Role of Social Workers in Policy Formulation and Development

Policy formulation as you have already learnt in the earlier sections is a tedious exercise, which involves a team of experts from various professions. Let us reflect that formulation of social policy include planners, bureaucrats, voluntary organizations, academicians, politicians etc. Social workers are one among such experts who by virtue of their experience bring various issues in the limelight. Social workers work very closely with the people and so they are in a position to understand societal issues in depth. They are one of the best agents to bring the ground realities to the focus of concerned authorities. Several Schools of Social work have been involved directly or indirectly in policy formulation concerning developmental schemes in the country. Reputed Institutions have been represented in many of the bodies or committees that have been responsible for policy formulation in various fields, such as education, housing and slum improvement, adoption and child development, family welfare and women’s development, youth programmes, matters related to the police and communal riots, and rehabilitation of the
displaced people. For the formulation and development of social policy social workers placed in government or Non government organizations (NGOs) contribute in various capacities be it –

  • identification of issues
  • advocacy
  • consolidation of expert opinion
  • implementation
  • monitoring and evaluation

Identification of Social Issues

The first stage of policy formulation requires the identification of issues. A number of voluntary organizations have taken up the lead at this stage and social workers are the backbone in this process. Social workers through voluntary organization work at the grass root level, they work directly with the people involving their participation. Research project undertaken by social workers bring out new dimensions to the issues and highlight the scope for the much-needed provisions for the welfare of the masses. Research study on “Accessibility of Buses and Bus Shelter”, conducted in 2006 by Samrarthya, National Center for Promotion of Barrier-free Environment for Disabled Persons highlighted that the existing public road transportation system i.e. buses, terminals, and operations are either full of obstacles or are impossible to use by the disabled persons. The findings emphasized that this limits the productive contributions of people with disabilities (PWDs) to the development process. Every individual including Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) has the right to travel and to use public transportation with dignity and independence. It should be regarded as the fundamental right of all citizens regardless of their abilities and disabilities, since travel is usually a necessity for education, employment, medical attention, tourism etc.

The findings of samarthaya brought new perspective to the government and low floor high capacity buses were introduced by the Delhi Transport Corporation. Samarthaya has promoted the concept of Universal Design i.e. “Design for All” in the making of Dilli Haat (recipient of National Award by the Hon’ble President of India on promotion of Barrier Free Environment), Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and High Capacity Bus System (HCBS)/Low Floor Buses.

Social workers in academics are also important agents in identification of issues. Research studies taken up by them either for their academic degree or as sponsored projects highlight nature of the issues under study. For example the recent study carried out by the Social Welfare Department (Delhi government) and Delhi University’s Department of Social Work revealed that many beggars are able-bodied and educated, forced into beggary by unemployment or to augment their professional incomes. The findings underscore the absence of a cohesive and humane national policy for beggars in India.

The research studies from a social work perspective are applied in nature putting forward a number of recommendations which in one way or the other contribute to policy development.

Advocacy

In a number of instances social workers have not just left the highlighted issues to itself. Social workers by virtue of their professional expertise know that mere identification of issues is not going to make any change in the current scenario – mainly due to apathy and
unwillingness of the concerned authorities to any desirable action on social issues. What is needed most in such situations is building up the pressure group on authorities. In such situations policy development becomes the long drawn process as it involves the divergent opinion and controversy from varied classes of people and concerned authorities. The most popular strategy to the social workers in such situations is the use of Advocacy.

Advocacy implies measures taken for the upliftment of vulnerable and weaker sections of the society. While social work practitioners in the field level also practice advocacy, those professionals at the policy making and lanning arena are predominantly engaged in the process of influencing the decisions of law makers, ministers and significant other top level officials. Thus it requires lots of tact and a good knowledge of the issue in concern for which the social worker is advocating. The social worker has to remember that advocacy is a political strategy and has to be used wisely.

Advocacy, in order to be victorious calls for appropriate use of power and more importantly strength of mind. Always remember power is never given, but has to be won over. Dedication to the cause and the determination to see through difficulties are important sources of power at the disposal of the social worker. By demonstrating moral fiber a social worker can gain strength for advocacy.

For example the efforts of noted social activist Medha Patekar for Resettlement and Rehabilitation of displaced people led to the consideration for the first ever National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy in our country.

On the occasion of World AIDS Day a number of organizations have joined hands together to appeal to the Prime Minister of the country to initiate the second line of ART government hospitals so as to make the full treatment accessible even to the poor sections of the society.

While using advocacy one of the most serious errors one can make is to act impulsively. If you do so, those who oppose you can more easily discredit your organization. Unity of the team is another crucial source of power. By a strong comradeship the social worker and his team may exert pressure on the decision makers and legislators for a successful advocacy.

Consolidation of Expert Opinion

Planners, administrators, social workers, academicians, politicians are not independent agents contributing to policy development; rather development of policies requires the consolidation of the opinion from experts of different fields. As you have learnt in the earlier sections that for formulation of policies the expert committees are formed and after a series of discussions and dialogues policy statement papers are brought out. For example the Planning Commission appoints social workers as expert group members for preparing programmes and policies related with social welfare.

Each five year plan allocate separate budget for different fields of social welfare like health, education, employment, rural development and environment. Professionals with expertise in these fields are appointed as members of expert group. Eminent social workers have served as advisors to the Planning Commission in the social welfare field. Social workers have also been members of the advisory group in University Grants Commission (UGC) curriculum development reports.

Implementation

Social workers job does not end with the formulation of policies rather the next category of major task i.e. bringing the provisions in concrete realities starts only after that. Mere formulation of provisions does not serve any purpose until the fruits of same reach to the general population. Social workers are the key agents for implementing the policy provisions. At the implementation level, social workers have two fold tasks–
l Information dissemination
l Accessibility of policy provisions to public Social workers have a responsibility to help the public fully understand the availability of programmes for their welfare and impact of human services on the quality of life of all persons. Social workers need to work with the media in providing this information.

In India, much information is spread through appropriate use of the mass media. With the television and Radio – especially the news channels in vernacular languages, reaching hitherto unreachable remote areas, information can be spread faster. In the given context,
the social worker at policy making and planning quarters may utilize the press, advertising agencies, to propagate policies and programmes to prospective beneficiaries.

The use of Information Education and communication strategies needs to be appropriately used by the social workers for spreading the message among the masses. The social worker by being proactive in disseminating such information gains in two fronts

(i) acknowledgment and encouragement to the public that they have a right to be aware of relevant policies, programmes and agencies maintained by government funds.

(ii) Preventing spread of gratuitous and negative information.

Social workers through voluntary organizations are engaged in implementing a variety of programmes directly benefiting a number of people e.g. social workers are employed as “Development officers” in ICDS programmes. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 specifies the provisions for setting up of the Child Welfare Committee for dealing with children in need of care and protection. The Committee shall have at least one professional with expertise on matters concerning to children, social workers find a place in this position.

Voluntary organizations which are mainly backed by social workers may also be authorized by the state

government for setting up the children home and shelter home as provided under the said Act. The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (1956) also has provisions for appointment of an advisory body consisting of at least five social workers to advise the special police officers on concerning matters. The social workers may also find place to be appointed as probation officer under the Probation of Offenders Act (1955). As the Probation Officer he/she is required to prepare a social investigation report so as to facilitate the court to decide about the best suitable method of dealing with offender.

The social workers also have the responsibilities of supervising the probationers and to advise them in matters related to payment of compensation. Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the social workers are eligible to be appointed as protection officers and counsellors. The social workers are also appointed in prisons to look after the welfare measures in the custodial institutions in the capacity of welfare officers.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring is an important tool for ensuring proper implementation of a project or programme. It is well recognized that the success of programmes largely depends on the effective delivery system and efficient implementation so that the desired results could be achieved. In order to ensure this, the policy making authorities lay great emphasis on monitoring and evaluation of development programmes. Regular monitoring of the programmes is done to assess the physical and financial progress in implementation of the Schemes and to disseminate the information regarding progress. Evaluation of the programmes is intended for periodic assessment of their impact and to know their strengths and weaknesses so that necessary steps are taken to streamline and improve the process of implementation.

Transparency in implementation is a major objective of the monitoring and evaluation mechanism. It helps to identify the loopholes in the system as well to ensure the appropriate allocation and utilization of the budgets. Monitoring and evaluation is conducted through professional agencies, which employ a team of experts for the job.

The comprehensive system of monitoring and evaluation employed by the Monitoring authorities includes various mechanisms such as Progress Reports, Financial Returns/Audit Reports, Intensive Inspections by Officers Review by various Committees, Concurrent Evaluation Reports and impact research studies of the programmes. Evaluation studies also help to a great extent in devising proper policies and redesigning concerned programmes to ensure that the intended benefits reach the target groups.

For example, the Ministry of Rural Development lays great emphasis on monitoring and evaluation of rural infrastructure development programmes in general and poverty alleviation and employment generation schemes in particular being implemented in various States. In order to ensure this, the Ministry has evolved a comprehensive system of monitoring and evaluation for the poverty alleviation and the infrastructure development programmes.

The Inspection Committee appointed under the section 35 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 also has social workers as team members for evaluation of the services available in children home. The social workers appointed as consultants in national or international level funding organizations such as UNICEF, UNDP, NACO also have the responsibility

(i) to ensure that the services are reaching appropriately to the target systems and

(ii) to prepare reports to evaluate the effectiveness of the policy provisions..