In the past, social welfare delivery services to families at risk in South Africa focused strongly on statutory intervention, where children were removed from the care of their parents or caregivers and placed in alternative care. The system failed to deliver a full spectrum of services which would include prevention and early intervention services, with the result that many children and their families were exposed to immense trauma. A developmental approach to social welfare had since been adopted and social work service delivery in South Africa is supportive of prevention and early intervention services with the emphasis on strengthening the family, capacity building, and on community and family-based services. Social work services however still have a strong focus on statutory intervention and not enough on the preservation of families and keeping children in the family and community. This issue underlies the goal of the study, namely to explore the experiences of families at risk of family preservation services they have received.
The research followed a qualitative research approach, with applied research as the type of research with the intent that the information obtained through the research could inform family preservation services in practice. A phenomenological research design guided the study and enabled the researcher to obtain rich information from the research participants. Purposive sampling was used to select nine participants who conformed to the sampling criteria for the study. Data were collected by means of unstructured in-depth interviews which allowed the researcher to obtain an understanding of the participants? views of family preservation services.
The research findings indicated that the nature of the helping relationship between the social worker and most of the participants was of major importance in determining the participants? experiences of family preservation services. Clarity on the role of the social worker was a determining factor in the participants? perceptions of social workers and social work services. Where participants were clear about the fact that the role of the social worker was not to remove children in the first instance, they had a more positive experience of the involvement of the social worker and trusting relationship with the social worker. The participants identified a range of support services that they deemed helpful. These services included concrete services, emotional support, educational and recreational services, as well as multi-professional services. Participants who received holistic services expressed more positive experiences of social work intervention than participants who received services of a limited scope.
The researcher reached the conclusion that family preservation services which include comprehensive services to support the family to meet the needs of its members, can be an effective intervention strategy to support families and prevent the out-of-home placement of children. Comprehensive models of family preservation services, such as Systems of Care, multi-systemic therapy and the wraparound process are relevant to addressing the various needs of families at risk. It seems that community-based centers are in a position to provide such comprehensive services to families at risk within their communities, while the provision of intensive family preservation services in the South African context may not be a viable option of service delivery for many welfare organisations due to the shortage of social workers and resources.
In situations where risk is due to poverty and unemployment, family preservation can be an effective strategy to assist families at risk to care for their children and prevent the out-of-home placement of these children. In this sense family preservation services are in support of the principles and practice of developmental social work. It is thus recommended that social workers should not relate family preservation services to an intensive model of intervention only, but also deliver comprehensive services to families at risk that can support them over the longer term. Inter-agency collaboration can enhance the possibility of the provision of holistic family preservation services. Larger research studies on family preservation, conducted in different geographical areas and with diverse populations in the South African context, are recommended.
Mini Dissertation (MSW)--University of Pretoria, 2015.