AS A professional social worker for many years, it is difficult to describe my job in a few words. That it is challenging and rewarding is but one aspect.
It has also taught me the need to be well grounded in theory and to have a commitment to helping individuals, families and communities that extends beyond merely listening to their troubles.
That is, I needed to intervene in ways that can make a difference to the individual, family or community that I was involved with. At times, the differences were measured in very small steps, but at other times, the transformations could be astounding.
In the course of a typical day in practice, I would respond to a multitude of demands. These included crises experienced by clients, routine contacts with clients, answering phone calls and e-mails, writing reports and meeting with practitioners from a variety of disciplines and a variety of agencies.
I also needed to make sure that I found time to seek supervision, as this is an essential component of my professional development and a great means of extending skills and conceptual understanding.
Upon reflection, it seems that I needed to have a good understanding of the laws and policies that shape the context within which I delivered services. I had to draw on skills of engagement and assessment but also skills of advocacy as I sought to arrange additional supports for my clients according to their needs.
I also needed to draw on a good understanding of a range of theoretical concepts such as human development and various intervention methods.
Although it often seemed that I lacked time, the reality is that, as a social worker I had to think and act "on my feet" most of the time. I also knew that I had to be flexible in my approach to practice, as every client introduces a unique aspect to the interaction experience.
While at some levels many clients have similar problems, their experiences are never identical. At times, I needed to be quite innovative in the ways in which I interpreted policies to meet a client's needs. Put simply, an ability to "think outside the box" is a necessary skill in direct service delivery.
Usually, it is only after some time in direct service delivery that social workers begin to realise the various methods that can be utilised to help the people they work with and for.
Opportunities in research, policy development and advocacy begin to open up. Ultimately, professional social workers can become attuned to a range of international perspectives and issues, especially where these impact on the day-to-day lives of their client groups.
Professional social workers need to undergo training in areas including social work theory, social work skills, social work methods, human development, research methods and others.
As well as having a theoretical orientation, social work training has consistently embraced a position that both classroom and field learning are essential elements of professional education. Field learning, in contemporary social work education, is much more than an apprenticeship.
The specific purpose of field learning is to link classroom learning with practical activities so that the student graduate is able to engage in both knowledge and value-guided practice.
Students require the placement experience to learn to effectively utilise social work values and ethics as professionals.
In terms of fields of practice for qualified social workers, there are a range of options. Many work in family service centres but there are also opportunities in hospitals, government organisations such as child protection with the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports, mental health settings, justice settings and a wide range of voluntary welfare organisations.
Graduate social workers also need to remain open to long-term opportunities in the fields of policy development, research and further educational pathways, such as through a master's degree.
Today, one of the options for aspiring social workers to attain their qualifications is the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) offered by Monash University in Australia in collaboration with the Social Service Training Institute. This is a programme that is accredited by both the Australian Association for Social Workers (AASW) and the Singapore Association for Social Workers (SASW).