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  • Marika Kontellis

Natural Support Network Trumps Formal Care Every time

We must admit, that despite the best intentions, social care engineers don’t always get it right. Some of our most “seemingly logical” social policies of our time have led to the deep and lasting disadvantage. Remember adoption laws and practices for “wayward” mothers? What about the “almost” compulsory relinquishment of children with disability to the state’s institutions? And of course Australia’s biggest shame, The Stolen Generation.

As a young Social Worker, some things never quite sat right with me. As an older social worker, they still don’t. The intrusion of “paid help”, facilitated by professionals who know best in our lives needs to change. Of course when we are vulnerable we need credible, experienced people to help us unravel the complexities of our own lives and the community systems that exist around us. But this should never replace our informal support systems.

Never underestimate the value of a good neighbour, a friendly publican or a helpful green grocer. Communities have informal systems that mould around their local needs. A good social care provider needs to know how to access and mobilise these informal networks and systems when people need them most. Formal care should be the “care of last resort” and always complement informal support networks.

As social and community care changes, the focus of social care professionals needs to shift from helping people to become independent, to facilitating their interdependence with their chosen communities.

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