Social work is not for the weak-hearted

Social work is not for the weak-hearted
Mr K. V. Veloo was formerly a probation and aftercare officer with the former Ministry of Social Affairs.

HOW HAS SOCIAL WORK IN SINGAPORE CHANGED FROM WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED?

Today, we have a vast reservoir of knowledge, information and skills that were not available to early social workers before the 1980s.

Through the years, the research on behaviour and social sciences has contributed to a better understanding of the individual.

There has also been a shift in emphasis, from helping to ease or solve people's social difficulties to empowering them to make their own choices.

WHAT ARE SOME CHALLENGES THAT HAVE REMAINED THROUGH THE YEARS?

First, it is the (lack of) recognition when it comes to social work as a profession. It is important to seek greater recognition for social work from the community and the government.

People know what doctors do, what policemen do, but they don't know what social workers do.

They need to step up and promote the profession.

HOW DO YOU SEE SOCIAL WORK PROGRESSING IN THE FUTURE?

I would like to see it as a profession that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other professions.

I also hope to see our schools of social work churning out graduates who will continue to have a high sense of duty and service and place people at the centre of social care.

LOOKING BACK, WHAT WERE YOUR SIGNIFICANT MILESTONES?

I started my career in the Probation & Aftercare Service, under the Ministry of Social Service in 1971.

One programme that my staff and I set up was the Community Probation Service (CPS) in the later part of 1977.

It was made up of concerned citizens who were trained to help offenders and drug addicts ease back into the community.

The CPS brought more public awareness to probation and aftercare work.

Another milestone was helping to revitalise the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association and beef up its dual aims: First, to galvanise community support and involvement in the fight against drug abuse.

Second, to mobilise community participation to help ex-drug addicts resettle in the community.

HOW CAN SOCIETY MAKE IT EASIER FOR PRISONERS AND DRUG ADDICTS TO INTEGRATE?

I always believed that one cannot rehabilitate an offender or drug addict divorced from his family. Hence, there must be continuous support that begins as soon as a person enters prison, through detention and after his release.

What the Indian Community Aftercare Council is doing is helping the Singapore Prison Service develop an aftercare service managed by volunteers.

WHAT KEEPS YOUR PASSION FOR SOCIAL WORK BURNING?

I love what I do and if I were to live my life again, I'd probably do the same thing. In our work, the rewards are not immediate. They are often delayed. You get an inner warmth and satisfaction when, for example, you learn that someone whom you helped has done well for himself.

WHAT ARE SOME SKILLS REQUIRED TO BE A SOCIAL WORKER?

On the top of the list is the ability to listen with empathy and compassion. It is also important to have the ability to have a positive and professional relationships with the client, by having a clear head and a kind heart.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING SOCIAL WORKERS?

Social work is not for the weak-hearted. One must have a high tolerance for frustrations, let-downs and disappointments. Social work has its burdens, but it also provides an inner growth and balance of oneself.

People know what doctors do, what policemen do, but they don't know what social workers do. -Mr Veloo, on how people often overlook the efforts of social workers.


This article was first published on October 15, 2014.
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