Worldwide, changes in the family have become more evident. Many of the traditional roles that families used to play are now performed by other institutions, such as schools, churches, a variety of welfare agencies and non-governmental organizations. Families in South Africa are no exception, as many South African families are faced with challenges that have a negative impact on their ability to sustain themselves and their members.
The previous Minister of Social Development, Doctor Zola Skweyiya, rightly acknowledged that, in order to address the needs of vulnerable groups in our communities effectively, we need a particular focus on the role of the family, both as a developmental and as a supporting institution. In responding to these challenges, the Department of Social Development developed a new Manual on Family Preservation Services (Department of Social Development, 2008b), with the aim of training social service professionals to deliver family preservation services. In order for the programme envisaged by the developers of the Manual to be implemented efficiently, the Norms and Standards Policy on Developmental Social Welfare Services (Department of Social Development, 2007a:52-57) mandates the roll-out of the training and education by all provinces. Thus all social service professionals are mandated to implement family preservation services as stipulated by the Norms and Standards Policy on Developmental Social Welfare Services (Department of Social Development, 2007a) and the Draft National Family Policy (Department of Social Development, 2008a).
In her role as one of the trainers on family preservation services who was also responsible for monitoring and evaluating these services in the provinces, the researcher observed the inadequacy and inconsistency of the concept of family preservation services in reporting among social service professionals despite the training and capacity-building carried out by the Department of Social Development.
The researcher therefore investigated, first, whether the formulation of the Manual on Family Preservation Services lacks clarity relating to the theoretical framework and operational definition of key concepts which are supposed to assist social service professionals in rendering effective family preservation services. Second, she interviewed 20 social workers regarding their experiences on the formulation and implementation of the Manual. This is a small sample in terms of representing social workers in the country. In total, 37 social workers were originally interviewed, but, because it transpired that they had never attended any training on the Manual for Family Preservation Services, their data were excluded from the empirical study, even though they are implementing these services. The researcher was therefore interested in analysing the formulation of the Manual on Family Preservation Services and also analysed the experiences of social workers regarding the formulation and implementation of the Manual, with the aim of identifying gaps and improving service delivery to families.
The researcher reviewed prior literature on systems theory, which is fundamental in addressing family dynamics, the family life cycle and its stages. She also considered literature on family preservation services on four levels of service delivery, the stages of the policy cycle and the overview of the Draft National Family Policy, as well as the Manual of Family Preservation Services. In this study, the researcher adopted an explanatory design, which is a form of mixed methods research. The overall purpose of an explanatory design is to gather qualitative data that help to explain or build upon initial quantitative results from the first phase of the study. In order to collect quantitative data, the researcher used a checklist for a content analysis of the formulation of the Manual on Family Preservation Services. She then conducted semi-structured interviews to collect qualitative data about social workers’ experiences regarding the formulation and implementation of the Manual on Family Preservation Services in eight provinces.
The researcher did a pilot test of the semi-structured interview schedule, which helped her to refine two questions that were understood differently by the two social workers who participated in the pilot test. After latent coding, the quantitative data were analysed manually, while the qualitative data were coded according to Creswell’s model for qualitative data analysis.
The quantitative empirical results revealed some limitations in the formulation of the Manual on Family Preservation Services. Such limitations include an unclear definition of the concept of family preservation services, the omission of objectives from the Manual, confusion with regard to the theoretical frameworks applied, a lack of clarity on the role of volunteers, the process of providing training and capacity-building to social service professionals, monitoring and evaluation plan. These findings were confirmed by the social workers who were interviewed. They exposed the confusion that exists on the definition of family preservation services, the objectives, the theoretical frameworks, the role of volunteers, high case-loads, which they linked to a shortage of social workers and the fact that resources, training and capacity-building on family preservation services are not prioritized.
It was therefore recommended that the issues highlighted above be addressed and be included in a revised Manual, and that relevant material also be provided to social service professionals who need to implement family preservation services.