Social services: Charity begins at home

Welfare policy reforms were led by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela ahead of the inauguration of a new government in 1994, and were partially implemented by subsequent ministers in the years that followed. They are now in a dead zone.

This was not caused by the current minister but if personal welfare services to families, children and communities continue in their current form, she will be held accountable for it.

Governments depend on specialised professionals in the welfare services. But there has been an upsurge in troubled families, including household breakdowns, mental illness, child neglect, abuse and trafficking, forced prostitution and sex labour, parental violence and child-on-child violence, drug and alcohol dependency, and social and violent crimes. These show up the deficiencies in our welfare service.

Media reports frequently provide a sense of the structural, functional, system and resource inabilities we suffer, including a spotlight on scarcity and services that are unavailable.

Former Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs reminds us that this is not the society the overwhelming majority of South Africans fought for. Various policy programmes, including international conventions and declarations approved by the government, create a policy environment for the establishment and resourcing of welfare service delivery networks, but innovations that produce an expanded network of welfare services and agencies are not forthcoming.


Children, families and communities are under siege by social pathologies as a result of abhorrent conditions. The poor need a new public welfare service, care system and network. Our government has a legal obligation to provide welfare services and care to 18.1-million children, in particular about 900 000 orphans.

Making national government responsible for social grants, a significant part of welfare services, was the last significant change. But this shift has not accelerated the development and expansion of public-wide personal welfare care.

Discontinuity, instability and uncertainty in welfare services to families, communities and children have led to:

• Policy complexities and an inability to define the nature of the state and government in a market economy as far as the provision of personal welfare services to families, children and communities are concerned;

• The separation of welfare services’ purchasing and provision, with a commercially oriented formula between government entities and the voluntary not-for-profit sector;

• A view of welfare as a charitable service to troubled families, individuals, households and communities, hence the push for voluntary activism;

• An expectation that poor and disenfranchised communities must provide voluntary services or organise volunteer activism among the poor in the provision of welfare services, which is really a constitutional function; though state welfare officials are compensated, the poor must fend for themselves in a highly specialised personal welfare services environment; and

• Vacillating responsibilities between national and provincial administrations, with no legislative role for municipalities located in communities where these social conditions and pathologies are experienced daily. At the same time, municipalities are constitutionally required to promote economic and social development, including the safety of communities and, by implication, families and children.

Family, child and community welfare services allow for the provision of professional and specialised services to intervene, prevent and rehabilitate troubled families and to respond to social pathologies. Currently, instead of providing these services, there are debates about the model, system and delivery of these services.

The dominance of public administration in this area has recast the function of welfare services, turning it into that of a developmental social welfare and community development model – a bubbly full of rhapsodies. But this continues to dismantle the very foundation of the personal welfare services to families, children, households and communities.

In this rather odd understanding of social development, personal welfare services and care are dominated by paradigms that are foggy and definitely out of kilter with the imperatives of growth and economic development. Confusion is created among practitioners in the helping professions.

The conditions in our communities indeed show that we need a new model that can produce a welfare services delivery system with capabilities and new financing arrangements that directly respond to citizens living in municipalities.

Social development is a multi-agency function inside the public sector, shared by different ministries and administrations, and requiring the support of an array of not-for-profit organisations. This is definitely not the preserve of a single department.

It also implies that the desperately needed new welfare services and a new care model must integrate legislation with the policy-setting mandate at national level, and also as far as delivery networks and facilities within local government are concerned.

Such a model, with the associated system and network, including costing and pricing, must be led by those qualified in the range of specialisations to do with welfare services and care – the core business – and able to help amplify the role of those working in transdisciplinary fields.

Daniel Plaatjies is the editor of Protecting the Inheritance: Governance and Public Accountability in Democratic South Africa (Jacana)

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