Most practitioners are employed in one way or another by the state therefore acting with particular instructions or authority, so that they could be considered to be a subordinate branch of the dominant ‘organic’ intellectuals.
Whilst on the other hand the fact that they can be at odds with the dominant ideology and are encouraging individuals and groups to articulate their own discourse means that they do not fully agree with the dominant system. ” While it is important that the government is involved and provides subsidises to the voluntary and community sector at a national and community level, it is also fair to say that participation by volunteers in the local community is equally important as they understand what the community requires at a grass roots level.
As the Mayfield Community Development Project in Cork advocates, it is fundamental to ask the local people what they need, to encourage as much participation as possible. Cullen (1989) observes that participative community development projects counterbalance the bigness and the bureaucracy of state run welfare agencies. In other words, if the recipients of these services are involved, these agencies become less intimidating and more user-friendly. This approach empowers people to be involved in identifying and meeting their own needs.
Although participation from volunteers in the local community is vital, problems can surface when local communities come to rely heavily on the support provided by these volunteers. An example of this occurred when an introduction of community care policies led to reductions in the provision of state sponsored residential care and thus increased the demands on already pressured carers. This issue is particularly relevant today due to the current economic climate. The government is seeking to cut their expenditure in many areas, including the community and voluntary sectors.
An Bord Snip Nua’s proposed cuts in funding for community and voluntary organisations will effectively amount to a huge reduction in funding for essential public services. The proposed cut of 64% in the allocation for community and voluntary sector supports, will weaken community and voluntary organisation's capacity to deliver essential services to the most vulnerable people in society. Which raises the following questions, ? Is the government relying on volunteers too heavily? ? Is lack of funding going to break down the fabric of the community work network in Ireland? ? What are the potential consequences of the proposed cuts?
Only in time, will we discover the true answers to these questions but for now let us look at the evidence that is available to us today. Undoubtedly the Governments reliance on volunteers within the community is very apparent. It is important to remember that very often we would not have these volunteers, without the recruitment strategies that are put in place by professionals. It is also crucial volunteers are monitored and get the support they need to carry out their work effectively. Without the funded professional element in community work, it is possible that the quality of service may be compromised.
This may result in volunteers becoming over worked by carrying out the duties of the paid professionals. This can lead to volunteers being under too much pressure to carry out their vital work. A consequence of this may be the closure of much needed services, which will impact greatly on society in general. This may lead to a more segregated community with an increased level of problems such as anti-social behaviour and mental health issues to name just two. This is why in my opinion, it is essential to have both professional and voluntary workers in the community for a cohesive approach to the various issues.
It is important at this point to examine the vital community work that may be affected by these cuts. I am using the organisation Community Platform as an example. This is an organisation which facilitates both community and voluntary organisations to come together through one voice at a national level. Publishing its pre-budget submission (2010), the Community Platform said that making the poor poorer in order to try to balance the books made absolutely no sense and would have disastrous and costly social consequences.
Community platform currently has 29 members that work together to address poverty, social exclusion and inequality. Funding is provided to the Community Platform by the Department of Community, Rural ; Gaeltacht Affairs. The vision of the Community Platform is an Ireland that is inclusive, sustainable and equal. Working closely with all of its members it aims to develop and promote this vision through shared analysis. The following groups are just a small example of the essential services that come under the community platform umbrella: ?Age Action Ireland. Rape Crises Network Ireland. ?Simon Communities of Ireland. ?Womens Aid. ?Community Workers’ Co-operative. By looking at some of the essential services that Community Platform facilitate we can see just how important this community work is and the key services that may suffer because of these cuts. As a result of my studies I have ascertained that community work appears to be many things to many people. It can be a rewarding experience to both the facilitator and the beneficiary. It can bring people together in the hope of improving circumstances for themselves or others.
It can help people to achieve their goals for their community by coming together through one voice. It may be a carried out by a paid professional or a volunteer. Both of which have their own merit. Government support and funding are imperative to sustain the level of help that is needed in the community. However it is evident that when both professionals and volunteers work together, greater results can be achieved. Community work is essential in society to help improve living conditions. With an emphasis on improving the conditions of marginalised, vulnerable people. Bibliography
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